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The Message to Pergamos

The message to Pergamos is the third of the messages to the seven churches of Revelation. (Downloadable summary chart, PDF file)

snake on a pole

The site of ancient Pergamos lies about 105 kilometers (65 miles) north of the site of the Biblical city of Smyrna. Pergamos was built on a huge granite rock that rises 1000 feet from a vast plain; the Greek word for Pergamos means elevation or height. It was famous for the invention and manufacture of parchment and for its temple of Aesculapius (Asclepios). This pagan serpent-god of healing was symbolized by a snake around a pole and is still seen in medicine today. There was a large health facility in Pergamos which, it seems, was under the influence of Satan.

"And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges;" (Rev 2:12)

sword

The message to Pergamos starts with a description of Christ: "he which hath the sharp sword" which, as in the other messages, is taken from the description given in chapter 1:

"And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength." (Rev 1:16)

This can be related to the Roman governor, who had his headquarters in Pergamos, and had the right of the sword - the power of life and death over his subjects. The sharp sword also, of course, symbolizes the word of God and Pergamos was the source of parchment on which it may have been written.

"I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan's seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth." (Rev 2:13)

"Seat" is from the Greek word "thronos," meaning seat of authority. The same original word is also translated as "throne in Matt 19:28 and Luke 1:32. Pergamos was the center of the imperial cult of the province. All citizens of the province (not just of Pergamos) had to appear once a year before the magistrates and pay homage to the emperor with refusal meaning persecution and death.

The Greek word "martus" normally means witness (and is translated that way in 29 of its 34 uses in the KJV) - but is here rendered as "martyr" as that is what it came to mean - one who witnessed unto death. The word "martus" translated as "witness" is used to describe Christ in Rev 1:5 and 3:14.

"But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication." (Rev 2:14)

The sins of Balaam were covetousness, hypocrisy, idolatry and immorality. As a result of his counsel to Balak:

"... the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab. And they called the people unto the sacrifices of their gods: and the people did eat, and bowed down to their gods." (Num 25:1-2)
"Behold, these (the women of Midian, who together with Moab) caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the LORD." (Num 31:16)
"Which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness;" (2 Pet 2:15)

It seems that false teachers within the church at Pergamos encouraged some of these same activities even with the intent to divide and destroy the church. These activities were expressly forbidden in the council of Jerusalem (Acts 15). The compromise with paganism may have been stimulated by efforts to avoid persecution.

"So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate." (Rev 2:15)

This is the second church to which Jesus says that He hates the deed of the Nicolaitans. However, in the case of the Ephesians, they were commended for also hating these evil deeds, whereas those in Pergamos tolerated and had some who would even "hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans."

The followers of the sect of the Nicolaitans apparently taught that the deeds of the flesh do not affect the purity of the soul and therefore have no effect on salvation.

"Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth." (Rev 2:16)

Balaam himself was slain with the sword:

"And they slew the kings of Midian, beside the rest of them that were slain; namely, Evi, and Rekem, and Zur, and Hur, and Reba, five kings of Midian: Balaam also the son of Beor they slew with the sword." (Num 31:8)

And those joined to him were also slain:

"And Moses said unto the judges of Israel, Slay ye every one his men that were joined unto Baalpeor." (Num 25:5)

However, this call to repentance was combined with, not a literal sword, but the sword of His mouth which is the word of God. The goal of the call to repentance, of course, was that they would repent and not be subject to the sword.

"He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it." (Rev 2:17)

The physical manna, sent to feed Israel in the wilderness, was a type of Him who came from God to give life to the world. Jesus said:

"I am that Bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven. ... If any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever: and the bread that I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6:48-51)

Some have suggested that the hidden manna was a reference to the manna that Aaron put in a pot within the ark.

The white stone may represent a favorable verdict in judgment as it was common for jurors in Greek and Roman times, in a trial, to indicate their decision with a white stone (for innocent) or a black stone (for guilty). The only other use of the Greek word for "stone" is its translation as "voice" in this verse:

"Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them." (Acts 26:10)

So it is quite likely that, in hearings against Christians, Paul made his decision and indicated his verdict by displaying a black stone against those who were being examined for their faith.

A new name stands for a person's changed character and new relationship with God. Some examples are Abram to Abraham (Gen 17:5) and Jacob to Israel (Gen 32:27-28). The first case of a name change, although there is no single verse mentioning it, was the change from Lucifer (light bearer) to Satan (adversary). He certainly had a change in his relationship to God, but not a positive one.

"And the Gentiles shall see thy righteousness, and all kings thy glory: and thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the LORD shall name." (Isa 62:2)
From the message to Pergamos we go to the letter to the next church, that of Thyatira.


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The Greek has multiple words for forgiveness? God forgives (charizomai) whether we ask or not. Receiving forgiveness (apheimi) is by our choice.
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