More Churches – Pergamum
I love how, in each of these seven letters, Christ gives His credentials in a different way. He tailors His introductions to His audience. In His letter to the Church at Pergamum, in Revelation 2:12-17, He introduces Himself this way: verse 12, “This is the message from the one with the sharp two-edged sword:” Here, He is referring to John’s description of Him in Revelation 1:12-16, where in verse 16 he says, “He held seven stars in his right hand, and a sharp two-edged sword came from his mouth. And his face was like the sun in all its brilliance.” And, Hebrews 4:12 tells us, “For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.” So, this two-edged sword that comes out of His mouth will expose our innermost thoughts and desires.
And, what does He say next? Revelation 2:13, “I know that you live in the city where Satan has his throne, yet you have remained loyal to me. You refused to deny me even when Antipas, my faithful witness, was martyred among you there in Satan’s city.” So, why does Jesus call Pergamum the city where Satan has his throne? There were several temples to many Greek and Roman gods in Pergamum, but the main one was the temple of Zeus, the king of the Greek gods. And, in that temple was the throne of Zeus, which is believed to be what Christ is referring to in this book. Pergamum was a very wicked city, full of pagan gods and rituals. He also mentions Antipas in this verse. Antipas was faithful to Christ and the leader of the Christian church there. He was being so effective for Christ there, casting out demons and leading people to a relationship with Christ that the pagan priests went to the Rome governor to complain that Antipas’ prayers were driving their spirits out of the city and hindering the worship of their gods. He was martyred by being roasted alive in a bronze bull. This is the type of city these believers were in.
Verse 14 starts out by saying, “But I have a few complaints against you.” Even though they were enduring all of this, Christ still had to set them straight in a few areas. He goes on to say, “You tolerate some among you whose teaching is like that of Balaam, who showed Balak how to trip up the people of Israel. He taught them to sin by eating food offered to idols and by committing sexual sin.” Do you remember the story of Balaam? You know, the guy whose donkey had to set him straight. Balaam tried to sell his gift of prophecy for financial gain, but when he realized that he couldn’t prophesy against God’s people, he helped Balak by selling out Israel. He told Balak that all he had to do to weaken Israel was to seduce the men into sexual sin and pagan rituals. This brought the judgment of God on the men who participated. 2 Peter 2:15 talks about Balaam when he says, “They have wandered off the right road and followed the footsteps of Balaam son of Beor, who loved to earn money by doing wrong.” So, Peter is saying that the way of Balaam is to choose to do wrong for personal gain. We also hear about Balaam in the book of Jude verse 11 where he says, “What sorrow awaits them! For they follow in the footsteps of Cain, who killed his brother. Like Balaam, they deceive people for money. And like Korah, they perish in their rebellion.” Jude’s account of Balaam is that he deceived people for money. So, the first thing Christ has against the church at Pergamum is that some of them were following in the footsteps of Balaam.
The next thing He says in verse 15 is, “In a similar way, you have some Nicolaitans among you who follow the same teaching.” Remember in Christ’s letter to the church at Ephesus, in Revelation 2:6, He said, “But this is in your favor: You hate the evil deeds of the Nicolaitans, just as I do.” So, He praised the church at Ephesus for hating the deeds of the Nicolaitans and warned the church at Pergamum about some of them who were following their deeds. I know you are probably wondering what these Nicolaitans were doing. David Guzik says this about the Nicolaitans, “The title Nico-laitans has the idea of a proud authority and a hierarchical separatism. The name Nikao-laos literally means “to conquer the people.” According to ancient commentators, the Nicolaitans also approved of immorality.” So, these were immoral people trying to conquer everyone around them. But here’s the thing, God wasn’t just condemning the ones who were following the teachings of Balaam and the Nicolaitans, He was condemning the ones who were allowing it to go on among their church.
So, what does Christ tell them to do? In verse 16 He says, “Repent of your sin, or I will come to you suddenly and fight against them with the sword of my mouth.” He tells them that they must repent. The word repent literally means to turn around, go the other direction, do a 180. He is telling them to turn away from those beliefs, and from allowing those beliefs in their church, and turn back to Him. If they don’t do this, He says that He will fight against them with the sword of His mouth. As we saw at the beginning of this passage, that sword is the word of God, and it cuts to the joints and marrow and exposes their innermost thoughts and desires. So, if they don’t repent, God will strike them down with His word.
He ends in verse 17, as with all the others, by telling them, “Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.” But, He goes further with this one. He goes on to say, “To everyone who is victorious I will give some of the manna that has been hidden away in heaven. And I will give to each one a white stone, and on the stone, will be engraved a new name that no one understands except the one who receives it.” He’s not just telling them what he will do if they don’t repent, He also tells them what He will do if they do repent. He will give them some of the manna that is hidden in heaven. So, He won’t just feed them, He’ll give them the best. Then He goes on to tell them about these white stones. We’re not sure what the white stones were for, but the people of Pergamum knew what Christ was talking about. Throughout the ruins of ancient Pergamum there are white stones with names inscribed on them, so they understood whatever significance they had. But, look at what He says. He tells them that he will engrave a new name on the stone that’s just between you and God. It demonstrated the intimate relationship that Christ wants to have with us.
I love how, in the end of this passage, after Christ has warned the church about following these false doctrines, after He has told them what He will do if they don’t obey, He tells them that, if they repent, he will forgive them and restore that intimate relationship that He wants to have with us. Isn’t it awesome to have a God that is so forgiving? But, never forget that He loves us so much that He will punish us if we are doing wrong, so let’s live to please the one we love…the one who first loved us.