Have you ever mixed vinegar and baking soda? If not, you should totally try it, because it is the most classic of classic science experiments for kids. But, i’m going to spoil it for you. If these two items mix, the reaction is volcanic.
Similarly, the church at Pergamum was in danger of a violent reaction if they continued to allow the culture to mix with them.
We are now within the first main section of Revelation. The letters to the churches. While all seven letters are addressed to literal, first-century churches, we must not miss that there are seven of them. It was said above that Jesus walks amongst the seven churches. Jesus did not only walk among these seven churches. Instead, He walks amongst THE church. These seven churches represent the seven primary places in which the church as a whole, or any given local church, might find itself during its history.
With that, we turn to Revelation 2:12-17.
Write to the angel of the church in Pergamum: “The One who has the sharp, double-edged sword says: I know where you live—where Satan’s throne is! And you are holding on to My name and did not deny your faith in Me, even in the days of Antipas, My faithful witness who was killed among you, where Satan lives. But I have a few things against you. You have some there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to place a stumbling block in front of the Israelites: to eat meat sacrificed to idols and to commit sexual immorality. In the same way, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Therefore repent! Otherwise, I will come to you quickly and fight against them with the sword of My mouth. Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. I will give the victor some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name is inscribed that no one knows except the one who receives it.”
The Author and the Addressee
Write to the angel of the church in Pergamum: The One who has the sharp, double-edged sword says:
Again, just like with Smyrna (see previous post in this series), not much is known of the church at Pergamum apart from a tour through the history books. In fact, apart from the church at Ephesus, the Bible says nothing about these seven churches or towns apart from what we read in Revelation 2-3. But with that said, what was the city like?
Pergamum was a city full of Roman superstition and emperor worship. We see the superstition clearly in the cult of Aesculapius Soter (Aesculapius the savior) that focused on medicine and physical healing, and even went so far as to describe a doctrine of personal salvation. The medical symbol of intertwined snakes actually comes from Pergamum and this cult. When it comes to emperor worship, there was a temple to Zeus Soter (Zeus the Savior) that was visible to visitors coming into Pergamum from the valleys. To some, the altar there resembled a throne. There was a long history of rulers demanding worship in Pergamum, dating back to 241 BC.
(Paige Patterson, New American Commentary – Volume 39: Revelation, [Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2012], WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 100.)
Which leads us to Jesus’ response. His self-identification to this church is simple. It flows straight out of Revelation 1:16. We see a similar truth in Hebrews 4:12-13, which reads, “For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the ideas and thoughts of the heart. No creature is hidden from Him, but all things are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account.” Jesus Himself is the sharp sword, as verse 13 makes clear. When He speaks, His Word accomplishes its goal.
What does the sharp sword have to say to the church at Pergamum?
I know where you live—where Satan’s throne is! And you are holding on to My name and did not deny your faith in Me, even in the days of Antipas, My faithful witness who was killed among you, where Satan lives. But I have a few things against you. You have some there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to place a stumbling block in front of the Israelites: to eat meat sacrificed to idols and to commit sexual immorality. In the same way, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Therefore repent! Otherwise, I will come to you quickly and fight against them with the sword of My mouth.
There are two sides to this church. John spends one verse on the good and three verses on the bad. The good is very good. The bad is very bad. Interestingly enough, Jesus clearly delineates that those who are bad are not truly part of the church. There is a you and a them in this church. You is the church; them are false converts.
The first thing Jesus says is that He understands their struggle. They live in a very antagonistic place. Satan’s throne is set up in their city. This is a reference to the temple of Zeus and the fact that darkness holds sway. One commentator explains five aspects that all add to the moniker, “where Satan’s throne is.” Here they are:
- (1) an allusion to Pergamum as the center of pagan religion in general;
- (2) the acropolis itself, which looked like a great throne when viewed by a traveler approaching from Smyrna;
- (3) a reference to the throne-like altar of Zeus Soter previously mentioned;
- (4) a reference to the Aesculapian occult, particularly because of its identification of Aesculapius as “the savior”; and
- (5) the city’s reputation as a center for emperor worship.
(Paige Patterson, New American Commentary – Volume 39: Revelation, [Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2012], WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 102.)
Jesus praises the church for the fact that despite the culture they are faithful until death. He names a specific member of their congregation who lost his life as a witness for Jesus. “Antipas, my faithful martus who was killed among you.” (This might be where the word martyr originally began to describe someone who died as a witness for Christ.)
If only it could have ended there.
But alas, it cannot.
He goes on to describe two false doctrines that had infiltrated the church. Even though verse 16 labels two different groups within the church at Pergamum, Jesus is disappointed in this church for not fighting for doctrinal purity like Ephesus had done (see here).
Jesus spends most of the time on the people who hold to the teachings of Balaam. He names two specific sins that Balaam in the Old Testament (see Numbers 22-25) was guilty of doing. It is also interesting that these two sins the false teachers had brought into Pergamum were the very same sins of which the early church had said, if nothing else, these MUST be avoided: “For it was the Holy Spirit’s decision—and ours—to put no greater burden on you than these necessary things: that you abstain from food offered to idols, from blood, from eating anything that has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. You will do well if you keep yourselves from these things” (Acts 15:28-29).
Simply put, being involved in idolatry or sexual immorality and refusing to repent are sins that keep you from being part of God’s people (cf. Revelation 22:15). This is also why Jesus has two groups in mind in verse 16. You are the ones who do repent, the ones who seek Christ for grace, forgiveness, and restoration. Them are the people who refuse to repent, the ones who will be killed by the sword of Christ’s mouth.
If you are involved in sexual immorality or idolatry, i plead with to repent! Turn from it! If you wonder what Jesus’ will for your life is, He says it plainly in Revelation 2:16: “Repent!”
He tells you clearly what will happen if you don’t. The exact same thing that happened to Balaam in Numbers 31:8. “They also killed Balaam son of Beor with the sword.”
I don’t want you to perish. Jesus doesn’t either! Repent of your idolatry and sexual immorality and come to Him by faith. He died and rose again so you could be free.
Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. I will give the victor some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name is inscribed that no one knows except the one who receives it.
I pray that you have an ear to hear. I pray that even if you repented years ago, you would make repentance a daily part of your life.
Here’s the thing. Jesus promises eternal life to those who repent. The truth is that medicine attempts to give us eternal life. Medicine promises health and hope, but the problem with it is that it always will fail. The hidden manna Jesus promises to those who repent is eternal life. The best medicine in existence is Jesus Christ. He will heal your soul eternally; medicine can only heal your body temporarily. While medicine is good (please don’t hear me saying differently), it cannot be the ultimate answer. We need Jesus! He will heal us in ways we don’t even understand.
Give Him your life today.
If you trust Him–or if you have already trusted Him–there is another promise at the end of this passage. God loves you specifically. The white stone He has for you is for you and you alone. Every believer will get his or her own white stone. It is personalized for you.
God’s love is amazing!
In this with you.
Soli Deo Gloria
Thanks for reading.
The next entry can be found here.