Seven Letters to Seven Churches

Pergamum – Compromise with the world

Revelation 2:12-17

12 “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: ‘The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword. 13 ‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. 14 But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. 15 So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth. 17 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.’

Meaning Of Pergamum

The name Pergamum/Pergamos has a dual meaning, as it is the combination of two Greek words, Pergos, and Gamos. So, when the two words are joined, Pergamum can mean “high tower,” or “united by marriage”. The literal translation of Pergamos therefore, is “married to the high tower”. It is very appropriate that the city Jesus calls “the seat of Satan,” a city that elevates man’s wisdom above that of God’s, has a name that links it to the Tower of Babel. The people of Pergamum were “united by marriage” to the Babylonian whore – the genesis of man’s claim to godhood in rebellion to God.

The Tower of Babel

Context

Pergamum was an ancient city of approximately 120 000, located 25 kilometres from the Aegean Sea. The city was connected to the Caicus River valley, which provided access from Pergamum to the Aegean coast. Pergamum was the capital city of the Attalid kingdom, which was the only state left of the territory taken by Alexander’s general Lysimachus, after the fall of the Kingdom of Thrace. When Attalus III (138-133 BC) died without an heir in 133 BC, he bequeathed the whole of Pergamum to Rome (including his title), in order to prevent a civil war. During the Roman period it became the first capital of the Asian province, until the capital was moved to local rival Ephesus. Pergamum was a seat of learning with a library of over 200 000 books, second only to Alexandria’s. The city was known for its parchments which were called ‘pergamena.'”

The Pergamum Acropolis

The Geek word for throne (θρόνος) was used to refer to the seat of the head of a household. The implication therefore, from Jesus’ statement “I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is,” is that Satan was the spiritual authority in Pergamum, and that he was comfortable among his “family”. Pergamum was rife with occult centres – there were three temples dedicated to the worship of Roman emperors, there was the great alter for the king of the gods Zeus, and a temple each for his wife Hera and for his daughter Athena. Also, whenever a city had a temple for Dionysus, there was sure to be drunken debauchery, because he was not only the god of the grape vine and, wine-making, but also fertility, ritual madness, religious ecstasy and theatre. However, the patron god of the city was Aesculapius, the “saviour god” or “divine healer,” represented by a snake, an appropriate symbol for the patron god of the city where Satan, the serpent deceiver, had his throne.

The alter to Zeus (derived from the Greek “dewos” meaning god) was very prominent, standing 90 feet square and 20 feet high on a ledge jutting out from the hillside, 800 feet above the city. It looked like a giant chair, another reason why the city was referred to as being “where Satan’s throne is” (Rev. 2:13). The twelve large cap stones are today on view in Berlin, while the ruins of the foundation remain in Bergma. Smoke would rise above the city each day from countless sacrifices, a sight no one could miss. Thus, Christians were being drawn into error by their complicit support of idolatry, in that they would eat meat sacrificed to idols at functions, become involved in sexual immorality, the teachings of Balaam and the practice of the Nicolaitans. Jesus required that the Church of Pergamum recognize this evil within their Church and cleanse themselves of it, then through repentance restore their relationship with Him.

The Pergamum alter which was moved to Berlin
Hitler’s architect Albert Speer designed the Nuremberg stadium in the same design as the Pergamum Alter.

Not a coincidence: Hitler had the Pergamum alter moved to Berlin, where it resides still to this day. Hitler’s architect Albert Speer was required to design the Nuremberg stadium in the same design as the Pergamum Alter. So, Hitler a historical type of Antichrist stood on the Alter of Pergamum – the seat of Satan – to deliver his powerful speeches that indoctrinated the German people.

The Asclepion (Asklepieion) of Pergamum was perhaps the world’s most famous ancient medical centre. The Asclepion of Pergamum became famous under Galen (131-210 AD), a local physician who pursued his medical studies in Greece and Alexandria (Egypt) before settling in Pergamum as doctor to the gladiators.

The god of healing, Aesculapius received worship in cultic centres around the Greek and Roman world, but his centre of worship was at Pergamum. The large complex there was originally constructed in the 4th century B.C., and became an official centre in the 3rd century. According to ancient myth, the god Aesculapius had the power to raise people from the dead and he himself was restored to life by Zeus; for this reason, he was thought to also have a snake form. Tame snakes were kept in his temples, being regarded as a symbol of regeneration due to the shedding and regrowth of their skin.

Patients of the healing centre were required by the priests to sacrifice a piglet, before being allowed to approached the healing temple via the Sacred Way, a path that started their journey to health. The patients went down a short flight of steps into a tunnel, with cubicles located on either side of the passage. The patients spent the night in the cubicles with non-poisonous snakes crawling over them, which was believed to be part of the healing process. With the help of a sedative the patients slept through the night, then in the morning, they would tell their dreams to the priests/doctors to facilitate the diagnosis of their disease, and be prescribed treatments. After this the patients ascended to the temple, where they made clay sculptures of the body parts that required healing, and then offered them to Aesculapius.

Statue of Aesculapius
Medical Symbols

Many Christians believe that the medical symbols with a serpent used today have their origins in the Exodus story of Moses and the Brazen Serpent. This is not the case, the serpent symbols have a Greek origin not a Hebrew one, they come from the Greek god of healing, Aesculapius. This is one of the many examples of the influence of Geek culture and philosophy on Western culture.

Description of Jesus

“And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: ‘The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword” (Rev. 2:12)

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword” (Heb. 4:12), the author of Hebrews helps us interpret the description Jesus gave of Himself to the Church at Pergamum. The two-edged sword is the Word of God in its keen discernment of men’s thoughts and motives. The word used by Jesus for sword is romphaian, which was a large broad two-edged sword, which has the implication of an offensive weapon used to slash and separate. So, by obedience to the Word of God the church at Pergamum could sever the deceptions of Satan from their congregation.

What Jesus knows and Commendation

“‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells” (Rev. 2:13).

The recognition by Jesus that Pergamum was where Satan’s throne was, is extremely revealing for us. The reason being, that we are then able to follow the movements of Satan from his original throne in Babylon (Isaiah 14) to Tyre (Ezekiel 28), and then to being located in Pergamum. What happens next is very important for discerning the seat of Satan today – as was stated in the introduction, Attalus III, king of Pergamum died without an heir, bequeathing Pergamum to Rome. This included the kings title – “Pontifex Maximus” – which means “bridge-maker.” Attalus as king and high priest was the “bridge-maker” between his people and the gods. Taking up this title the Roman Emperors saw themselves as a part of the pantheon of the gods of Rome, a bridge between the people of Rome and the gods. Emperor Gratian (367–383), as a Christian refused the title, which was then taken over by the Pope. With the Pope taking on this title, he is not only saying that he is the only link between mankind and God, he is also claiming to be a king-high priest – a title that is due only to the Messiah, Yeshua. With Attalus’ title and authority moving to Rome, so did the seat of Satan, where it remains to this day; Revelation 17, confirms that the whore of Babylon sits on the city of seven hills (Rev. 17:9) – Rome! The Lord Jesus assured the church of Pergamum that He knew that they live where Satan had his throne, and were therefore being continually influenced by the Deceiver, and that Jesus understood the pressures that the Church lived under daily from the many Satanic practices. Pergamum had become the centre of Babylon Mystery Religion, championed by the many festivals held for the pagan gods in their temples.

“Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells (Rev. 2:13).

Jesus praises the church of Pergamum for remaining faithful to Him as their Lord, despite hardships and opposition. Confirming this, Jesus gives the example of Antipas – Church tradition tells that Antipas, refused to proclaim Caesar as Lord, and stated unequivocally that Jesus alone was the Lord. Because of his courageous stand, he was placed inside a brass bull which was heated by fire until he was roasted to death – he became the first martyr of Pergamum.

Note: Antipas in Greek means “against the father,” so there is an interesting connotation to the name Antipas, in that it meant Antipas stood against the pontiff (Father). Antipas had died for refusing to worship the Emperor – the pontiff maximus – he had died for being against the “father”.

Rebuke Part 1: Balaam

“14 But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality” (Rev. 2:14).

In Revelation 2:14, the Church of Pergamum is scolded for tolerating the “teaching of Balaam,” or the “doctrine of Balaam.” Balaam’s name is also invoked in 2 Peter 2:15 and Jude 1:11, both in warnings about the conduct and message of false teachers:

  • According to 2 Peter 2:15, Balaam’s “way” is a choice to misuse God’s gifts for selfish financial gain. Balaam had the gift of prophecy, which he was willing to use for the purpose of earning money.
  • According to Jude 1:11, Balaam’s “error” was his willingness to accommodate pagan beliefs out of greed. Jude 1:4 also refers to the sin of those “who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality”. One trait of false teachers in the Church is that they attempt to turn Christian liberty into a “freedom” to be promiscuous (see Rom. 14:1-5).

Both of these Scriptures are references to the Old Testament character of Balaam, who tried unsuccessfully to prophesy against the people of Israel (Numbers 22). He eventually advised King Balak of Moab – the enemy of Israel – to pursue a campaign of seduction against them (Numbers 31:8), by using Moabite and Midianite women to tempt the Israelites into sexual relationships and into pagan rituals. This would cause the Israelites to sin, and be judged by God. The doctrine of Balaam is not only a serious problem, but a devious one. When the frontal assault failed (Satan the dragon), Balaam took the approach of deception (Satan the serpent).

The doctrine of Balaam therefore is the attitude that one can be fully cooperative with the world and still serve God:

  • The doctrine teaches compromise, wanting Christians to forget they are called to be separate and holy (Lev. 20:26; 1 Peter 1:2)
  • The doctrine makes believers indistinguishable from the unbelieving world (Matt. 5;13)
  • It is a belief that “a little sin” doesn’t hurt (Gal. 5:9), especially if there’s some financial or personal benefit involved (1 Tim. 6:5).
  • In practical terms, the teaching or doctrine of Balaam is the view that Christians can—or even should—compromise their convictions for the sake of popularity, money, sexual gratification, or personal gain (Rom. 1:32).

Ultimately It is an the attitude that treats sin as “no big deal” (1).

Note: In a pagan city, it would be very difficult to purchase meat from the market that had not be first offered to a pagan god. The “teaching of Balaam” is explained in context – some of the Pergamum Church were taking part in pagan religious festivals, which involved openly eating food that had been sacrificed to idols (religious compromise), and committing sexual immorality (moral compromise).

Rebuke Part 2 (What you have): Nicolaitans

15 So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans” (Rev. 2:15).

“The teaching of the Nicolaitans,” is clergy-laity separation. All Christians are priests: Peter said, “…You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet. 2:5). The priestly function of the individual Christian has been forgotten because of the clergy-laity divide. The Nicolaitan hearsay has crushed the effectiveness of the Church, with the believer being neutered by the belief that it is the clergy who are the conduit to God and must therefore do all the work – including prayer. Believers merely turn up for services on a Sunday.

The Church of Pergamum had allowed the practices of the pagan world to infiltrate their Church. James gives a strong warning to the Church regarding this, “Friendship with the world is enmity with God” (James 4). There can be no compromise.

Satan’s Plan: Stage 2

There should be no surprise that the city where Satan dwells, is the city in which the church compromised with the pagan religions. In the Garden of Eden, God said to the serpent (Satan) “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring”. The seed of the woman is Jesus, the Word of God; the seed of Satan then also has to be a person – The Antichrist, the counterfeit messiah, who through the demonic power of the spirit of the Antichrist will continually look to oppose the Word of God. Compromise with the world is the spirit of the Antichrist at work in the Church. There is a failure to separate from the world, it became acceptable for individuals in the Church to celebrate pagan festival with their fellow countrymen, and take part in showing reverence to idols and sexual immorality. Also, the pride associated with the pomp and ceremony of pagan priests, with the grandeur of priestly gowns, decorated idols, and fancy rituals, became a very attractive prospect for a Church wanting to elevate its position in the community. The consequence is a religion with a priestly class, and a hierarchy within the church. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are lost as the congregation looks to the clergy to do the work, and the door is open for man’s wisdom (the seed of Satan), to implement church traditions.

Counsel and Exhortation

“16 Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth. 17 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev 2:16-17a).

Jesus hates these two doctrines that have lured believers away from His Word, and they are therefore compelling Him to discipline them. Jesus will expose the wickedness of the false teachings using the Scriptures – “the sword of my mouth”. Once the sin is exposed, He will pass judgement against it. Therefore, Jesus issues a clarion call to repent of their sin. Our Lord hates religious and moral compromise, He calls His people to live differently to the world. God brought the Jews out of Egypt, and required them to trust in Him and to never depend on Egypt for help and support. If Israel ever turned to Egypt in times of hardship there were always negative consequences. The Church has been brought out of the world by Jesus, we are to trust in God and not what the world can provide. If believers look to the world for support, there will be negative consequences, it is called sanctification! God will use corrective circumstances to mould believers into a closer walk with, and trust in Him.

Promise

“17 To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it” (Rev. 2:17).

Jesus makes a promise of three blessings to the believers in Pergamum, hidden manna, a white stone, and a new name. The precise explanation of these three items is difficult to discern; however, all three blessings must concern the believer’s victorious reign with Jesus, which is consistent with the blessings bestowed on the other six churches.

Manna was a kind of honeyed bread that fell from heaven six days a week during the time of Israel’s wilderness wonderings. According to Exodus 16:33 the ark of the covenant contained a jar of manna. The hidden manna represented the rejection of God’s provision by the people of Israel. Jesus called Himself “the bread of life” in John 6:51. The Jews rejected God’s provision for their survival – manna, and they rejected God’s provision for their salvation – Jesus. Jesus is manna from heaven, the food for the true believer. God gave us the true bread, the spiritual bread from heaven which the world doesn’t see. Those that overcome are given all they need to sustain their life forever.

There could be a number of explanations for the “white stone,” but a practice of ancient times gives us an indication:

  • Stones were used for entrance into temple events in ancient times, just as a ticket would be required for entry into a movie in modern times.
  • When a victor won in the athletic games, whatever great games were being held, it was not uncommon for the victor to be given as part of his prize a white stone. The white stone was his admission pass into the festival for victors that followed the games.

The colour white in the Bible symbolizes purity, worthy, deserving, or righteous, and in the ancient time a stone would be used for approval, acceptance or admittance to a public event. It is therefore highly likely that Jesus is referring to the “white stone”, with their heavenly name upon it as an entrance into heaven. God is in the habit of giving new names: Abram, was changed to Abraham and Jacob to Israel. So it seems that we will be given a new heavenly name to go with our new heavenly bodies.

The Pergamum Age
Prophetic application: Constantine (312 – 590)

The Pergamum age is the age of the “state church,” where Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. Persecution of believers stopped; however, the result was the corruption of the Church:

  • Constantine was anti-Semitic, and looked to separate the Church from its Jewish origins, the result was that for the changes to be made, there were compromises made with pagan practices. For example, to stop Christians celebrating Passover with the Jews, in AD 325 the Council of Nicaea, determined that the Feast Day should fall on the Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox, and be called Easter. The spring equinox was the day that the goddess of “spring and renewal,” Eostre was celebrated, which in time also came to include pagan fertility symbols such as eggs and rabbits. In the minds of those at the council of Nicea, the resurrection of Jesus equated well with the pagan celebrations of spring renewal.
  • Christianity being the dominant religion in the Empire, meant that no longer met in believers homes and small church buildings, but took over the now empty pagan temples and built new grand cathedrals.
  • A hierarchy of the clergy began, with the position of Bishop becoming a job by which one could attain political power and authority, leadership in the Church was no longer a calling.
  • With the Emperor becoming a “Christian,” many pagans “converted” to Christianity to please the Emperor. The result was that with many pagans in the Church, and the leadership positions being taken by those seeking power and influence, there was an inevitable corruption of the Church. This corruption included many varied pagan elements such as Nicoliatism, with the clergy being distinguished from laity by the wearing of vestments, and church tradition becoming part of an individual’s salvation. Pagan gods became saints who were to be prayed to, and Mary began the process of her deification, by being called “Mother of God”. The doctrine of Balaam is revealed in the new found wealth in the Church, and the compromises the Church made allowed paganism (Mystery Babylon) to enter the Church – man’s philosophies contaminating God’s Word – syncretism.

Summary:

Summary TopicPergamum 2:12-17
Period describedPaganism enters the church, AD 312 – 590
OpeningTo the angel of the church . . . write
Description of JesusHim who has the sharp two-edged sword (Rev. 2:12)
What Jesus knowsLiving where Satan’s throne is
CommendationHeld to My name & faith even in time of martyrdom
RebukeThe doctrine of Balaam, and Nicolaitans in the Church
CounselRepent
ExhortationHe will fight against them with sword of His mouth (The Word)
What you haveAlso have ones with Nicolaitans doctrine
PromiseHidden manna, white stone, heavenly name
Other promisesNone
ClosingListen to what the Spirit says to the churches

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