Rev 2:12-17 – To the Church in Pergamum

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Rev 2:12

  1. Pergamum was one of the most important cities in Asia Minor, today’s western Turkey, and was also the official centre of the Roman Empire. Pergamum was also famous for its large library, which contained 200,000 books, and for inventing parchment when the Egyptians stopped exporting papyrus.
    1. “Pergamum” means “fortress” and the city was a very strong “stronghold” for paganism.
      1. When the city of Pergamum built a temple to “the divine Augustus and the goddess Thomas” in 29 BC, Pergamum became the first city to officially dedicate worship to a Roman emperor.
      1. Not only was the city devoted to the worship of the emperor, but it also worshipped many other gods, such as the goddess Athena and the god Zeus. But above all, they worshipped the god Asclepius, the god of healing, whose symbol “the rod of Asclepius”, a snake coiling up a staff, is still used as a symbol of healing.
        1. Sick people could go to Pergamum and spend the night in the temple of Asclepius together with a bunch of tame snakes. When a snake slithered past and touched the sick person, it was considered that they had been touched by the god Asclepius and would be healed.
  2. The city of Pergamum was one of the few cities in the Roman Empire where the governor had the so-called “power of the sword”, which meant that the governor himself could decide, for example, on capital punishment without needing Rome’s permission.
    1. Perhaps it was precisely in this way that Antipas was murdered, and that Jesus therefore emphasizes that he is the one who has the sword and that he has the ultimate power over life and death.
    1. Jesus showing his sword to the church in Pergamum is a clear signal that they should give more importance to God’s word than the governor’s word in how they should live and whom they should worship.
  3. In Revelation 1:16, John sees a sharp two-edged sword coming out of Jesus’ mouth, and now Jesus clarifies to the church in Pergamum that it is his sword. That Jesus holds this sword means that it is Jesus who is Lord, King and Judge of all living things. What Jesus says goes.
    1. In Hebrews it says: “For the word of God is living and active. It is sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the dividing of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and is a judge of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Heb 4:12)
    1. That the sword came out of Jesus’ mouth is not a coincidence because Jesus’ two-edged sword is the Word, that is, the Word of God, the Bible.
    1. A person may sometimes find it difficult to distinguish between spiritual experiences from God and their own human feelings. But thanks to God’s Word, the Bible, we can distinguish between what really comes from God and what is just a fantasy or our own feelings.
      1. Of course, there is nothing wrong with experiencing emotions, but if you let them control you as if they were the word of God, or even control other people, then it is wrong.
  4. One possible interpretation of why it is explicitly mentioned as a double-edged sword may be to highlight the capacity of God’s Word to both save believers and condemn unbelievers. As Lord, Jesus is both Saviour and Judge.

Rev 2:13

  1. An ancient symbol of Satan is a serpent (Gen 3:1, Rev 12:9, Rev 20:2), and in Pergamum they worshipped Asclepius, the god of medicine, whose symbol was a serpent coiled up on a staff. In addition, Pergamum was the site of the huge ‘pergamon altar’ built by King Eumenes II for the god Zeus to celebrate his victory over the Galatians. The altar looks like a throne and can be seen today in Berlin’s museum. So all in all, we see that there is a clear link between the expression “the throne of Satan” and all the idolatry that existed in Pergamum.
  2. Satan thrives where idolatry flourishes, even taking up residence there. The Christians of Pergamum were extremely vulnerable and one of them, Antipas, had been murdered.
  3. The church in Pergamum is praised by Jesus for holding fast to their faith even in the face of bloody tragedy. Antipas, whose name means “against all”, lived in the same city as Satan, and stood “against all” by holding fast to his faith even when everyone was against him and even eventually killed him.
  4. The Greek word for “witness” is “martys”, so it does not necessarily mean dying for one’s faith.
    1. A Nepalese friend of mine became a “living martyr” when he was arrested by the Nepalese police for breaking the law by preaching Jesus to Hindus. When he had the chance to escape, he chose instead to go to jail even though he knew he would not survive. We prayed very hard for him and eventually he was released.
  5. It is interesting to note that Antipas is accorded the same prestigious title; “faithful witness”, as Jesus himself has in Rev 1:5.

Rev 2:14

  1. Even though the church in Pergamum did many good things, Jesus still has some critical points to make.
    1. In the same way, today we should also be aware that a congregation or a pastor can do a lot of good, while there are still some things to be critical of.
      1. The church I attended as a new disciple, Stockholm Karisma Center, did a lot of good for Stockholm’s homeless and people were saved every Sunday. But as time went on, the disastrous handling of money came to light, leading to the church’s bankruptcy. It would no doubt have been appropriate to praise the church for some parts of its activities, while strongly criticising others. So even if a parish is successful in many ways, it should always be humbled by the fact that it can constantly develop and improve.
  2. Balaam’s teaching was a combination of the two sins of idolatry and sexual immorality (Num 22-24, 31). Apparently there were Christians in Pergamum who were engaged in some form of idolatry while also committing fornication.
    1. Today, as in Roman times, it is considered odd to live a life of sexual purity by, for example, abstaining from sex before, outside and after marriage.
    1. The same doctrine of error is mentioned in 2 Peter 2:15 and Jude 11.

Rev 2:15

  1. The doctrine of the Nicolaitans is not described, but it is not far-fetched to connect it with the doctrine of Balaam, which was about idol sacrifice and sexual immorality.
    1. This interpretation is also confirmed by Irenaeus, who in the 180s wrote: “The Nicolaitans are the successors of the Nicholas who was one of the first seven ordained deacons by the apostles (Acts 6:5). They live a life of unbridled pleasure. The character of these men is clearly pointed out in the Book of Revelation, such as teaching that it does not matter if one practices fornication and to eat that which is sacrificed to idols.” (Irenaeus Against the Heresies, Book I, Chapter 26).
  2. The church in Ephesus is praised by Jesus for “hating the works of the Nicolaitans” (Rev 2:6), but in Pergamum it seems that this doctrine had taken hold in the church.  

Rev 2:16

  1. Since there were undeniably a number of believers in the church at Pergamum who are commended for their strong adherence to the faith, it may seem remarkable that at the same time there were those who engaged in idolatry and sexual immorality. The problem of the church in Pergamum seems to have been that they were too tolerant. Although many of them lived rightly according to the Christian faith, they also tolerated idolatry and sexual immorality going on in the congregation. This compromise Jesus criticizes and urges the church to repent of.
  2. Since Satan obviously failed to bring down the church through murder and persecution, he is instead trying to destroy the church from within by making the church tolerate and accept blatant sin.
  3. Repentance is undeniably not only something that non-Christians should do, but also believers who have gone wrong need to repent.
  4. If the church does not repent, Jesus will fight against them with his sword, the word of God, the Bible (Isaiah 11:4, Ephesians 6:17, Hebrews 4:12, Revelation 19:15, 21).
    1. For a Christian who does not care much about the Bible, this warning may be difficult to understand, but for someone who wants to live rightly according to God’s Word in everything, it is very serious to be convinced that he is living wrongly according to the Bible.
    1. It is probably no coincidence that Balaam was also stopped by an angel with a sword (Num 22:23).

Rev 2:17

  1. You can read the Bible over and over again without experiencing anything special, but suddenly you feel the Spirit of God speaking through the Word and you feel met.
    1. It is important to be open to God’s Spirit when we read God’s Word. We may not always hear God speak through the Word, but it is good to be open to the fact that God sometimes speaks through his Word.
  2. Even today, a congregation risks becoming too tolerant and permissive of sin. Therefore, it is important to be constantly open to the Spirit of God speaking through the Bible text and to pay attention if there is something that needs to be corrected.
  3. Whoever believes in Jesus and lives as a disciple will never have to worry about worldly food or spiritual food (Matthew 6:25-34, John 6:32, 41).
  4. Perhaps the Christians of Pergamum were concerned about what they would eat because all meat was sacrificed to idols. But Jesus urges the church not to worry about this, but only to do what is right, and then Jesus will give them everything they need, including food.
  5. In biblical times, a white stone could symbolise a number of things, such as being invited to a fancy party, a sign of friendship or proof of being acquitted in court. Whichever of these symbolic meanings Jesus means, they are all very positive and biblical!
  6. Being given a new name on special occasions is not new in biblical contexts. For example, the patriarch Jacob was given the new name Israel (Gen 35:10) and Simon was given the new name Peter (John 1:42). Being given a new name by God can symbolize a transition to something new or being given a specific mission.
  7. In Old Testament times, the high priests had a breastplate with a number of stones, each with a name engraved on it (Exodus 28:15-21). It is probably not a far-fetched idea that Jesus is linking to this garment and thus showing the Christians in Pergamum that they are priests in the kingdom of God.
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