The Letter to the Church in Pergamum (Rev 2:12-17)

October 17, 2016 — Leave a comment

I. INTRODUCTION

A. Summary of Past Lessons

John’s Introduction and Greeting to the Seven Churches (Rev 1:1-8)
John’s Vision of the Son of Man (Rev 1:9-20)
The Letter to the Church in Ephesus (Rev 2:1-7)
The Letter to the Church in Smyrna (Rev 2:8-11)

B. Text of Rev 2:12-17

“12Write to the angel of the church in Pergamum: This is the message from the one who has the sharp double-edged sword. 13I know where you live. It is where Satan’s throne is. However, you hold on to my name and do not disown my faith in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness. He was killed among you where Satan lives. 14But, I have a few things against you. Namely, that you have people adhering to the teaching of Balaam, who taught/told Balak to throw enticement to sin before the people of Israel, namely to eat food offered to idols and to commit sexual sin. 15In this manner, you have people holding to the same teaching as the Nicolaitans. 16Therefore, repent! If not, I will come to you quickly and I will wage war against you (namely, the Nicolaitans and Balaamites) with the sword of my mouth. 17The one who has an ear must listen to what the Spirit says to the churches: I will give to the one who overcomes manna which is hidden and I will give a white amulet. On the amulet is written the new name that no one understands except the one who receives it.” (Rev 2:12-17) 1

St. Antipas of Pergamum

St. Gregory of Agrigentum and St. Antipas of Pergamum

Church of Pergamum

“Church of St. Antipas of Pergamum” by Shakko/Wikipedia

C. History and Background of the City of Pergamum

The city of Pergamum had a long history of idol and goddess worship. There were four deities the residents of Pergamum worshipped: Zeus, Athena, Dionysos, and Asklepios. Zeus was seen as the “savior-god” and Athena was seen as the “victory-bearing” goddess. Each of those were a testimony to the Greek spirit and influence. Dionysos was the god of the royal family. Asklepios was more of an animal god associated with serpents, people would feed a living serpent in the temple (Thomas, Revelation 1-7, 179). Worship of the emperor of Rome was very strong and active in Pergamum. Thomas writes, “Caesar-worship was the most intense here [Pergamum]. In other cities a Christian might be in danger on only one day a year when a pinch of incense had to be burned in worship to the emperor. In Pergamum, however, Christians were in danger every day of the year for the same reason” (Thomas, Revelation 1-7, 180).

II. JESUS ADDRESSES THE CHURCH IN PERGAMUM (2:12)

“Write to the angel of the church in Pergamum: ‘This is the message from the one who has the sharp double-edged sword.’” (Rev 2:12) 2

Like every other introduction to the churches, the letter to the church in Pergamum mentions some attribute of Jesus in the first verse. Here the attribute is the one who has the “sharp double-edged sword” previously mentioned in Rev 1:16 and will be used again in Rev 19:15, 21.

III. APPROVAL FROM JESUS (2:13)

“I know where you live. It is where Satan’s throne is. However, you hold on to my name and do not disown my faith in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness. He was killed among you where Satan lives.” (Rev 2:13)

A. Satan’s Throne

According to Thomas, Revelation 1-7 (pp. 181-185) there are six views about the meaning of “Satan’s throne” in Rev 2:13.

1. Seat of Worship of Asklepios

The idol god, Asklepios, was portrayed as holding a serpent. This image reminded Christians of Satan (Rev 12:9; 20:2).

2. Altar of Zeus

An altar of the god, Zeus, had been set up at Pergamum to celebrate the victory over the Gauls by Attalus two centuries earlier. This altar was large and easily could have been seen as the “throne of Satan.”

3. Home of Satanic Spirit of Persecution and Figurative Reference to Anti-Christian Power

Antipas was martyred in the city of Pergamum. Fierce persecution of a Christian might suggest that this city was Satan’s dwelling place which caused increased persecution. This view has support from Paul’s statement to the Thessalonians, “We wanted very much to come to you, and I, Paul, tried again and again, but Satan prevented us” (1 Thess 2:18, NLT).

4. Pergamum as the Worst of the Seven Cities

While all seven of the churches that Jesus wrote to were in pagan cities, this view sees Pergamum as the worst of them all. Support for this view is that Pergamum had temples to four of the most prominent Greek gods: Zeus, Athena, Dionysos, and Asklepios. These gods were not just worshipped here but also had their images printed on the coins used in the city!

5. Satan’s Future Place in Pergamum

Some say that “Satan’s throne” it not yet in Pergamum. Instead, his throne will be at Pergamum in the future when the Satan (the dragon of Rev 12) gives his power to the beast of the sea in Rev 13:2. Then, martyrdom will be extremely common (Rev 6:9-10; 13:10; 20:4) and that will be the time when Satan’s throne is in Pergamum.

6. Emperor Worship in Pergamum

Among Roman provinces Pergamum was a model of emperor worship. A temple was built for Augustus in 29 BC. Rome was the strongest agent of Satan’s power to oppress and punish Christians. Because of this, Jesus likely saw Pergamum as the model of people who followed the Roman ways and caused harm to Christians.

B. Holding on to Jesus

While Satan’s throne was in the city of Pergamum, people still held on to Jesus. They had not given up on him and they stuck with Jesus in the face of adversity and oppression.

C. Antipas

Antipas was part of the Christians who stood firm against the Roman leaders who wanted Christians to relax their loyalty to Jesus. Tradition teaches Antipas was burned to death in a bronze bull during the reign of Domitian (Thomas, Revelation 1-7, 186).

IV. COMPLAINTS FROM JESUS (2:14-16)

A. Permitting False Teaching (v. 14)

“But, I have a few things against you. Namely, that you have people adhering to the teaching of Balaam, who taught/told Balak to throw enticement to sin before the people of Israel, namely to eat food offered to idols and to commit sexual sin.” (Rev 2:14)

1. Balaam in Numbers

In Numbers there is an interesting exchange between Balaam and Balak. Israel is enduring their forty years of exile in the wilderness before getting to enter the promised land. The Israelites travel to the plains of Moab and camp east of the Jordan River which is when Balak, son of Zippor, the Moabite appears in the book (Num 22:1-3). Balak had seen everything that the Israelites were doing and was afraid that the Israelites would devour his land and his people, so he sent a messenger to bring Balaam (Num 22:4-5).

With money as incentive, Balak asked Balaam to curse the Israelites (Num 22:6), but God speaks to Balaam and tells him not to curse the Israelites (Num 22:9, 12). Instead of cursing Israel as Balak wanted, Balaam actually blesses them (Num 23:7-11, 18-25; 24:3-9). Yet, Balaam still accepted money from Balak to curse them. Balaam might have done what God wanted, but Balaam’s motives were in the wrong place. Additionally, Balaam essentially “defected” to the Israelites side and abandoned his loyalty to Balak.

2. Balaam in the New Testament

Balaam is mentioned two other times in the New Testament:

  • “They have wandered off the right road and followed the footsteps of Balaam son of Beor, who loved to earn money by doing wrong.” (2 Peter 2:15, NLT)
  • “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 11, NLT)

3. Balaam in Revelation

In the context of the church of Pergamum, Balaam is mentioned because the Christians in Pergamum had not made a clean break from the pagan meals that were associated with idol worship and sacrifice. Furthermore, there was some type of sexual sin also involved in the pagan meals and sacrifices that Christians were still participating in.

B. Following False Teaching (v. 15)

“In this manner, you have people holding to the same teaching as the Nicolaitans.” (Rev 2:15)

People in the Pergamum church ate food offered to idols and engaged in sexual sin, they were the same as the Nicolaitans (which were mentioned in the letter to the church in Smyrna). The people in Pergamum were lost and sinful. They followed the desires of their flesh instead of following Jesus. (Wright, Revelation for Everyone, 22).

C. Repent of Sin (v. 16)

“Therefore, repent! If not, I will come to you quickly and I will wage war against you (namely, the Nicolaitans and Balaamites) with the sword of my mouth.” (Rev 2:16)

I like N.T. Wright’s description here, “His word will cut through the half-hearted spirituality that is happy to face both ways at once” (Wright, Revelation for Everyone, 22).

V. LISTEN TO THE VOICE OF JESUS (2:17)

“The one who has an ear must listen to what the Spirit says to the churches: I will give to the one who overcomes manna which is hidden and I will give a white amulet. On the amulet is written the new name that no one understands except the one who receives it.” (Rev 2:17)

A. Overcomer

None of the “overcomer” participles in Revelation (2:7, 11; 3:5, 12, 21) have a direct object, but the implied direct objects are hostile forces. The idea Jesus is conveying is that believers need to be victorious over the hostile forces and evil present in their life, not necessarily an “overcoming” at the end of life (Thomas, Revelation 1-7, 198).

B. Manna

Several meanings for “manna” have been provided.

1. Future Reward

This view says that there will be a future reward—something that tastes sweet—when the struggle is over.

2. Christ as the Bread from Heaven

3. Present Spiritual Food of the Saints

4. Pot of Manna in the Ark of the Covenant

This view, which Thomas holds (Revelation 1-7, 198-199), says that according to tradition the prophet Jeremiah hid the Ark of the Covenant before the destruction of Jerusalem, and it will not be recovered until Israel is restored in the future (2 Maccabees 2:5; Apocalypse of Barauch 7:7-9; 19:8). There is a heavenly ark according to Rev 11:19

C. Amulet

While the manna mentioned in this verse is difficult to identify, the amulet is even more difficult.

One view says that this white stone indicates a vote of acquittal in court. Another view says it is a token of Roman hospitality. Others say it represents a ticket to the gladiatorial games which meant martyrdom. Perhaps the best answer is that this is a reward for those who have “won a victory.”

D. A New Name

Two common views on this “new name.”

1. New Unknown Name of Christ

This view finds support in Rev 3:12 and 19:12.

2. New Unknown Name of the Believer

This view is most likely correct. This is a new name that reflects the believer’s new status as belonging to Christ. Other examples of new names being given are seen in the Bible (Gen 32:28; Isa 62;2; 65:15). This view is held by Thomas, Revelation 1-7, 202 and Wright, Revelation for Everyone, 23.

VI. CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION

We live in a fallen world where Satan has his throne. The book of Job (Job 1:6-8; 2:1-2) and other references in Scripture (John 12:31; 2 Cor 4:4; Matt 4:8-9; Luke 10:18; 22:3; 1 John 5:19; 1 Peter 5:8) make it clear that this world is the place of Satan; it is his place of reign and dominion. Christians must constantly be on guard and live knowing that this is Satan’s place. This means that we must focus on Christ daily to be holy and pure in our living. There are millions of ungodly distractions that can easily entice us. That enticement includes people working in the secular world as well as people who work in the church. I believe that Satan focuses even more of his time on people living righteous lives within the church because he knows those people are advancing the work of Christ. Wherever we work and place our time, it is important to endure Satan’s throne by knowing that presently, we live in his place of dominion.

Notes:

  1. Unless otherwise noted, all translations are my own
  2. Unless otherwise noted, all translations are my own

Christopher L. Scott

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Christopher Scott is Small Groups Pastor at Rocky Hilly Community Church in Exeter, CA. He has more than ten years of experience leading volunteers, running nonprofit programs, and teaching the Bible in small group settings. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Fresno Pacific University and master’s degree from Dallas Theological Seminary.

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