Revelation 2:12-17

Letter to Pergamum
The End Times

In my last post, we examined the letter to the Messianic Community at Smyrna.  In this post, Yeshua’s letter to the Messianic Community at Pergamum will be examined.

Historical Setting [1]
 pergamum_acropolis  11-1303248575-exploring-ancient-pergamum-ephesus

Ancient Pergamum
(Pictures Courtesy of Google)

Pergamum (or Pergamos) was the capital of the ancient Greek kingdom of Pergamos, until the last of the Pergamenian kings bequeathed his realm to Rome in 133 BCE.  Pergamum became the chief town of the new province of Asia and the site of the first temple of the Caesar-cult, erected to Rome and Augustus in 29 BCE.  A second shrine was later dedicated to Emperor Trajan.  The worship of Asclepius (or Esculapius), the god of healing, and of Zeus was also prominent.  The symbol of Asclepius was two coiled snakes on a staff (which today is still the symbol of the medical arts).  Zeus was worshiped as “Zeus the Savior” because of a military victory over the Gauls. It is natural that Nicolaitanism should flourish in a place where politics and paganism were so closely allied, and where pressure on Believers to compromise must have been heavy.

Pergamum was located about seventy-five miles north of Ephesus. This city, unlike Ephesus and Smyrna, had very little commercial trade. However, Pergamum was well known for its institutions of learning. The city boasted of a library containing more than 200,000 books. It was here that the art of curing skins for writing sheets was developed. The word “parchment” is derived from the word Pergamum.

The church in Pergamum was faithful to the name of Christ, even to the point of martyrdom (v. 13), but it was tolerant of false teachers – probably the same type of false teachers as those in Ephesus.  Yet it seems that while in Ephesus the pastors as a body stood solidly against the false teachers, here in Pergamum the pastors, though not themselves holding to the false teaching, tolerated within their ranks those who did.  The false teaching proclaimed the right of Believers to indulge in pagan immoralities. The Lord, while commending the church for its faithfulness to His name, nevertheless presents Himself as the one who has the sharp, double-edged sword. They had better beware – the Lord is not pleased with His church when it tolerates sinful indulgence.

Steve Gregg writes: “If Ephesus was the ‘New York City’ of Asia, Pergamum was the ‘Washington, DC.’”

12 “To the angel of the Messianic Community in Pergamum, write: ‘Here is the message from the one who has the sharp double-edged sword: 13 “I know where you are living, there where the Adversary’s throne is. Yet you are holding onto my name. You did not deny trusting me even at the time when my faithful witness Antipas was put to death in your town, there where the Adversary lives. 14 Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: you have some people who hold to the teaching of Bil‘am [Balaam], who taught Balak to set a trap for the people of Isra’el, so that they would eat food that had been sacrificed to idols and commit sexual sin. 15 Likewise, you too have people who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Therefore, turn from these sins. Otherwise, I will come to you very soon and make war against them with the sword of my mouth. 17 Those who have ears, let them hear what the Spirit is saying to the Messianic communities. To him winning the victory I will give some of the hidden man [manna]. I will also give him a white stone, on which is written a new name that nobody knows except the one receiving it.”’ ~ Revelation 2:12-17 (CJB)

The one who has the sharp double-edged sword.  Christ is described as the one who has a sharp sword with two edges, a symbol of judgment, therefore, we find included in the address a warning of judgment to come on this church.  Just as the Romans used their swords for authority and judgment, Yeshua’s sharp two-edged sword represents God’s ultimate authority and judgment. It may also represent God’s future separation of believers from unbelievers. Unbelievers cannot experience the eternal rewards of living in God’s Kingdom.

I know where you are living, there where the Adversary’s throne is. Pergamum was a seat of emperor worship, where incense was offered before the statue of the emperor as to God.  Refusal of Believers to do this often-meant death.  Also, an altar to Jupiter and a temple of Aesculapius, a healing god, worshiped in the form of a serpent, which is one of the names of Satan.  It just seems natural that Satan would want control of a city such as Pergamum, in which to operate his system of evil. The combination of idolatry, higher education and the medical arts, allowed Satan the opportunity to affect the total man. Satan could control the mind of man through learning, the body of man through healing, and the soul of man through pagan religion.

Yet you are holding onto my name. You did not deny trusting me even at the time when my faithful witness Antipas was put to death in your town, there where the Adversary lives.  In looking at verse 13 we note that our Lord’s approval is based upon His knowledge. I know where you live; you are holding onto my name; and, you did not deny trusting [having faith in] me.  Satan tried every way possible to destroy Christianity, yet he succeeded only in making it stronger.

The more Satan persecuted this church the purer and stronger it became. It is apparently because of this result of persecution that Satan changed his strategy of conflict. He started to attack the church from within instead of from without. Remember, these letters are not only written personally to the local church, but they also provide an overlay of church history for us today. This historical church takes us to the time of Constantine the Great in the fourth century.

See the Special Comparative Note below for a discussion on Antipas.

Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: you have some people who hold to the teaching of Bil‘am [Balaam], who taught Balak to set a trap for the people of Isra’el, so that they would eat food that had been sacrificed to idols and commit sexual sin.  The original story of Bil’am can be found in Numbers chapters 22-24.  In Jude 11 we find the words error of Bil’am. In II Peter 2:15 we find the expression the way of Bil’am.  The way and error of Bil’am are combined to mark the evil practice of using God for personal gain. The teaching of Bil’am, simply stated, denotes a doctrine of compromise.  Notice three things that the teaching of Bil’am develops among the Israelites.

  1. There were those who could perceive nothing wrong with marrying pagans.
  2. They compromised their stance on the eating of food…sacrificed to idols. The Israelites ate food sacrificed to idols, thus joining in idolatrous worship and thereby “committing adultery” against God – that is, they became apostate.
  3. Many were involved in the sexual immorality.

They have compromised all their distinctives to be like the nations around them. Bil’am was a greedy man who had both a faulty concept of God and a devious mind. He could have easily joined in with today’s “Me Generation,” he was only concerned only with himself.

In Greek cities of Yochanan’s time there were many temples to the gods. Gods dominated the culture in such a way that, even to trade, people would need to be part of trade guilds which usually involved worshiping a god and perhaps joining in eating meals within the temples.  The level of compromise had probably led to the sort of sexual immorality that would have been taken for granted in Greek society on those semi-religious occasions.  It is not clear the exact extent to which these Believers were prepared to accommodate for the sake of a more peaceful life or to save their own skin, but perhaps they were even offering sacrifices to images of the emperor feeling that it didn’t really matter, for their faith in the true God was still firm.

Likewise, you too have people who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.  The word, Nicolaitan, is derived from two words which mean “to conquer the laity.” Thus, the teaching of the Nicolaitans pertained to separation between the clergy and laity. This practice, which is so prevalent in many churches even today, can be traced back to the third century. Faulty practice leads to a rationalization of that practice, which leads to faulty teaching! In Revelation 2:6, that which was referred to as what the Nicolaitans do has evolved into the teaching of the Nicolaitans here in Revelation 2:15.

Therefore, turn from these sins… The Lord will not tolerate compromise within His church. The church needed to repent for allowing this to happen. There were those teaching this doctrine that needed to correct their theology, and those practicing it, needed to correct their conduct. This church at Pergamum was in serious need of revival.

Otherwise, I will come to you very soon and make war against them with the sword of my mouth.  The sword of my mouth is the Word of God (see Hebrews 4:12). The Word of God constitutes the truth, and it is the truth God will use to expose the errors. How or when He would do this He does not say; however, the sin will be dealt with and the people have no excuse for continuing in this heresy.

Those who have ears, let them hear what the Spirit is saying to the Messianic communities. To him winning the victory I will give some of the hidden man [manna]. I will also give him a white stone, on which is written a new name that nobody knows except the one receiving it. To the overcomers God promises three things:

  1. Hidden man. Scripture is clear that God fed Israel in the wilderness with bread from heaven (Exodus 16:4, 35; Yochanan 6:31-35), which was called manna (Exodus 16:15, 31), and that a pot of it was preserved in the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 16:32-34, Hebrews 9:4). The Talmud says that in the third heaven “mills grind manna for the righteous” (Chagigah 12b).  According to 2 Baruch 29:8, in the Messianic Era “the treasury of manna will again descend from on high, and those alive then will eat of it.” When the first Temple was destroyed, Jeremiah (2 Maccabees 2:4-8) or an angel (2 Baruch 6:5-10) rescued the ark with its pot of manna, and they are being kept for the days of the Messiah, when God’s people will again eat manna. Yochanan here uses the language of such traditions to show that believers in him will be admitted to the Messianic Banquet, “the wedding feast of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:9).
  2. A white stone symbolizes approval. At that time in history, a white stone was used as an admission ticket to public festivals; believers will be admitted to the Messianic feast.  On it is written either their own new name or that of the Messiah (19:12); this reflects the quantum jump in purity and identification with Yeshua attained by those winning the victory.Dr. Paul Gardner [2] writes:

    Many have speculated on the stone and its name. The white stone may indicate a verdict for the person of ‘not guilty’ before God.  It seems that the name will be a secret between God and the one who overcomes, who perseveres in the faith.  Perhaps it will describe the victor’s character, and will be a special and very personal reward.  The background for this may lie in Isaiah 62:2, in which Israel’s status of being a people without a land and apparently deserted will be completely reversed by the Lord in the last days.This closely parallels the situation of these Believers in Pergamum who no doubt seemed to others to have been deserted by their God and to have nothing by way of possessions.  But the Lord Yeshua promises a complete reversal of these appearances on the last day when he will give them a new name, not in the sense of a new name for each individual Believer, but a new name for the people of God. The same idea can also be seen in 3:12, and is surely the same as the name written on the foreheads of Yeshua’s people in 14:1.

  3. A new name. That the name of each believer is recorded individually on a white stone intimates the personal and close relationship that we have with our Lord.
Special Comparative Note on Chapters 2:12-17 [3]

Among Historicist and some Futurists, Pergamum is seen as representing the imperial church after Constantine (313-603 CE), wherein the church ceased to be officially persecuted and obtained access to the portals of political power.  Pergamum is alleged to mean “married to power.”  It was during this time that the institution of the papacy had its inception. [4]  In 313 CE, the Decree of Coronation from Rome (“where Satan’s throne is”) the center of Christendom. Like Israel in the days of Bil’am, the church of this period was seduced into immortality and worship of idols through the rise of the papal system.

Some have suggested that Antipas does not refer to an individual, but to a class of men opposed (anti-) to the popes (papas), which men were martyred in great numbers in Rome and Constantinople.  Yeshua threatens to fight the institution with the sword out of His mouth – His Word!

About this period of history Harold Willmington states: [5]

One of the key individuals during this period was a soldier named Constantine.  He was made Emperor in 306 by his dying father and the Roman troops. He claimed to have seen in a dream the image of the cross and to have heard a voice saying, “By this sign, conquer!” Thus inspired, he led his men to victory, defeating his enemy at the famous battle of Milvian Bridge, just outside Rome.  In 313 he signed the Edict of Toleration, which granted freedom to Believers.  It then became fashionable to join the church.  Loraine Boettner lists the following unscriptural doctrines which were introduced during this general time period:

  1. Making prayers for the dead (300)
  2. Making the sign of the cross (300)
  3. The worship of saints and angels (375)
  4. Institution of the mass (394)
  5. Worship of Mary (431)
  6. Doctrine of extreme unction (526)
  7. Doctrine of purgatory (593)

In my next post, we will look at the letter to the Messianic Community in Thyatira.

Click here for PDF version.

[1] Halley’s Bible Handbook: Deluxe Edition

[2] Focus on the Bible Commentary – Revelation: The Compassion and Protection of Christ by Dr. Paul Gardner.

[3] Material in this section is taken from “Revelation: Four Views, Revised & Updated” by Steve Gregg

[4] I want to make it crystal clear that I personally know many true Believers who do fellowship in the Roman Catholic Church.  These and future comments are not intended to be an accusation against any individual member of Catholicism, but more opposed to church doctrine and practices.

[5] A Layman’s Commentary on Revelation by Don Jones

 

5 thoughts on “Revelation 2:12-17

    1. I hope that all my readers follow your example, Patrick. Personally, I don’t like having to read long posts myself on my computer. If they don’t provide a PDF version, I will either skip it or will copy and paste into a document for reading offline.

      Like

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