To the Churches in Revelation, Part 3: Pergamum (Rev. 2:12-17)
The letters to the churches in the Book of Revelation, chapters 2-3, are from Jesus to His people in the 1st century. However, they are more than applicable to us in the 21st century. This wisdom is fitting for times such as these! Times may have changed, but hearts have not.
In part 3 of this series, we’ll look at the church in Pergamum. We’ll see Christ’s diagnosis of them, along with the prescription.
12 “To the angel (messenger or pastor) of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. 13 I know where you live- where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives. 14 Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. 15 Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. 17 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.”
Background of the church at Pergamum:
- It was the political capital city of the province of Asia.
- It boasted one of the finest libraries of antiquity which contained some 200,000 volumes. It was later given by Mark Antony to Cleopatra.
- It was in this city that parchment was first used.
- Site of the first temple of the Ceasar cult. A second shrine was later dedicated to Emperor Trajan.
- They worshiped Esculapius, the god of healing. The symbol of Esculapius was 2 coiled snakes on a staff which has remained the symbol of medical arts.
- Politics and paganism very closely allied.
- Pressure on Christians to compromise was very heavy.
- Modern day– Town of Bergama in the province of Izmir, Turkey.
Jesus’ Diagnosis- The positive report:
- They had kept the faith while living under intense pressure in the very city Satan had chosen as his temporary headquarters.“I know where you live- where Satan has his throne, yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in Me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city- where Satan lives, Revelation 2:13.”
The city worshiped, among other objects, a living serpent! It was a notorious epicenter of heathenism and wickedness. Many in Pergamos had been been martyred for their faith. One is mentioned in verse 13 by name, Antipas.
Jesus’ Diagnosis- The negative report:
- They fell into following idols/false prophets and false doctrines.
Balaam was a false Old Testament prophet who attempted to put a curse on the nation Israel (Numbers 22:1-25:9). Additionally, for the second time in his letters to the churches in Revelation we see the false teachers, the Nicolaitans, mentioned. We see what was once deeds in the church at Ephesus (Eph. 2:6), had now become hardened into doctrine at the church in Pergamum.
In other places in the New Testament, Balaam is also mentioned:
- 2 Peter 2:15- “…they have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Beor, who loved the wages of wickedness.”
- Jude 1:11- “Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error; they have been destroyed in Korah’s rebellion.”
- Revelation 2:14- “There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality.”
“Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth,” Revelation 2:16. Repentance is always a common theme in the letters to the 7 churches.
The challenge and reward for the faithful-
- “To the one who is victorious (overcomes), I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it, Revelation 2:17.”
‘Hidden manna’ speaks of special fellowship with Christ. The ‘white stone with a new name’ is possibly derived from a popular custom of the day. Judges determined a verdict by placing in an urn a white and black pebble. If the white pebble came out it meant acquittal thus the white stone would mean the assurance that there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.
Praise God that through Christ’s death and resurrection on the cross! As Christ-followers, Jesus has presented the white stones with our names on them.
Keep Looking Up,
Rev. Jon Barrett | Director of CVCCS