A Bit of Background Concerning the Church at Pergamum
- about 60 miles north of Smyrna.
- known for being a great religious, intellectual, and medical hub of the day.
- the city was known for containing the alter of Zeus, one of the 7 wonders of the world. Also had the first temple dedicated to Ceasar.
- the city contained a medical center which accompanied the worship of the deity of medicine, Aesculapius (signified by a coiled snake on a pole).
12 “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: ‘The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword.
- “angel of the church” – see previous comments in chapter 2.
- “who has the sharp two-edged sword” – originally mentioned in 1.16. This particular description highlights the omniscience of Christ. It also highlights the power of Christ.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. – Heb. 4.12
13 “‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.
- “where Satan’s throne is” – this may be a reference to the temple of Zeus within the city or it could be a reference to the fact that the city had very much become the center of Pagan worship activity.
- “you hold fast my name” – Even though the church struggled some with permissive doctrines, they never abandoned the necessity of the gospel. Where there was no greater temptation to pronounce Ceasar as Lord, they remained dedicated to the Lordship of Christ.
- “Antipas” – is not mentioned elsewhere in scripture, but evidently was martyred within the city.
14 But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality.
- “you have some there” – whereas the church at Ephesus and Smyrna faced evil from outside the church walls, Pergamum had false teaching which had infiltrated the church itself. In some way, there was a failure to keep out false teachers, even allowing them to become members of the church
- “teaching of Balaam” – Balaam was a prophet who sold his gifts for money to King Balak. Hired to curse Israel, he ended up blessing them, Balaam finally advised Balak to invite the Jews to his pagan festivals, and thus corrupted them in an underhanded fashion. Thus the false teachers sought to get the church to compromise with the world, thus Christianity became a means of personal gain.
Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion. – Jude 11
Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing, – 2 Peter 2.15
- “food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality” – teaching manifested itself in intermingling the church with the pagan worship practiced of the city. Their teaching seemed focused on compromise for the sake of personal pleasure.
- Biblical compromise always leads to corrupt living.
15 So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.
- See comments on 2.6. It is thought that this group emphasized licentous living.
- Based on the two descriptions of those within the church holding to the teaching of Balaam and to the Nicolaitions – it seems the main weakness they faced was a willingness to compromise the gospel so as not to run against the current world’s culture.
16 Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.
- The church is told to turn away from their attitude of compromise and to hold fast to doctrinal and moral integrity.
- APP: As believers, it is imperative that we believe and live out what the scripture says.
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. – James 1.22
- If we learn but one lesson from the church at Pergamum, it is that doctrine is important.
A church will only be as effective as its theology, for its theology determines its ministries, governs its agenda, influences the transformation of people, and motivates people for action. . . . The ultimate task of the church is to bring people into communion with God. For this to happen we must know who God is, and coming to know God is what theology is all about. Therefore, to be successful, the church must instill within people biblical doctrines that confront and comfort the soul.” – Glen Deman
- Doctrinal compromise for us, just like Pergamum often occurs in a drift, not a sudden crash, thus we don’t recognize the real danger of compromise.
- notice the shift in pronouns here from “you” to “them” – The church belongs to Christ, but he will war against those who defile it.
17 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.’
- “hidden manna” – a reference to the manna from the exodus which was hidden in the ark of the covenant. A reminder of God’s provision for his people.
- APP: If you remember, the Israelites grumbled because they grew tired of this manna. Perhaps within this blessing we find a gentle reminder that true satisfaction can only be found in what God provides and that we shouldn’t compromise biblical living in order to seek happiness, which turns out to be as hollow, as a chocolate Easter bunny. This is most intentional when it is compared to the manifestation of personal pleasure mentioned earlier in verse 14 where eating food sacrificed to idols is mentioned.
- “white stone” – a stone which symbols permanence, purity, and presence. Only Aaron’s priestly outfit was adorned with such a stone, quite possibly a reference to the Urim (Lev. 8.8). Thus he was allowed into the holy of holies.
- “a new name” – 2 thoughts. 1) We change in the presence of Jesus. 2) We are known by Jesus.