Text : Revelation 2 : 12-17
Title : A Letter from Christ to the Church in Pergamum
The next church to which the Lord Jesus dictates a personal letter through John the apostle, is Pergamum , another prominent city in Asia , situated 80km's north of Smyrna. Pergamum reached the height of its greatness under Roman Imperial rule and at that time was home to about 200,000 inhabitants. This city housed an impressive library of about 200,000 volumes and was the second largest in the ancient world after Alexandria. Parchment was invented in Pergamum after relations with Egypt soured and papyrus became difficult to obtain. Today this city in modern day Turkey is called “Bergama”.
Again, we find here a Christian church struggling to survive in the midst of a diversity of pagan cults and idolatry. This is true for every of the 7 churches. It is an accurate picture of the church in the world. Many contemporary Christians think that this assessment is too negative. They think that the Lord has designed the church a place of peace, prosperity and comfort. It is true of course that the church of Jesus Christ is given for the comfort of the saints, but not in the way we often think. The church provides true perspective and comfort from the Word of God; she provides true prayer (receiving true answers and help); she provides true fellowship ( giving true love and sympathy) . However, it is by no means a foregone conclusion that the church has it easy in this world, where Satan has his throne. Chapter 12 :7ff will provide us with more detail on the presence and work of Satan in the world. And so the true church is never at rest in this world. This revelation is therefore given to John for the benefit of these (and any) struggling churches in the world. The church needs to be reminded that she is at war. There is no time for rest now, and John simply repeats what is affirmed throughout the entire Bible. Abraham never really settled in the promised land; Israel never really was at peace for long in her territory; the church of the NT was always unsettled and on the move. All this speaks of our longing and desire for true rest in that city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God (Hebr. 11:10).
The church at Pergamum is said to be situated "where Satan has his throne." (v.13) A throne is the symbol of dominion. A king customarily exercises his rule from the throne - his seat of authority. Although Satan is influential in all the cities in Asia, and indeed in the world, he is said to have his throne in this city. That sounds intimidating, but note that right there we find a Christian church. That fact should greatly encourage us. The church is found at the very portals of hell. C.T. Studd (1860-1931), a missionary to the Congo once wrote in this regard:
The church in Pergamum was such a rescue shop in enemy territory. Jesus says “I will build my church (everywhere), and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matt. 16:18). From the Bible we learn that Satan, whilst a fearful, powerful enemy, he is not omnipotent. He is a roaring lion (1 Pet. 5:8), but he is a chained Lion . He is able to exercise dominion in the city of Pergamum, because God has allowed this for a season.
Another thing we ought to observe is whilst Satan exercises a world wide influence, it is true that there are places where the spiritual darkness and oppression is so much greater, such as in Pergamum. Today Satan has his strongholds in the Muslim, Hindu , Buddhist worlds and in the Communist worlds of China and North Korea. The Western world once so favoured with the gospel is now strongly influenced by secular humanism, and has become another aggressive exporter of anti -Christian sentiments in the world. Of Namibia it has sometimes been said that Satan has his seat in Swakopmund , where a local newspaper had reported some years ago that there was a group of 177 Satanic disciples.
So what influences were there in Pergamum that it was said that this is “where Satan’s throne is ”?
· Pergamum was famous for its worship of Aesculapius - the god of healing. Because of the healing powers attributed to him , he was also known as "Sōter" (Saviour). Thus we have here a striking symbolism of the power of the Anti-Christ who wants people to think that he is the true saviour of men. The large temple of Asclepius built in the 4th century B.C. was considered one of the most famous therapeutic and healing centers of the Greek and Roman world. Galen (c. 130 – 210 AD) who after Hippocrates is considered to be the most important physician of ancient times, was born in Pergamum, receiving his training at the Ascleipion.
· The Serapeum : This was a temple to the ancient Egyptian god of the underworld, built in the lower city of Pergamum. The Serapis cult was founded by Ptolemy I and was originally centered in Alexandria. Held to be a god of healing, particularly of blindness, Serapis was one of a number of Egyptian deities worshiped in ancient Greece and Rome.
· Caesar worship. The emperors of Rome had themselves deified and worshipped as gods. A 2nd century marble temple dedicated to the emperor Hadrian was found here.
To this church the Lord speaks - “the words of Him who has the sharp two edged sword”. This sword in 1 :16 is said to "come out of his mouth". ( see also Hebr. 4:12). What does this mean? It simply means that the words of our Lord Jesus always cut straight, accurately and fairly. A man-made sword cannot compare. This sword penetrates our inmost being. And if it does not cut with the edge of salvation, it cuts with the edge of condemnation, for the word of redemption to all who believe is at the same time the word of destruction to those who refuse to believe. And as such our Lord speaks to the church at Pergamum.
A WORD OF ENCOURAGEMENT: (V. 13)
a. Once again note, that Jesus "knows" where they live . He knows their situation.
b. "you hold fast my name"… This church is faithful to Christ.This must be understood against the contrast with the evil environment. Many clung to the names of Aesculapius, Serapeum, Caesar and Zeus, but in the midst of these idolatrous surroundings these believers held firmly to the name of Jesus. They kept the faith. They were not seduced by their surroundings .
c. "you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas…”. Unlike the church at Smyrna which was about to enter into a time of severe persecution (see 2:10), the church at Pergamum had already experienced persecution. One of their number, whom Jesus calls "Antipas , my faithful witness" (probably their pastor) was martyred here. One can imagine that the death of their leader would have been a severe blow to the church, but this church clung to Christ , not renouncing their faith. That is commendable !
From what we have learned so far of the church at Pergamum, we are full of admiration of this church. It is hard to imagine that one could say anything in rebuke to such a faithful church. And yet ….
WORDS OF REBUKE : "NEVERTHELESS…. "( 14,15)
Let us consider firstly what these things are, which are worthy of rebuke :
(i) "You have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam" (v. 14)
(ii) "You have some who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans" (v. 15)
The teaching of Balaam “who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin" refers to Numbers 22 - 25 & 31:16. When the Israelites came out of Egypt they took possession of the promised land. The Moabite king Balak became very worried and summoned Balaam - a supposed wonder worker - somewhat of the character of a Judas. Balak wanted Balaam to curse the Israelites - but he could not, because the Spirit of God would not let him. Now this Balaam, whilst he was forced to bless the Israelites on this occasion, is said in a number of Scriptures (i.e. Numbers 31:16 ; 2 Peter 2:15 ; Jude 11 ) to have led the Israelites into the worst form of sin - Numbers 25:1 - sexual immorality and sacrificing to idols. He caused Israel to compromise and we read that 24 000 died in a plague inflicted upon them by the Lord. Whilst God holds Israel fully accountable for this sin, the one who lured Israel into this sin was Balaam. There are Balaam like characters in this church, and they were not dealt with.
The Nicolaitans (who are also mentioned in the letter to Ephesus – 2:6) held to similar teachings and practises .
So what is it that causes the Lord Jesus to rebuke the church at Pergamum? It was the sin of compromise! The church somehow tolerated members in its midst who lived immoral lives and indulged in idolatry. Jesus says twice… "you have some there …" and it seems as if this church had failed to discipline these members. May I remind you that church discipline is not an option in the church. The Lord of the church expects the church (particularly the leaders) to watch over the doctrinal purity and the moral behaviour of its members. If ever there was a text in scripture that should remind us of the fact that our Lord expects us to be serious about these issues, here it is! And we must not play down the seriousness of this. There was a real danger that the church would become like the world in Pergamum, even as Israel threatened to become absorbed by the evil culture of the Moabites in Balaam's day.
Somehow, in Pergamum, the guard was down. This easily happens when the church is perpetually under pressure. When under pressure it is not good enough to focus only on the external threats. We must also guard the inner life of the church , and if there are those among us that threaten the spiritual life of the church they need to be disciplined.
EXHORTATION AND THREAT:
"Therefore repent. If not will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth." What must the church do?
1. The church must repent. The church dare not minimise this serious compromise in her midst. God is not pleased with compromise! As an illustration see the entire history of the Kings of Israel. Repenting does not simply mean to say "I am sorry". The word used here (Gr. metanoia) literally means "have an entire change of mind". That means that the church in Pergamum needed to deal with these people in their midst.
2. If they would not do it, the Lord Himself will do it , 'to make war with them'. If they will not act, Christ will act. Our Lord certainly will take steps to purge the church from such evil people. The way in which He would have done it is to exercise 'temporal judgments' in the church.
COMFORT AND ENCOURAGEMENT:
Our Lord ends on a positive note - a two- fold encouragement to those who remain faithful in the Church of Pergamum, and who have an ear to hear! (Note the appeal to the individual)
1. He will feed him with the "hidden manna". This is not difficult to understand . Manna is the bread that the Israelites ate in the desert for 40 years. It was the sign and symbol of God's provision - foreshadowing the true bread from heaven that was to come. Jesus is the true bread of life (the true manna from heaven) and He nourishes them unto eternal life. Those who are hearing what the Spirit is saying are obedient, and they shall receive grace and sustenance from Christ by feeding on Him. This will be their strength to withstand all the attacks of Satan- even in places where he has his throne.
2. He will give him a white stone with a new name written on it. We are not entirely certain what this white stone was. It clearly would have made sense to those who received this letter. There was a custom however in the ancient world – the tesserae, (little stones of friendship) on which was inscribed a combination of letters. These stones were issued to various friends who then had free access to the house and a standing invitation to its hospitality. Whether this is so or not , we don’t know. But it illustrates the point. This white stone is said to bear a new name .Much said about the "new name" in Scripture (cf. 3:12 ; 14:1 ; 22:4). This name is known only by him who receives it. That means that he who overcomes is not only fully accepted by God - but God deals with that individual in a very private a personal way. In heaven we shall not simply be numbers, but we will have a special new name and a special relationship with God. All this is really the fulfilment of an age old promise : "You shall be called by a new name which the mouth of the Lord will give” (Isa 62:2; 65:15 ; 43;1). Our Good Shepherd Himself said that "he calls his own sheep by name" (Jn. 10:3f)
The church exists in this world, in difficult circumstances. Some churches live closer to Satan’s throne than others. But this does not give the church reason for less vigilance. At all times we must watch the internal challenges of the church. We cannot be tempted to allow spiritual and moral compromise in our midst. We must be careful of the seductive teachings of the Balaam’s and the Nicolaitans and their modern counterparts . If we do allow this, we need to be prepared for the cleansing actions of the Head of our church.
By persevering we will receive sufficient encouragement from Christ, the head of the church . He will give us sufficient of His manna – bread on our desert journey to survive , and in the end we will receive that assurance – that white friendship stone by which we gain access into eternal glory. Amen!
 This is the 2nd of many references to Satan in the book of Revelation
 See Pilgrims Progress
 Allgemeine Zeitung , Mittwoch , 27 Januar 1999
 We have a street named after him in Windhoek West
 The Book of Revelation , Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, Eerdmans , p. 27
 See Matthew 18:15-20 ; 1 Corinthians 5
 Richard Brooks : The Book of Revelation , Evangelical Press , p. 38