The Letter to Pergamum: Truth Matters!

 Revelation 2:12-17 Week of February 3, 2019

Read Revelation 2:12

The “sword” is an image of authority.
—>In our culture today, there is a constant battle for the truth. What are some of the lies that get passed off for the truth today?

—>What role does truth play in facing down a world filled with myths?

Read Revelation 2:13

—>What does this verse tell us about the culture in Pergamum?

—>In what ways does our culture today look and sound like a place “where Satan’s throne is”?

—>What compliment does Jesus make to this church living in a pagan culture?

—>How does a believer hold onto Jesus’ name and not deny the faith?

—>Antipas was a “faithful witness.” What can we do to encourage one another toward embodying a faithful witness that displays itself for the world to notice?

Read Revelation 2:14-15

—>What shift in tone is there from 2:13 to 2:14?

—>How were the unfaithful members blending in with the culture? When is compromise a good thing? When is compromise a bad thing? In what ways does our culture tempt us to compromise the truth of the gospel?

Read Revelation 2:16-17

—>Several words were used in the criticism of the church at Pergamum but only word was used as the solution to their sin problem. What word?

—> What promises are made to the faithful people of Pergamum?

Study Notes The Letter to Pergamum Revelation 2:12-17

The city of Pergamum was known as the Citadel, which referred to its location on a high hill overlooking the valley. It was a very distinctive city but it was not a great commercial city. There were no significant trade routes, nor harbors. It was not known for its commerce, trade, or politics. Parchment was invented and produced in Pergamum and was widely used in those days.

Pergamum was primarily a religious city. In those days it was believed that every weird idea that was forced out of any place would end up in Pergamum. The city thrived on religious ideas and concepts. There was a multiplicity of pagan doctrines expounded and the city was consumed with desire for wealth and fashion.

The city was famous for its medical hospital and school, and for the temple of Asclepios. The symbol of Asclepios was the intertwining of serpents that even today is the symbol of the medical profession. The worship of Asclepios took a very sinister turn with its slogan, “Asclepios Soter,” meaning Asclepios is Savior. This emblem was even on the coins of Pergamum.

It was about 16 miles from the coast and had a Greek theater that would seat 10,000 built into the very steep slope of the terrain rising out of the city. It had the second best library in ancient Greece with over 200,000 volumes. The Upper Acropolis stood 1000 feet above the plain of the River Caicus. It held the large theater and library, in addition to the marketplace, palace and barracks for the soldiers. All of this rested comfortably near the altar of Zeus. That is likely the area that John referred to as “Satan’s throne” in Rev. 2:13.

The Lord was rightly concerned about preserving and spreading the truth. This letter warned about heretical teaching and immorality which flowed from all the strange ideas about religion espoused there. These was also a large temple known as the Red Basilica, to the god Isis or Serapis. It is likely that the church at Pergamum met in the main building of the Red Basilica.

Jesus introduced Himself in this letter as the one who has the sharp, double-edged sword. The highest symbol of authority in ancient days was the sword. It represented the greatest power the people knew. It referred to absolute supremacy. To this city that had so many religious symbols of dominance, Jesus declared that He had all authority.

Faithful in Satan’s Stronghold (2:13)
The Lord was aware (I know where you live) that the believers in Pergamum were surrounded by paganism and exposed to all kinds of coercion from the evil culture. Satan not only dwelt there, but he ruled (where Satan’s throne is). The anti-God forces were authoritative and powerful. Yet even amid Satan’s throne, this church was a faithful, working, and dedicated church.

Both Smyrna (2:9) and Philadelphia (3:9) have the presence of thesynagogue of Satan but Pergamum had Satan’s throne. Wherever there is a materialistic, sensual, and lustful city, Satan is always there in power. The message of the church defeats Satan; heresy can be destroyed by truth.

Our Lord knows where we live—our name, our address, our zip code, and the number of hairs on our head. Physical persecution is not the only form of opposition we will face. Immorality, compromise, false teaches, and false teaching stalk our churches every day.

Nevertheless, they were holding on to my name. They were loyal to the name of the Lord Jesus Christ—His name is synonymous with the character and nature of God Himself.

They also had not betrayed the redemptive purpose for which the Lord Jesus Christ came. you…did not deny your faith in me. There had already been one believer killed because of his devotion to Christ—Antipas. He would not take an oath and burn incense to Rome. Jesus called Antipas my faithful witness.

Misunderstanding Christian Liberty (2:14-15)
While there were those who were holding on to Christ’s name (2:13), there were some who were holding the teaching of Balaam and the Nicolaitans. The same Greek word hold is used in all three instances. Some in the church were holding onto heresy.

The Church at Ephesus was commended for hating the practices of the Nicolaitans (2:6). In the Church at Pergamum they were holding theteaching of the Nicolaitans. The deeds had become doctrine. What was at first tolerated as an unscriptural practice is now accepted as an unscriptural principle.

There is uncertainty about the exact content of these false heresies. Many scholars have suggested that these two false doctrines were taught by the same teachers—both resulting in spiritual compromise. What Balaam had done against the Israelites in the OT, the Nicolaitans evidently had done in Pergamum and other locales in the NT. They considered their liberty in Christ as also a liberty to sin. In the name of benevolence, they had tolerated what should have been expelled.

Who was Balaam? In Numbers 22-24, Balaam was called by a king to curse Israel. Every time he opened his mouth to curse Israel, he blessed Israel. It became so frustrating to Balaam because he was offered money to curse Israel but could not do it. Since he could not curse Israel, Balaam tried to get Israel to compromise the purposes of God by intermarrying with the Moabites. He did not curse the nation, he just encouraged them to compromise the purposes of God. By doing so he caused the people to tolerate immorality and heresy, and many engaged in both (Numbers 25; 31:13-16).

The end result was that this false teaching became a national disgrace in Israel. The result in Pergamum was the idea that one could believe the right things about Jesus Christ and then do anything one wanted to do. Orthodox brief was all that was important and conduct did not matter. At least three conducts were tolerated in Pergamum: pagan idolatry, sexual immorality, and spiritual compromise.

A Command with a Warning (2:16)

Repentance is demanded of the church, not the false teachers. The church was tolerating those who believed the heresies. So repent! Otherwise, I will come to you quickly and fight against them with the sword of my mouth. That sword is the Word of God which convicts of sin, confronts individuals with the truth, and offers a chance to respond to the truth.

Christ’s wrath is against those who lead others astray and teach them to sin. Remember His warning to anyone who would lead a little child astray (Matthew 18:6).
The tragedy of compromise is that half-truths soon become whole heresies.

Hidden Manna and a New Name (2:17)
Manna divinely appeared each day, yet human gathering was required. God gave it, but the people had to go get it. It is “hidden” when we fail to gather it for ourselves.
The white stone represents the believers purity as a result of the holiness of God. This new name is received in Jesus Christ. The color white is the dominant color in Revelation, referring to dazzling brightness and purity.

Source: Revelation: The Letters to the Seven Churches, Lifeway Press, 2018.