Editor's Note: a lightly edited transcription of the attached audio file will be found at the end of this originally written daily study guide. Appreciation for this transcription work goes to Marilyn Fine.
Pergamum had served as the capital of the Roman province of Asia Minor for over 25 years and was an important religious center for a number of pagan cults. It was the first city in Asia to build a temple to Caesar and it became the capital of the cult of Caesar worship.1 Of Pergamum an ancient writer said it was “given to idolatry more than all Asia.”2
The book of Acts makes no mention of the founding of this church. According to Acts 16:7-8, Paul passed through the region of Mysia, where Pergamum was located, on his second missionary journey, but there is no record that Paul either preached the gospel or founded a church there during that time. Most likely, Paul founded this church during his ministry at Ephesus (Acts 19:10) when the gospel was preached throughout Asia.3
Many writers have noted that Pergamum comes from the Greek word gamos that means marriage. This letter pictures a church married to the world rather than to Christ.4
The church at Pergamum was surrounded by a pagan culture, just as we are surrounded by an increasingly godless culture. As you study this letter, be attentive to what God wants to teach you through His Word.
DAY 1: THE DESCRIPTION OF CHRIST
I. Looking to God’s Word
Read Revelation 2:12-17 (Today we will focus on verse 12, but read the entire letter to get an overview of the message and the church.)
1. Jesus describes Himself as the “One who has the sharp two-edged sword.” What two things is the “sword” symbolic of according to these verses?
2. How does Revelation 19:11-16 support this symbolism and purpose of the sword?
3. Why is this description of Christ especially appropriate for this church?
4. Describe the Word of God in Hebrews 4:12-13.
II. Looking Upward
5. How does the Word judge the intentions and thoughts of the heart?
6. Can you give an example of a time when God’s Word convicted your heart of an attitude or action?
III. Looking Deeper
What do you learn about Jesus as the Judge in these verses?
1 Corinthians 4:5
How do these verses impact your life personally? What personal application can you draw from the truths of these verses?
IV. Looking Reflectively
Jesus Christ is the one and only Judge. It is not our place to judge others.
Are you presently judging someone else? If so, confess it.
Jesus knows the true motives and intentions of our hearts.
Take some time today to ask God to search your heart and to show you sin and wrong motives in your heart that you may not be aware of. Allow His Word to penetrate your heart. (Psalm 139:23-24)
DAY 2: THE COMMENDATION
I. Looking to God’s Word
Read Revelation 2:13
1. What did Jesus commend this church for?
2. How would you summarize this commendation in one word?
Note: “Where Satan’s throne is” is referring to the fact that Satan “ruled” from Pergamum as it was the official center of emperor worship in Asia.5
Note: Antipas was the first martyr of Asia. According to tradition he was slowly roasted to death in a bronze kettle during the reign of Domitian.6
3. According to Ephesians 6:10-18, how are we able to stand firm for Christ? List the specifics that we are instructed to do.
II. Looking Upward
4. Are you taking full advantage of what God has made available to you in order to stand firm?
In which of the areas of Ephesians 6 are you strongest?
In which areas do you need to improve in order to stand firm against the schemes of the devil?
5. Pergamum was a place where Satan ruled. In what areas of our society today are we allowing Satan to rule or gain power?
6. What are some examples of ways we may “subtly deny” Christ?
III. Looking Deeper
In Daniel 3, King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold before which the people were to fall down and worship. Whoever would not fall down and worship would immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire. As you read Daniel 3:12-30, what observations do you make about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and their steadfast faith in the midst of tribulation?
How did their steadfast faith impact Nebuchadnezzar?
IV. Looking Reflectively
It’s possible to hold to the truth in the midst of Satanic power.
“Revelation prohibits us loving our lives more than His gospel; it summons us to follow the model of Antipas as faithful witnesses, no matter what the cost.”7
How are you doing in the area of steadfastness and faithful witness for Christ?
What “cost” are you being asked to pay for the sake of Christ?
Meditate on 1 Corinthians 15:58. “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.”
DAY 3: THE CRITICISM
I. Looking to God’s Word
Read Revelation 2:14-15
1. What was Jesus’ concern or criticism about this church? How does the church at Pergamum differ from the church at Ephesus (2:2)?
Note: The story of Balaam is found in Numbers 22-25. Being fearful of the Israelites because of what they had done to the Amorites, Balak, king of Moab, hired Balaam to curse them. After trying unsuccessfully three times to curse Israel, Balaam came up with another plan. He decided to corrupt them by his counsel. He counseled them to have Moabite women seduce Israelite men into intermarriage, resulting in the blasphemous union of Israel with fornication and idolatrous feasts.8
2. What do we learn about Balaam and his teaching from these verses?
2 Peter 2:15-16 (The story of the donkey and Balaam is found in Numbers 22:21-35).
3. In 1 Corinthians 5:1-8, we read about a similar situation in the Corinthian church. How was the situation similar to the church at Pergamum?
How should the Corinthians have responded?
Paul rebuked them for becoming “arrogant.” Why would arrogance keep them from dealing with the situation appropriately?
4. We are not to follow teachings contrary to God’s Word nor tolerate those who do. How does Paul instruct Titus in Titus 3:9-11 concerning those who are not teaching truth and trying to undermine the believers’ faith?
II. Looking Upward
5. Jesus rebuked this church for tolerating those, like Balaam, who were undermining people’s faith. What are some stumbling blocks we need to be on the lookout for which could potentially undermine our faith?
6. In what ways does the world tempt us to compromise with our values and integrity?
III. Looking Deeper
Jesus rebuked this church for tolerating those who were following the false teaching promoting idolatry and immorality. Instead, they should have confronted them. The church at Pergamum failed to obey the biblical mandate to practice church discipline. According to Matthew 18:15-18, what is the proper way to practice church discipline?
Why do some churches, like Pergamum, shy away from this?
Have your seen church discipline exercised in your church? If so, what were the results?
IV. Looking Reflectively
We are not to turn a “blind eye” to wrong doctrine in the church. Jesus wants His church to stand firm on the truth of His Word and to confront those who don’t.
Moral integrity is essential to the spiritual vitality and health of a church. If it is compromised, the church is in serious danger.
Are you aware of anyone around you who is teaching false doctrine? How are you dealing with it?
Are you turning a “blind eye” to someone in the church who is blatantly disobedient and compromising with the world?
DAY 4: THE INSTRUCTIONS AND WARNING
I. Looking to God’s Word
Read Revelation 2:16
1. What is Jesus’ instruction to the church at Pergamum?
2. What is His warning and what does it mean?
3. Compare and contrast His instruction and warning to the Pergamum church (2:16) with the instruction and warning to the Ephesian church (2:5).
4. Why were the warnings appropriate for each specific church and its shortcomings?
II. Looking Upward
5. Those who were following the teachings of Balaam and the Nicolaitans were to repent. They were not to be corrupted by immorality and idolatry. How do we see these two areas in our society today?
6. How do we as individuals and as a church balance being “in the world” but not “of the world”? How do we protect ourselves from being pulled into the world’s way of thinking?
III. Looking Deeper
How does Paul’s message to the Thessalonian church in 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 relate to Jesus’ message to the Pergamum church?
What was the decision by the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15:20, 29 regarding things contaminated by idols and immorality?
IV. Looking Reflectively
“Compromise with the world draws divine discipline.”9
Are you compromising with the world in any way? If so, how?
“We need to make sure that we are influencing the world with the kingdom’s values, not embracing the world’s values where they conflict with those of the kingdom.”10
Are there areas where you are embracing the world’s values instead of kingdom values? If so, follow the instruction to this church: confess and turn away from it.
DAY 5: THE PROMISE
I. Looking to God’s Word
Read Revelation 2:17
1. What three things did Jesus promise to the one who overcomes?
2. We don’t know for sure what the “hidden manna” is referring to, but in light of John 6:31-35, 47-58, what is one possibility?
3. Scholars differ on the meaning of the “white stone.” This is perhaps the most difficult to interpret of all the rewards in Revelation 2 and 3. Warren Wiersbe gives two possible explanations: “In those days, a white stone was put into a vessel by a judge to vote acquittal for a person on trial. It was also used like a ‘ticket’ to gain admission to a feast.” 11 How would these two explanations apply to a believer in a spiritual sense?
4. Scholars also differ on the meaning of the “new name.” In light of Isaiah 62:1-5 and 65:15, what is one possibility? In light of Revelation 22:3-4, what is another explanation?
Note: Regardless of which view you hold concerning the “hidden manna” and “the white stone with a new name,” one thing is certain. The promises revolve around the Lord Jesus Christ and they are well worth the wait. We may experience a small glimpse of these promises in this life, but the fullness of these promises will not be grasped until we see Him face to face!
II. Looking Upward
5. How does Christ nourish you and sustain you spiritually on a daily basis?
6. In the Bible, names reflected one’s character. If God were to rename you based on your character, what would you want it to be and why?
7. How do these three promises to the overcomers encourage you to view life from an eternal perspective rather than from a temporal, earthly perspective?
III. Looking Deeper
God gave new names to several people in the Bible. What are their new names and why were they given those names? What promises did He give them when He renamed them?
Genesis 17:15 -16
IV. Looking Reflectively
“The Pergamum church faced the same choice that every similar church faces. It could repent and receive all the blessedness of eternal life in the glory of heaven. Or it could refuse to repent and face the terrifying reality of having the Lord Jesus Christ declare war on it. Maintaining the path of compromise ultimately leads to judgment.”12
I pray that we would be a church that takes a strong stand for God’s truth, refusing to compromise with the world.
What is one “lesson for life” that you can apply to your own life from this letter to the church at Pergamum?
This is the halfway point in our study. I realize that Revelation is a heavy study. Hopefully you are not getting too stressed out or too burdened down by some of the messages in this book. It is a great book to study and I hope you are enjoying it.
In 1978, 913 followers of a man named Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple committed a mass suicide in Jonestown, Guyana. I realize that some of you probably were not born then or were just a little baby. I do remember this. Jim Jones was an ordained minister and in the 1950s, he began a church in Indianapolis with a large following. He later moved that church to San Francisco. It was called the “Peoples Temple.” Because of increasing suspicions from the government about the activities of his church, he finally moved it to a place in Guyana that he called “Jonestown.” He had strong control over his followers and its members became increasingly cultist.
In 1978, U.S. Congressman, Leo Ryan, went to Jonestown to investigate these abuses that they had heard about on the people who were part of the Peoples Temple. He flew down there and he spent one day. As he tried to leave the next day, along with some members who wanted to defect, Jim Jones found out about it. He ordered that they be killed. So, as they were trying to leave the airport, Ryan and four others were shot and killed. When Jim Jones realized that this would probably not go over well in the United States to hear that a congressman was killed, he realized that his utopia of Jonestown would soon be coming to an end. He put into action a plan that he had had in mind for months. They had practiced it and they had rehearsed it. He called it a revolutionary death. He prepared a large amount of fruit punch which was laced with cyanide. After having the more than 200 kids drink it first, the adults finally drank it. Then, after they were all dead he took a gun and he shot himself. When it was all done, 914 people had died at Jonestown that day.
In 1980, they came out with a movie made for TV about the Peoples Temple and about Jim Jones. I watched it because I had remembered seeing all this on the news. I wanted to know more about this man and his church. I know that movies are not always accurate. I know that there are some things which are probably made up. I do not know how much of this movie was true or not, but I will tell you, there was a theme in that movie that still haunts me today. It was not of the mass suicide. The scene that still stays in my mind all these years later is when he was preaching before his church in Indianapolis. He seemed, at least in the movie, like he started out right. I mean he was more of a social justice preacher, but he preached from the Word. He appeared to love Jesus. One day when he was preaching he held up the Bible and said, “Is this the Word that you listen to? Is this the Word you obey?” Of course, his congregation said “yes, it is, we listen to God’s Word.” He threw the Bible down on the floor and stepped on it. He said, “From this day forth you listen to this mouth and what Jim Jones says, not that book!” I was stunned and I will never forget it. It is etched in my mind because I thought: “How do you get to a place that first of all you would even say that? But also, how do you get to a place as an audience, as a congregation that you would just sit there and say ‘okay. You want to be the final word, fine with me, we will listen.’?” They should have gotten up and walked out and said, “we are done with you.” Would we if somebody came in here? I hope so. I hope that if anybody ever comes into this church and tells you that this Word is no longer the final authority you will say, “I’m done. I am out of here.”
I do not believe that our biggest danger in this room is following a false teacher, but there is a very real danger lurking out there. That danger is the subtle deception, a compromising with the world. It is the beginning to embrace the values of the world more than we embrace God’s values. Those kinds of false teachings and compromise with the world were found in this church at Pergamum. The message to us from this letter is no compromise. I refuse to compromise. I am not going to compromise with the world. But, how do we do that? How do we live in a world like we live in today and not compromise our values? I would like to offer three suggestions this morning as we look at Revelation 2:12-17.
The first suggestion I would like to offer is that we need to perceive the problem. If we are going to stand firm against compromise with the world, we need to know the problems that we are up against. This church had two problems. It had an external problem and it had an internal problem. So, I want to begin first by looking at the external problem.
Look at Revelation 2:13, where Jesus said,
I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is; and you hold fast My name and did not deny My faith even in the days of Antipas, My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. (NASB)
Pergamum was a wealthy city located about 100 miles north of Ephesus. [I have a map on the Power Point for you today to show you where these cities are. You start and see Ephesus down on the coast. We moved up about 40 miles to Smyrna last week. Now we have moved inland and further north to Pergamum, 100 miles north of Ephesus.] It sat on the top of a tall hill overlooking the valley. It sat on a high hill, but it had no strategic location. It was not on the coast. It was not on a major trade route. There was however a cultural center. It was known for its famous and huge library. It held the official honor of being the capital of Roman Asia, although this honor was also claimed by Ephesus and Smyrna. There was always a little rivalry between these three cities. It was a center for many pagan religious cults, just like Smyrna and Ephesus. Their emperor worship, though, was more intense in Pergamum than any of the other surrounding cities. The other cities just were required to worship the Emperor once a year. Here, it was like every day you had to worship the Emperor. It was very intense here. Pergamum was perhaps the worst of the seven cities. The external problem was the circumstances where they lived. Pergamum was the place of Satan’s throne. It was an oppressive city. I have spent some time in Communist countries. I can remember walking through a city and thinking and feeling the oppression on that city, knowing it was under the stronghold of Satan. I believe that is probably what this city felt like as this stronghold of Satan.
Jesus tells this church, “I know.” We have seen that every week when He says “I know.” He tells them “I know where you live. I know it is not easy. I know you live right in the middle of where Satan’s throne is.” There are different opinions on what Satan’s throne is referring to.
Some believe it is referring to that magnificent altar of Zeus because this altar was huge. It sat on the top of the hill and from a distance people would say it looks a throne. Maybe this was it and they were referring to the pagan worship as the throne of Satan.
Alternatively, others believe it may have been referring to Asclepius, the god of healing. People came from all over the ancient world to Pergamum seeking to be healed at his temple. He was depicted as a snake and the symbol that represented him was a snake coiled around a rod. We see that today with medicine. Now, I wonder if people realize that that this is the symbol for this pagan god?! Nonpoisonous snakes roamed freely in this temple. People would come and they would spend the night. They would lie down on the floors of the temple and these snakes would roam freely. They would hope and pray that one of these snakes would rub up against them and heal them because that snake symbolized this god of healing. Perhaps this was the throne of Satan because Christians identified the serpent as Satan. He is the serpent of old and here was a temple represented. This god was represented by a serpent. Maybe this was the throne of Satan.
There is a third explanation, and it is the one I lean toward. However, I do not think anybody really knows for sure on this. The third reason is perhaps they are referring to the practice of emperor worship. This worship was so prevalent in Pergamum and posed the greatest threat to the Christian. Therefore, they were doing the work of Satan. They were attacking the church. If you do not worship the emperor, then you a patriotic traitor. They would possibly even face execution if they did not worship the emperor, but they did not face persecution if they simply did not worship the other pagan gods. That was okay. So, this was much more intense and much more used by Satan to attack the church because they were possibly up against losing their lives if they did not worship the emperor. As a matter of fact, Jesus mentions somebody here who had already faced death for his faith:
Antipas, My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan lives. (NASB)
We do not know anything about Antipas. He is not written about anywhere else except in Jewish literature. Jewish tradition tells us that he was put in a brass bowl alive and roasted alive. That is how he was martyred under the persecution of Vespasian. We talked about him last week. He was a wicked Roman emperor who hated the Christians.
Witnessing and martyrdom come actually from the same Greek word and they have almost become synonymous because if you witness for Jesus Christ, it is very possible you are going to die for Him. That was the nature of that time. If you were a witness, martyrdom accompanied it. Those meanings had a close correlation.
Well, all these reasons could justify Pergamum being called a city where Satan’s throne is and where he lives. It was a difficult place to live. I think we could easily say today that we live where Satan’s throne is. I am not talking about Memphis, Tennessee. I am talking about our world today, the time we live in. This is a place where Satan’s throne is. In II Corinthians 4:4, Satan is referred to as the god of this world. This is his world and he is wreaking havoc. You will see him come up again next week in the letter to Thyatira. He played a huge role in the attack on these churches. We see his reign on this earth every day. There is so much corruption. You cannot turn on the television without hearing about a corruption scandal either here in Memphis or somewhere else in the U.S. Immorality is everywhere. There are the things you see allowed on TV today. I was watching the news the other day and they were advertising in the commercial a sitcom. I was just stunned that we have this on our TV and we just kind of passively accept it. The breakdown of marriages is prevalent. Now, it is okay for the same sex to marry. This is being pushed in many states.
Satan is definitely on the throne. He is wreaking havoc in the world that we live in. It is hard to us to live today in this environment. We cannot even pray before football games or at a high school graduation or any public forum. If we do, we surely cannot use the name of Jesus. You have to keep it generic. Political correctness – you do not want to offend somebody, you know.
Are we compromising? One of the hardest things for me lately has been Christmas time because people cannot even say “Merry Christmas” any more. You buy something and the clerk will go, “Season’s Greetings.” It just irks me. It is a pet-peeve and I will turn around and go, “Merry Christmas.” Are we compromising with the world’s values? Are we subtly being guided into just accepting it? As for me, I do not believe that is what we should do. I am not telling you to become a political activist. I am just saying that we need to be careful to not be subtly deceived and become apathetic with what is going on around us. Are we beginning to accept things as OK now which years ago we would have just been appalled at? I think we are.
Well, the external problem that the church of Pergamum faced is a problem that we, obviously, do not face today. They lived where Satan’s throne was, where he dwelled and so do we. We are constantly pushed toward worshipping things other than Jesus Christ. We are pushed toward worshipping materialism. Where do you live? What do you drive? How much money do you have? How thin and fit are your bodies? You start that going down that trail and you start to worship it. Our outward beauty means more than the inward heart beauty. On and on it goes. We are pushed to worship the wrong things, things that get us away from worshipping Him. We need to be aware of the problem and we need to say “no compromise.” “I am not going to compromise.” “I will stand firm.”
If Satan is the father of lies, (and according to John 8:44 he is a deceiver) are you listening to the god of this world? Are you listening to the lies that he is trying to tell you about yourself? That you are not worth anything? That you are not pretty? That you do not have the body that you need to have to be somebody? Be careful. Do not compromise. Do not listen. Well, that’s the external problem. Living in a world where Satan has a stronghold, but now lets turn to the internal problem.
Verses 14 and 15 say,
But I have a few things against you ,because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality. (NASB)
There were really two internal problems in this church. First, there was the problem of false teaching. There were some in this church at Pergamum who were mixing with the pagan system. They were going to these idols and these feasts at these pagan temples and they were teaching that it was okay to go. “It is okay to eat the food sacrificed to idols. It is okay to partake in these sexual feasts and festivities that take place at these buildings. It is okay. You have freedom in Christ. God forgives you. You are under grace. It is okay. You just ask forgiveness.” Yes, we are free in Christ. We are forgiven. We are free from the penalty of sin, but that does not mean that we are free to go and do anything we want to do and then ask forgiveness!
A number of years ago, when I was working on staff at my church in Dallas, we had a huge singles’ ministry with about 800 people. A lot of situations would come up. I was counseling one time with a young girl who was just really eaten up with guilt. She had been dating a guy in our ministry who had convinced her that it was okay for them to have a sexual relationship because God wanted them to enjoy those pleasures of life today. “All we have to do was just confess it. He has forgiven us.” She knew in her heart there was something not right with this, but the guy was so convincing that she gave in. But it just ate at her. She finally came into my office and said she did not know what to do. We talked about it and my single’s pastor and I had to sit down with the guy and confront him. We had to do this a lot with the singles. I love the singles’ ministry, but I will tell you it is an area in which Satan will wreak havoc. This is the kind of belief that goes through the mind of people when Satan wants you to just be caught up in this freedom “to do whatever you want to do.”
That is what was going on here in Pergamum. They were being taught it was okay. If someone tells you something contrary to God’s Word and you just have this feeling that something is not right about it, then run. Get out of there because you know God is telling you it is wrong. This young girl was pretty messed up for a while. I discipled her for about two years and she ended up coming out of that and having a great life. She suffered greatly at the hand of that guy though.
Here Jesus uses the example of Balaam, who was a notorious Old Testament prophet for hire. His story is found in Numbers 22 and 25. We do not have time to look at it in detail, so let me just refresh your memory on Balaam and Balak. Balak was the king of Moab and he hated Israel. Israel was an enemy. He wanted to destroy Israel. So, he hired this prophet for money to curse Israel. Every time that Balaam tried to curse Israel it would not work. A blessing would come out instead. Finally, he came up with another idea. He had been paid for this and wanted to give his money’s worth. He came up with an idea and went to the king and said what you need to do is to teach your women how to seduce the Israelite men. They will intermarry and they will start worshipping the pagan gods. It worked, and there were indeed negative consequences for Israel as they did that.
These false teachers here were teaching and luring believers in the church at Pergamum into the world system. They were saying that it is okay. “It is okay to get in there in these festivities and to do these things that you might think are wrong, but they are really not. God gives you freedom in Christ.” Then Jesus talks again about the heresy of the Nicolaitans in verse 15. We read about that first in the letter to Ephesus. I told you that week that we do not know who the Nicolaitans really are. We can guess some though from how it says here in this verse, “In the same way, the Nicolaitans.” They are probably teaching the same thing, that it was okay to be involved in immorality and idolatry. We know that God hated what they taught.
The first internal problem was false teaching, but the second internal problem was complacency. They were not confronting the false teachers. They were saying “oh well, you know, we are just going to let them go. We are walking with the Lord. Just let them do what they want to do.” This is a problem because we have a responsibility as believers to not only stand firm on our faith and for our faith, but we also have a responsibility to defend the faith. If somebody is abusing it like that guy in Dallas, we need to confront them. I have spent many an hour in my single minister’s office with him and usually another guy. I am not saying the girls did not do anything wrong, but it seemed like it was only the guys he and I would need to sit down with and confront about something they were doing to pull down the young ladies in our church. We have a responsibility. We just cannot turn a blind eye and pretend it is not there. We need to face it. That is what church discipline is about. These believers in Pergamum however just stood by. They let it happen. They did not do anything and they were still held accountable for not confronting it. So, the first thing if we are going to stand firm and not compromise, the first suggestion I have made is that we would perceive the problem, that we would know the problem that we are up against.
The second is that we would consider the consequences. We see two consequences in this letter. First – conviction. In verse 12, Jesus describes Himself as the one who has the sharp two-edged sword. This description of Jesus Christ refers to the Word of God. In Hebrews 4:12, we are told that
the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing as far as the division of the soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow; and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (NASB)
It is two-edged in the sense that it is very sharp. It exposes. It judges our innermost thoughts, our motives. It is never dull, never has a dull edge. When is the last time that God’s Word convicted your heart, pierced it, stunned it? I will tell you what it seems like every day he pricks me with His Word either about an attitude or just a thought. Thoughts like, “you know I really should not be thinking that about that person!” God, thank you. If we ever get to the point that His Word does not prick us, I think we are in danger. It is a sword that will sharply expose what is inside.
The first consequence of compromise with the world is that His Word will convict us of sin. That is why we need to be in the Word. The second consequence is judgment. Verse 16 tells them,
Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of my mouth. (NASB)
If they do not repent, if they do not turn away from the way they have been going and go the opposite way, He is going to come and He is going to judge them. He is not talking about the Second Coming here. He is talking about imminent judgment. This picture depicts Him as a judge, an executioner. Worldly thinking has to be dealt with now, immediately or it eats into our lives subtly and begins to destroy our walk with the Lord. Notice the change in that verse in the pronoun from you to them. I am coming to you quickly and I will make war against them. By using that pronoun, he is referring to that entire church. The entire church is accountable—not just those who are teaching falsely, but also those who are holding fast to God’s Word but are not doing anything about the false teaching. It appears that this church did repent because God did not remove their candlestick like He did in Ephesus. They did lose their light-bearing abilities. Today, there is a Christian church that has continued into today and I have a picture of the modern city of Pergamum and there is still a Christian church there today.
In order to stand firm against compromise with the world, we need perceive the problem. We need to consider the consequences and, third, we need to remember the reward. Verse 17,
…To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but the one who receives it. (NASB)
He makes three promises here. Actually, two promises and the second promise has two parts. He first promises them some of the hidden manna. We do not really know exactly what this hidden manna is referring to. In the Old Testament, the manna stood for God’s faithfulness to the Israelites to provide and sustain them through the wilderness for years and years. In memorial to God’s faithfulness a portion of that manna was placed in the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies and, thus, hidden. As you know, during the Babylonian captivity, the Ark of the Covenant disappeared. We do not know where it is today. It is perhaps still hidden. We need to remember that we have something so much better than what the world has to offer. We have Jesus Christ, the bread of life, the one Who will always sustain us. He will give us all that we need. He is the real manna. He is hidden from sight right now, but one day He will be revealed to us in all His glory. We need a feast from Him and what He provides for us. We do not need a feast from the world. He offers so much more.
The second thing He promises them is a white stone with a new name on it. This is the hardest symbol to interpret in these promises. I will tell you this summer as I was writing this study and I got to this church of Pergamum, I thought, “I am just going to have to give this one up!” No one agrees and scholars will say we have no idea what He is really talking of here. There are a lot of thoughts. The white stones were used for a number of purposes. They were used for an invitation or admission to a banquet. They would take their white stone and that stone would have their name on it and they would present it at the door to get admit into a banquet. It was also used as an award given to a winner of an athletic contest. You won – here is your white stone. It was used in the ancient courts for jury verdicts. If you thought somebody was guilty, you put a black stone in the jar. If you thought they were acquitted, you put a white stone in the jar. If there were more white stones than black stones, they were acquitted. There are a lot of different thoughts from what this means. We do not know. I do like the thought that we are acquitted in God’s eyes and that we are not guilty in His eyes. Perhaps that is what this white stone is. We do not know. I do believe that that this white stone symbolizes our acceptance and approval by God and that that new name that is written on either refers to the name of Jesus Christ, implying that we now are His. We belong to Him. Or the other thought of the new name and, again, nobody understands fully what this means, is that that new name will be a new name that He gives you when you stand before Him. It will be a new name based on your character. I will tell you what I would like either one. It does not matter. It is something that we need to look forward to. We do not need to feast with this world and get engaged in all the fleshly desires. We need to look forward to the reward that is so worth waiting for, the manna, the white stone with His name on it. Whatever those fully mean, they are worth it. Thus we need to be careful to not disqualify ourselves ahead of time.
Thus Pergamum represents the church that got married to the world. Historically, this church could represent the time in Church history soon after Constantine. I will try to tell you each week the church age that the church might represent.
A little review here: when we studied Ephesus, Ephesus represented that period of Church history known as the apostolic age. This was the period of time when the apostles were there on earth. Then, we looked at Smyrna last week. Smyrna represented that state of Church history in which the Christians were martyred under the severe Roman persecution.
Today, we looked at a church that represents the time in Church history soon after Constantine. Constantine was the first Roman emperor that did not persecute the Christians. He actually legalized Christianity in A.D. 313. We do not know if he was a Christian or not, but he legalized Christianity in 313 and he declared it the official religion of the Roman Empire. The tables are turned now. It was popular to be a Christian. He pushed it. The Roman Catholic Church had a number of its roots starting here as Constantine brought the Church and the Roman Empire together and married them together and they melded. The Church became married to the world at that point instead of married to Christ. Paganism began to be merged with Christianity. Pagan temples became Christian churches. The pagan priest did not want to lose favor with Rome. They had been in Rome’s favor all this time so they made their temples now churches. They still worshipped the idols, but they just renamed them. Now, instead of them being a god’s name, they were a saint. Ah, now we are worshipping saint so and so. The same idol, the same statue, but a different name. Lines were blurred and it became hard to distinguish the true Christians from those who just said they were. You could not tell them apart. The Church and the world were married.
Does that sound familiar today? Have we blurred the lines between Christianity and the world to where we really cannot even tell today the difference? Do we stand out as different or are we just kind of married to the world? This letter pictures that kind of Church, a Church married to the world instead of to Jesus Christ. I think that is a question we have to ask ourselves. Am I married to the world today? Or, to Jesus Christ? Is He my first love? Am I married to Him? The answer we should say emphatically is “no compromise.” “I am not going to compromise my values to fit in with the world.” Well, we need to perceive the problem that we are facing. We need to consider the consequences. We need to remember the rewards. I pray that we would be women who refuse to compromise with the world. I pray that we would be women who remain faithfully married to the Lord Jesus Christ and never give in.
Father, you alone know what is in our hearts today. You alone know what we are worshipping. Father, I pray that we would take a moment now and we would ask You to search our heart and to show us that there is an area that we are worshipping, that we are looking to for fulfillment instead of to You.
I just want you to take a moment of silence and ask God to search your heart. Is there an area, is there a lie that you are believing that Satan is deceiving you into believing?
Father, we want to be the proud bride of Jesus Christ the Savior. I pray that we would not stay in ourselves, that we would not turn our love and devotion away to the world, but that we would stand firm and that we would not compromise. We pray these things in Jesus’ name, Amen.
1 MacArthur, MacArthur Study Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson: 2006), 1965.
2 C.F. Pfeiffer, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary: New Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1962), Re 2:12.
3 MacArthur, NT Commentary on Revelation, 84.
4 Thomas L. Constable, “Notes on Revelation,” in The Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas L. Constable [CD-ROM] (May 2004 Edition), 33.
5 Barker, Zondervan NASB Study Bible, 1851.
7 Craig S. Keener, The NIV Application Commentary on Revelation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 129.
8 MacArthur, MacArthur Study Bible, 1965
9 Mark Bailey and Tom Constable, Nelson’s New Testament Survey (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1999), 615.
10 Keener, The NIV Application Commentary, 128.
11 Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, Rev 2:12.
12 MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, 91.