12 "To the angel of the church in Pergamum, write this: "'The one with the sharp two-edged sword says this:
13 "I know that you live where Satan's throne is, and yet you hold fast to my name and have not denied your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was martyred among you, where Satan lives.
14 Yet I have a few things against you. You have some people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who instructed Balak to put a stumbling block before the Israelites: to eat food sacrificed to idols and to play the harlot. 15 Likewise, you also have some people who hold to the teaching of (the) Nicolaitans. 16 Therefore, repent. Otherwise, I will come to you quickly and wage war against them with the sword of my mouth.
17 "'"Whoever has ears ought to hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the victor I shall give some of the hidden manna; I shall also give a white [stone] upon which is inscribed a new name, which no one knows except the one who receives it."' Version: New American Bible.
The third city Jesus addresses is Pergamum, a city well known for its idolatry (v.13).
- As Pergamum was the capital of the province of Asia, the governor had "the right of the sword."
"Satan's throne" probably refers to the emperor cult, although it could also refer to the religion of Zeus, especially considering the enormous altar that was there at the time.
Yet in spite of temptations and pressure to participate in idolatry, the Pergamene Christians stood fast.
- Antipas has been executed. That he is only one person shows us that the fires of persecution are only beginning to heat up.
- About "meat sacrificed to idols": Whereas "makellon," marketplace meat, was acceptable for Christians to eat (1 Cor 10:23-30). But "eidōlothyton," meat sacrificed to idols was not (Acts 15:29; 21:25; 1 Cor 8:1, 4, 7, 10; 10:19; Rev 2:14, 20). The deciding factor: whether consumption took place in a cultic setting or not.
- Despite their general fidelity, the church has strayed. They have failed to expel false teachers from their congregation (vv.14-16).
- Balaam is the character in Numbers 22-24.
- It is difficult to appreciate his negative influence unless you also read Numbers 31:8; Joshua 13:22. See also 2 Peter 2:15.
- Notice the connection between idolatry and sexual sin, common in the scriptures (1 Corinthians 6, 8, 10 etc).
- About the Nicolaitans, see comments in study on Revelation 2-A.
- Thus again we see that, in most cases, Jesus has mixed praise for the congregations he addresses in these seven letters.
- And whereas our modern age counsels "tolerance" for error, God's Word commands repentance (v.16). The sword of his mouth is not the imperial (decapitating) sword, but the Word by which we will all be judged (John 12:48; Ephesians 6:17; Hebrews 4:12).
- Balaam is the character in Numbers 22-24.
- The warning to listen is repeated (v.17). The promise attached is double:
- Hidden manna is a reference to Exodus 16. Also see John 6; Jesus is the manna (bread) of life. The allusions are clear, but it seems less clear whether the manna points to something beyond eternal life in relationship with Jesus Christ. Extrabiblical sources associate the hidden manna with the coming of the Messiah.
- The white stone (amulet, only in the NAB) has multiple possible allusions: a pass to a theatrical event; a yes vote for acquittal (as opposed to a black no vote), in criminal cases (Acts 26:10 -- psephos is "stone" or "vote"); the Urim and Thummim of the Levites (Exodus 28:30); the prize in an athletic contest; a gift to honored guests by the host of the banquet; etc.
- The new name suggests that our identity is secure in Christ; faithful Christians are beyond the reach of Satan who can never destroy their identity, even if he can destroy their bodies (through the persecutors).
- Once again, faithfulness will be rewarded. Here as throughout the book of Revelation, three lessons recur:
- The church is on a collision course with the state. Things may get worse before they get better. But there is good news...
- Jesus is the true Lord of history, and true sovereign over the apparent rulers of the earth. The persecutors will be judged, and the persecuted vindicated, yet...
- We must persevere to the end in order to receive our reward.
Traditions (here) about Antipas being roasted in a brazen bull may be correct, or may be too late to be accurate. Early medieval Christianity invented many legends connected with prominent and not-so-prominent Bible figures.
As for Pergamum's idolatry, Zeus, king of the gods, was worshipped here. Most of the enormous altar (120' x 112') has been transported to Germany, and appears in Berlin's Pergamon Museum. So was Asklepios, god of healing, and Serapis, Egyptian chthonic deity. There was even a temple to the emperor Trajan (98-117 AD). Or perhaps the Pergamene acropolis itself was (and resembled) a great throne.
The cultic setting for consumption of idol meat was inherently idolatrous, and was also often connected with post-prandial sexual activity (Cicero, For Murena 13; Juvenal, Satires 11.162-170; Quintilian, Oratory 1.2.6-8; Plutarch, Table Talk 613C; Seneca, Epistles 47:7; 95:24).
For more on Pergamum, click here.
Am I overly tolerant -- of sin and compromise? Do I bend over backwards (too far) to be accommodating to others?
Is perseverance through hardship one of my qualities? If things where I am were to get a lot worse, would I remain faithful?
NEXT: The letter to Thyatira.