By A.T. Walker
While on the island of Patmos, John saw the Lord Jesus Christ, who instructed him to “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.” In 7 Churches, we will be looking into these letters to see what Jesus has to say to these churches…and what he maybe saying to ours.
To the Church in Pergamum
The third letter is addressed to the church in Pergamum, located about 50 miles north of Smyrna.
“The One who has the sharp two-edged sword says this”
“The One”, Jesus, has “a sharp two-edged sword” (Revelation 1:16). Jesus is the Word of God (John 1:1) and when He speaks, He speaks the Word of God. Hebrews 4:12 says that “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Jesus has the ability to cut through any veil or barrier that we may try to put up. He cuts to the heart of the matter, and thoughts and intentions are not hidden from Him.
“I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is”
Pergamum was a center of worship for many pagan gods such as Dionysus and Zeus, and, according to 1 Corinthians 10:20, behind every pagan god, there is a demon. If Satan is the “ruler” (John 12:31) and “god” (2 Corinthians 4:4) of this world, then where better for him to set up his throne than in the center of this army of false gods? As the ruler and god of this world, he has “blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4).
“and you hold fast My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days of Antipas, My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.”
Nothing reveals true and false confessions of faith faster than the threat of pain, suffering, and death, but the church in Pergamum stood firm in their faith, even if it cost them their lives. Antipas is believed to have been the first Christian martyr in the region. Tradition states that Antipas was placed inside of a copper bull which was then heated over a fire until it was red-hot.
“But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality. So you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.”
You can read more about the “teaching of Balaam” here. You may have noticed in these letters that Jesus cares a lot about doctrine and false teaching. Ephesus was commended for holding tightly to correct doctrine. Smyrna would not cave, even when pressured by the Jews and facing prison and death. Pergamum, while firmly believing in the name of Jesus in the face of persecution, has allowed ungodly, pagan practices to creep into their church. The teachings of the Nicolaitans, which the Lord hates (He even gave the church at Ephesus props for doing the same in Revelation 2:6), have become a standard practice for some in Pergamum. Some may think it’s not a big deal since only some in the church were participating, but we know false teaching is “a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough” (Galatians 5:9).
“Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth.”
Wait a minute…I thought Jesus was all meek and mild and stuff…surely He wouldn’t be one to make war…right?
“Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.” Revelation 19:11-16
Now, the “war” part of this letter catches our eye, but look at how his statement begins…with a call to repent. His bride has run off with a pagan god, but He welcomes her back. How many times have we gone astray, only to have the Lord call us home? Go read the story of Hosea. The Lord tells Hosea to marry a “promiscuous woman” (prostitute, or a woman of harlotry and whoredom according to the NASB and ESV translations). When she runs back to her old way of life, the Lord tells Hosea to go get her back. Now, we like to read our bibles and put ourselves and our situation into the story, right? Like we are David and the struggle we are dealing with is Goliath. But the problem is we always want to put ourselves in the position of the hero. In the story of Hosea, we are not Hosea…we are the prostitute. We are the wayward bride. But the Lord shows His love and patience for us by calling us back home. And just as Hosea had to pay to get bride back, Jesus paid on the cross to get His.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.’”
While the meanings of “hidden manna” and the “white stone” are disputed (you can read more about it here), we do know that the only reason anyone overcomes is because Jesus is the great Overcomer (John 16:33). Jesus is the One who reveals deep and hidden mysteries (Daniel 2:22) and He Himself will give us a new name (Isaiah 62:2).
“Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” 1 John 5:5