The Letter to Pergamos (Rev. 2:12–17)


The Letter to Pergamos (Rev. 2:12–17)

In the Book of Revelation, John spoke of Pergamos as the place “where Satan’s throne is” (Rev. 2:13). This Satan’s throne could be a reference to the cult of emperor worship because Pergamos was the center where people pledged loyalty to the emperor of the Roman Empire.[1]

The Correspondent

2:12 “And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write, ‘These things says He who has the sharp two-edged sword:

The Lord Jesus Christ introduced Himself to the angel of the church in Pergamos as the glorified, exalted Christ, “who has the sharp two-edged sword” (Rev. 2:12). This description is also in the vision of “the One like the Son of Man” (Rev. 1:12–17).

The sharp two-edged sword refers to the word of God because it is more piercing than any two-edged sword and can judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb. 4:12).

The apostle Paul also used the metaphor of a sword to describe the word (Eph. 6:17). That the blade is two-edged depicts the word’s potency and power in exposing and judging the innermost thoughts of the human heart. The word never wields a dull edge.

The Commendation

2:13 “I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.

Faithfulness

The Lord Jesus Christ praised the church’s angel in Pergamos for continuing to hold His name fast, even though he lived in the same place of Satan’s throne.

There are many suggestions for the identification of Satan’s throne. Some identify it with the magnificent altar of Zeus that dominated Pergamos. Others connect Satan’s throne with the worship of “the god Asclepius,” depicted as a snake and prevalent in Pergamum. Such symbolism would undoubtedly remind Christians of Satan (Rev. 12:15; 20:2).

Whatever the meaning of “Satan’s throne,” Christians faced persecution for their refusal to worship the gods of this world (2 Cor. 4:4) as they continued to dwell in Pergamos. Despite the persecution and suffering the angel of that church endured, he continued to hold fast the name of Christ and his faith. Therefore, Christ told him, “And you hold fast to My name and did not deny My faith” (Rev. 2:13).

Thus, the church’s angel in Pergamos had the grace of God’s power to maintain his faithfulness in Christ’s name and faith.

Christ came in the name of His Father and with His power and authority. The Lord Jesus Christ said, “I have come in My Father’s name” (John 5:43). In Hebrew, the name of Jesus is (Yehshua), which means Yahweh’s salvation. It is the name of God, our savior in Christ (1Tim. 1:1, 2:3; 2Tim. 1:10). Moreover, Christ is “the author and finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12:2).

Antipas the Faithful Witness

The church’s angel in Pergamos could maintain his faithfulness, even in the days of the martyrdom of “Antipas” (Rev. 2:13).

Nothing is known for sure about “Antipas” apart from this text. He was probably one of the priests of the Pergamos church. According to tradition, he was burned to death inside a brass bull during the persecution by Emperor Domitian. So, he paid the ultimate price for his refusal to compromise. Because of Antipas’ faithfulness, Christ called him, “My faithful martyr; witness,” the exact title of Christ (Rev. 1:5; 3:14).

Certainly, Antipas had a great faith associated with his godly life. He believed in God, who raised Christ from the dead, and that God would also raise him (2 Cor. 4:13). Antipas bore in his body the marks of Christ (Gal. 6:17). Moreover, he carried in his body the death of Christ so that God might reveal the life of Christ in his body (2 Cor. 4:10). Antipas’ way of life, courage, and faith rebuke those who fall under the temptation to compromise with the world.

The Concern

2:14 But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality.

The church’s angel in Pergamos remained loyal to Christ and Christian truth as he faithfully persevered while living at Satan’s headquarters. All was not well with him.

Tolerating the Balaam’s Doctrines

After commending the angel of the church in Pergamos, Christ informed him, “I have a few things against you” (Rev. 2:14). His concern was that the church’s angel had some who held to false teachings, namely the teachings of Balaam and the Nicolaitans.

Christ was concerned with two false doctrines at Pergamos. First, some were following the teachings of Balaam. Thus, the Lord Jesus Christ told the angel of the Pergamos church, “you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality” (Rev. 2:14).

The story of Balaam is in (Num. 24). He plotted to let God curse the Israelites. Ballam’s plan entailed using Moabite women to lure the Israelites into committing sexual immorality and idolatry. That way, God would curse the Israelites as Balak wished (Num. 25; 31:16). Balaam’s plan succeeded, though not to the extent that Balak had hoped. God intervened and severely chastened Israel, executing twenty-four thousand (Num. 25:9), including many leaders (Num. 25:4–5).

Balaam knew God would be angry with the Israelites because of their sexual immorality. He used that knowledge in a wicked way to provoke God’s anger on them because he had run greedily in his error for profit (Jude 1:10–11). Balaam “loved the wages of unrighteousness” (2 Pet. 2:15).

Some in the church of Pergamos had gone astray, having followed “the madness of Balaam the prophet” (2 Pet. 2:16). They believed one could be a church member or a leader while associating himself with the love of the world in the form of satisfying his ambitions or committing sexual immorality. That is impossible since “friendship with the world is hostility toward God. Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4).

Christ revealed God’s will to the angel of the church in Pergamos. God rejects one’s worship and offerings while that person is living in sin. In Isaiah, God said, “I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting” (Isa. 1:13). A person cannot claim to be a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ while living in their lusts! Peter admonished the believers, “Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul” (1 Pet. 2:11).

2:15 Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.

Holding the Nicolaitians’ Doctrines

The Lord Jesus Christ was also concerned about another false teaching tolerated at Pergamos, the doctrine of the Nicolaitans. As far as we know, the Nicolaitans believed a person’s spirit is inherently good, and a person’s flesh is intrinsically evil. They also thought anything done in their body did not affect their spirit. In essence, they were saying, “Live it up; immorality does not matter.” Such teaching tickles many people’s ears, even today. The Lord Jesus Christ was not pleased with loose living then, just as He is not pleased with it today. He knew that “a little leaven leavens the whole lump” (1 Cor. 5:6). Small compromises here and there will eventually corrupt the whole body.[2]

The Lord Jesus Christ called the Nicolaitans’ teachings “which thing I hate” (Rev. 2:15), revealing that the heart of His Father hates such heretical teachings. In Leviticus, the Lord God commanded His people to keep the body as well as the self undefiled. He said, “For I am the Lord your God [I am Yahweh your Elohim]. You shall therefore consecrate yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy. Neither shall you defile yourselves with any creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (Lev. 11:44). “Therefore, you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48).

The Command

2:16 Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.

The only remedy for any sinful behavior is to repent. “Repentance” is a word used in Scripture to describe a change of mind that results in a change of behavior. Repentance is God’s command to all people (Acts 17:30). He said in Ezekiel, “Repent, and turn from all your transgressions, so that iniquity will not be your ruin” (Ezek. 18:30). God is not “willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).

The Counsel

2:17 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it”

The Lord Jesus Christ promised the church’s angel in Pergamos that He would give three things to the victorious: some hidden manna, the white stone, and a new name.

Receiving the Hidden Manna

The first promise to those who overcome is, “I will give some of the hidden manna to eat” (Rev. 2:17). Manna was a honey-flavored bread God, the Father of Jesus Christ, sent from heaven to feed the Israelites during their years of wandering in the wilderness (Ex. 16:14; John 6:32). The Israelites were to keep a jar of manna inside the Ark of the Covenant during their travels to remember God’s provision (Ex. 16:33).

The Lord Jesus Christ is “the living bread which came down from heaven [the true Manna that Father sent from heaven]” (John 6:51). In Christ, we have the heavenly blessings from the Father for the sustenance of our eternal life, “the food which endures to everlasting life” (John 6:27). Christ said, “If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world” (John 6:51).

Receiving a White Stone

The second promise to those who overcome is, “I will give him a white stone” (Rev. 2:17). There has been much speculation about what the white stone symbolizes. Some link it with the Urim and the Thummim on the high priest’s breastplate (Ex. 28:15, 30; Lev. 8:8; Num. 27:21; Deut. 33:8).

The high priest used these stones to determine God’s will. They represented the right of the high priest to intercede before God for a leader who could not request guidance from God directly but had to come through the priestly structure. Somehow, God caused those stones to disclose His will in a form beyond just the simple yes and no received from the casting of lots.

According to this view, the Lord Jesus Christ promised to give the knowledge of God’s will to those who overcome through the white stone. By the grace of God, a renewed mind that can “discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2, ESV).

Receiving a New Name

Being in Christ, God gives them a new life as a “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17). Therefore, the third promise given to those who overcome is that “on the stone, a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it” (Rev. 2:17). The new name, however, refers to the unique identity of victorious. We cannot know what it is until we receive it (Deut. 29:29).

God has not yet revealed the reality of this new identity as His children. At the second coming of Christ, God’s children will be with Christ in glory, as they will appear like Him (Col. 3:4; 1 John 3:2).

The church’s angel in Pergamos faced challenges just as all the other angels of the churches did. He could repent and receive all the blessedness of eternal life in the glory of heaven. Otherwise, he could refuse to repent and face the terrifying reality of having the Lord Jesus Christ declare war on the unfaithful. Maintaining the path of uncompromising ultimately leads to eternal life.


Excerpt from: Revealing the Father through the Book of Revelation, by Hegumen Abraam Sleman

With God's grace, the book is available on Amazon. I would be blessed if you could get a copy of the book and review it. For more information about the book, please visit frsleman.net. I am looking forward to hearing your feedback. Pray for me!

Blessings to you,

Fr. Abraam Sleman
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[1] Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Copyright © 1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[2] Revelation: God’s Word for the Biblically-Inept, Raymond R. Duck.


Excerpt from: Revealing the Father through the Book of Revelation, by Hegumen Abraam Sleman

Click here to buy the book from Amazon

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