Pergamum, located approximately 10 miles from Smyrna, is perched on a lofty hill and derives its name from “citadel”. This ancient city served as the focal point for four pagan cults that were believed to safeguard the well-being of the community.
Jesus, in his initial address to the community, revealed the true source of protection.
“And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword” (Revelation 2.12)
Commendation for Faithfulness
It is always comforting to hear Jesus say, “I know where you live.” It is not comforting to learn that we are living “where Satan’s throne is.”
However, that is what Jesus wrote to the church.
“I know where you are living, where Satan’s throne is.
“Yet you are holding fast to my name, and you did not deny your faith in me even in the days of Antipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan lives” (Revelation 2.13).
Why was Pergamum identified as the location of Satan’s throne?
The best answer is that the city was a center of pagan worship. It was known for its many temples and altars dedicated to various gods, including Zeus, Athena, and Dionysus. Pergamum was a spiritual stronghold that opposed the Christian faith.
Antipas’ death exposed the complete magnitude of religious oppression. The term “martyr” in English has its origins in the Greek word “witness.”
Similar to Polycarp in Smyrna, Antipas bore witness to his beliefs through his martyrdom.
Condemnation of tolerating false teachings and immorality
Despite his commendation, Jesus had words of condemnation for some in Pergamum.
“But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the people of Israel, so that they would eat food sacrificed to idols and engage in sexual immorality.
“So you also have some who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans (Revelation 2.14-15).
The story of Balaam can be found in Numbers 25 and 31. The problem in Pergamum was a common one for Christians in the first century.
Pagan temples served as both restaurants and butcher shops, and most of the meat available in the market was initially slaughtered in these temples. Additionally, social gatherings were also held in the temple vicinity.
Christians rarely consumed meat, and when they did, it often came from pagan temples. Furthermore, some of the social activities that took place in these temples included prostitution.
Scholars are divided regarding the precise characteristics of the Nicolaitans. It seems that they had no problem with sexual immorality and attending pagan temples.
Call to Repentance
Jesus wrote to the Ephesian church, “I know that you cannot tolerate evildoers; you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not and have found them to be false” (Revelation 2.2).
The church in Pergamum needed to follow the example of the Ephesians.
“Repent, then. If not, I will come to you soon and wage war against them with the sword of my mouth” (Revelation 2.16).
Repentance involves a transformation of our thinking, attitudes, and behavior. This is precisely what Jesus counseled his church to do concerning their participation in the pagan temples.
If the church refuses to repent, the sword of protection will become a sword of judgment.
The promise of rewards for overcoming
Jesus does not want to “fight” against his church. Rather, he strongly desires to witness his disciples triumph over the influence of culture.
“Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
“To everyone who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give a white stone, and on the white stone is written a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it (Revelation 2.17).
Rudy Ross reminds us in today’s YouTube video that manna is “our daily bread” (see the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6.11). Israel learned that manna is good for a day and must be gathered fresh each day.
The gift of hidden manna from God is a relationship with him that serves as both a reward for those who overcome and a method by which we can overcome.
At the very least, the white stone is a symbol of our ticket into heaven.
All of this reminds us to live in a faithful relationship with our Lord and Savior. Let’s strive to live a Jesus-kind-of-life.
Rudy Ross and I continue our study of the seven churches of Revelation today. It can be found on the Bob Spradling YouTube channel.