Church of Pergamum
The third church that is addressed in Revelation is to the one located in Pergamum. In this letter, Jesus is described as “the one who has the sharp two-edged sword” (1:16). Why does Jesus describe Himself with a sword? I don’t remember seeing this picture in my Precious Moments Bible. Here, Christ is pictured as a judge and executioner over His church.
Now before Jesus rebukes the church, He offers them a word of encouragement. This is an example that all Christians ought to learn from. How much more effective would we be if we noticed the strengths of others and encouraged them to walk faithfully before giving words of correction?
The church of Pergamum is commended for holding fast the name of Jesus even when Antipas (a fellow believer) was killed for his faith. In verse 13, we read that Pergamum is considered Satan’s throne and the place that Satan dwells. Pergamum was rich in idolatry. This city was the first in Asia Minor to build a temple for emperor worship (Beale, 65) and at the pinnacle of the city was an altar for Zeus. This church is located in the crosshairs of Satan, it is in a very hostile city. Believers are being killed and rather than denying their faith to stay alive, they cling to their faith in Jesus. They refuse to deny their King and Savior.
In one sense this Church is a model for us as believers to follow. They are unbending in their faith in Jesus. And yet in verse 14, we read of a terrible rebuke against this church.
We are told that there are some people within this church who have watered down their faith and are holding on to the teachings of Balaam. Balaam was an O.T. prophet who encouraged the Moabite King, Balak, to send “moabite women to seduce Israelite men into sexual immorality and and idolatry” (Johnson, 76). Rather than seeking to only please God, Israel thought they could live in sin and still be the people of God. So what did God do? God came down and killed 24,000 people in a plague (Numbers 25) to show that He will not tolerate sin. We cannot be citizens of God’s Kingdom and the Kingdom of the World. We can only have one citizenship. So what does this have to do with church of Pergamum? It appears that this group called the Nicolatians said that you can be a follower of God and eat food sacrificed to idols and commit acts of sexual immorality. In essence the message was, you can be a Christian on Sundays and do whatever you want the rest of the week.
Do we do this today? Sure we might not eat food sacrificed to idols but there are plenty of people who call themselves Christians and have no problem committing acts of sexual immorality. Today, we are told it is okay for Christians to practice homosexuality and have sex before marriage. We are told you don’t have to gather with the church, you can spend your money on whatever you want, and what you do in your free time is your own prerogative. Today, much of what is called Christianity, is nothing like what we see in God’s Word. It is some kind of watered down soggy filth. So this definitely is a message we need to hear. As Christians we are constantly bombarded with messages from the TV, billboards, the radio, magazines, and our cell phones calling us to compromise in our faith.
First Jesus is going to tell the church what will happen if they do not respond appropriately and secondly He will tell them the reward they will have for following Him.
So what does Jesus call this church to do?
Repent. Jesus says, turn from your wicked lifestyle. Jesus says, follow Me.
What happens if the church doesn’t repent?
Jesus will come with the double edged sword make war.
Just like God killed 24,000 in the O.T., so Jesus will make war with those who are in His church and yet live like the world. What does it mean to make war? I’m guessing Jesus isn’t bringing His sword for cooking but for killing.
In 1 Corinthians 11 we read that there were people in the church who were taking communion improperly. And Jesus responded by causing some of these believers to become sick, weak and even die. If Jesus will discipline believers to the point of death, how much more will He judge those who say they are Christians but live as pagans?
And for those who repent, Jesus promises to give them the hidden manna, and white stone with a new name on it that only they will know. Manna in the O.T. was the food that God gave His people to survive on in their wilderness time. Jesus has now come as the bread of life who preserves us. So what is this hidden manna? Could this be an illusion to the wedding supper that we will participate in when Jesus returns (Rev 19:9)? Or is this Jesus promising to nourish those who are “faithful with an unfailing supply of heavenly spiritual food” (Poythress,88)? The manna in the O.T. was also described as looking like a white stone (bdellium) (Number 11:7). In Pergamum pink granite dominated the construction of buildings and was easily found in the county side. However, the ruins of this city have also revealed, stones of white marble with names inscribed on them. It is believed that these stones would have been imported into this area and would have been very valuable and rare.
So it appears that those who are faithful to God are valued and nourished by His Word (which could mean now and when Jesus returns). But what does it mean that a new name will be on these rocks? Possibly it means that we are given new names, but in Revelation 22:4 we read in the New Heavens and New Earth we will have a name written on our foreheads, but it will not be our name. It will be the name of God.
So whatever this name is on this rock, we can rejoice that God knows us and we are promised to be with Him forever sustained by His Word.
As Christians this letter is not meant to cause us to tremble in fear and question our faith. Rather, it is to strengthen our faith that we would all the more make sure of our salvation. It is a blessed reminder that God has saved us to live for Him and for Him alone. If we need to repent of wrong living, then let us repent, knowing that God provides grace to forgive and strengthen us.