CHAPTER 2 - PERGAMUM (3)
"Do not be afraid for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name, you are mine."
|Preamble:||2:12||"...the One who has the sharp sword, double-edged:"|
|Historical Prologue:||2:13||"I know where you live..."|
|Ethical Stipulations:||2:14-15||"Nevertheless, I have one or two charges..."|
|Sanctions:||2:16||"So repent, or I shall soon come to you and attack these..."|
|Succession Arrangements:||2:17||"Let anyone who can hear...."|
You may want to consult the Summary of the 7 Churches in the Charts and Handouts section.
Pergamum was about 60 miles to the north of Smyrna and 15 miles inland from the coast. Pergamum did not occupy a good trading position like the city of Ephesus. Ephesus may have been the largest and most important trading center in the Roman province of Asia but Pergamum dominated the other cities of the province because of its position as the administrative capital. The Roman governor resided at Pergamum and ruled the entire Asian province. The city was built on a hill 1,000 feet above the surrounding countryside, creating a natural fortress. It was a sophisticated city, a center of Greek culture and education, with a 200,000 volume library and as a center of learning Pergamum would even develop a new kind of writing material from lamb skin that we now call 'parchment.' But it was also the center of four cults, and it rivaled Ephesus in its worship of idols. The city's chief god was Askepios, the serpent-god of healing. People came to Pergamum from all over the world to seek healing from this god. Another major temple honored Zeus, whose great throne-like altar overlooked the city on its highest point. Dionysius, the Greek god of harvest, fertility, and every kind of sexual excess, and the goddess Athena were also honored at major temples but what really put Pergamum on the map was its importance as center for worship of the Roman emperor as a god. The city had a temple dedicated to Rome and to the deified Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus as early as 29BC. By the 1st century there were 3 temples devoted to emperor worship....the most magnificent temples dedicated to the Roman Caesars of all the 7 cities. Because it was a center of emperor worship it was the city in which the Church was most likely to clash with the Roman imperial cult. Today Pergamum is called Bergama.
Read 2:12-13 "Write to the angel of the church at Pergamum and say: Here is the message of the One who has the sharp sword, double-edged:" This verse, recalls Rev. 1:16 "..out of His mouth came a sharp sword, double-edged." The repeat of this phrase is part of the repeated pattern from the Preamble of chapter 1 and is also part of the preamble for the Covenant Treaty format of this letter.
Rome claimed the position of worldwide creator and defender of all under the power of the double-edged Roman gladius (the Roman short sword circa 22 inches long, 3lbs). The Empire's power over life and death was supreme and unchallenged and this power originated with Rome herself. Christianity, on the other hand, challenged this assertion. Christianity maintained that all power and authority comes from the triune God and that the various rulers of the earth who are created by God receive their dominion from Him (Romans 13:1-4). It is Jesus the Messiah for whom all power and authority flow'in heaven and on earth (Mat 28:18). He has laid down the law to the nations (Rev. 1:5). Christ is "the One who has the sharp two edged sword" and if the rulers do not yield to Him, He will bring His sword down on their necks! This is true for all nations; even today. See Psalms chapter 2 and Daniel ch. 4.
Verse 13 "I know where you live'in the place where Satan is enthroned." The Greek word here is thronos. Scholars give several possible interpretations to this reference to Satan's throne: (1). The reference could be to Zeus' throne-like altar which was located high above the city. (2). Or it may be a reference to the prominence of Pergamum as the official cult center of emperor worship in Asia. (3) Or it may even refer to a community of false Jews'another synagogue of Satan. The unbelieving Jewish community that has abandoned the covenant and who has become the foremost enemy of the Church. Jewish communities were constantly denouncing Christians to the Roman magistrate (Acts 4:24-28; 12:1-3; 13:8; 14:5; 17:5-8; 18:12-13; 21:11; 24:1-9; 25:2-3, 9, 24). John will reveal in chapters 12-13 of Revelation that Satan is the moving force behind the Jewish/ Roman attempt to destroy the Church!
"..and that you still hold firmly to My Name, and did not disown your faith in Me even when My faithful witness, Antipas, was killed among you, where Satan lives." The tensions between the Roman State and organized Jewish opposition made it only natural that Christian persecution and martyrdom would begin here in Pergamum. That they "still hold firmly to My Name.." testifies that they confessed Jesus alone as Savior and Lord and did not waiver in the face of persecution even though this results in the martyrdom of a member of their community named Antipas. For this reason, Christ regards the church at Pergamum as faithful. Not much is known about Antipas, whose name means "against all". Tradition records that he was roasted alive in a brazen bull. It is obvious that he personifies the faithfulness of the church at Pergamum by standing against Satan and remaining true to Christ. And it really doesn't matter that human history has lost the account of his martyrdom because Christ singles him out for special acknowledgement and calls him "My faithful witness."
"where Satan lives" Persecution comes from Satan, not from God. Satan, the deceiver, will cause believers to be thrown into prison and even killed. But Christians need not fear death, because martyrdom will only result in victory. Satan may harm our earthly bodies but he can not do us spiritual harm.
Read verses 14-17
Verse 14: "Nevertheless, I have one or two charges against you: some of you are followers of Balaam, who taught Balak to set a trap for the Israelites so that they committed adultery by eating food that had been sacrificed to idols;" Read Numbers chapter 24:10-25; all of chapter 25; 31:1-4, 13-16. After 40 years in the wilderness, the new generation of Israel is ready to take possession of the Promised Land. Balak King of Moab is afraid of the Israelites so he hires a prophet, Balaam, to curse the Israelites so that they will be destroyed. Everytime Balaam tries to curse Israel, God puts a blessing on his holy nation. But before Balaam gives up and goes home he tells Balak to use the oldest weapon known: sex (Num. 31:16). Moabite and Middianite women entice the Israelite men into ritual prostitution to the false god, Baal on the plains of Peor. Worship of Baal of Peor involved every kind of 'bodily emission' before the idol of the god (use your vivid imagination). After the sacrifices and the orgies, they ate the meat of the animals sacrificed in a sacred meal. The sin of Israel in this case was not only fornication with pagan women but also eating the meat sacrificed to the false god which amounted to "adultery' on the part of Israel, the Bride of Yahweh. Read Hosea 1:2 "The beginning of what Yahweh said through Hosea: Yahweh said to Hosea, Go, marry a whore, and get children with a whore; for the country itself has become nothing but a whore by abandoning Yahweh.'"
Since the time of the Sinai Covenant, God used marriage imagery to describe His relationship with His people. Lapses into idolatry are not only called prostitution but adultery and these sins are in direct violation of Commandments 1-3 as well as the Commandment that forbids adultery. The prophets in their Covenant Lawsuits against Israel refer to this condition of the sin of Israel's unfaithfulness as adultery ( see: Isaiah 1:21; Jere. 2:2; 3:1; 3:6-12).
Question: So why does Jesus refer to another "Balaam" at Pergamum?
Answer: Balaam is the biblical prototype of the religious compromiser (Num. 25:1-3; 31:16; 2Pt 2:15; Jude 11). The Christians at Pergamum were being "seduced" by a 1st century Balaam to compromise their Christian doctrine to fit in with secular Roman culture. When we accommodate our Christian faith to secular standards we abuse the principle of liberty enunciated by St. Paul in 1 Cor. 8:11-13. Read St. Peter's homily on false teachers and religious compromisers in 2 Peter chapter 2. He says (v.15) "They are under a curse. They have left the right path and wandered off the follow the path of Balaam son of Bosor..."
In the New Testament, Jesus represents the messianic age as a wedding (Mat. 22:1-14; 25:1-13) and speaks of Himself as the Bridegroom (Mat. 9:15ff; Jn. 3:29, etc.). Jesus taught that the marriage covenant between Yahweh and His people is fulfilled in His own person. Paul also teaches this theme: 1 Cor. 6:15-17; 2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:25-33, and so does the Book of Revelation in 21:2ff. There is an important analogy that we shouldn't miss here in verse 14. The false apostles are trying to "seduce" the Christians of Pergamum into eating idolatrous food and fornication.
Question: Can you think of another occasion when God's children were seduced into eating forbidden food? Hint: you'll find your answer in the Book of the Prophet Daniel.
Answer: The holy young men in the Book of Daniel (Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego) were ordered to eat meat sacrificed to idols but they refused and after a 10 day ordeal, with God's help, they were vindicated (Dan. 1:1-16). But this situation at Pergamum, like the "seduction" of the children of Israel on the plains of Peor in the Book of Numbers, can also be compared to the serpent's "seduction" of Eve in the Garden of Eden (Gen. Ch. 3). Eve's eating of the forbidden food of the Tree of Knowledge, Good, and Evil was, in essence, idolatry which amounted to "adultery" in the marriage relationship to God in the Covenant. Paul speaks of Eve's sins in terms of fornication in 2 Corinthians 11:2-3: "This jealousy that I feel for you is, you see, God's own jealousy: I gave you all in marriage to a single husband, a virgin pure for presentation to Christ. But I am afraid that, just as the snake with his cunning seduced Eve, your minds may be led astray from single-minded devotion to Christ."
Question: Is it possible for members of the Church today to commit this kind of 'adultery'?
Answer:The question of eating ritually clean and unclean food was answered by The Council of Jerusalem (circa AD 49/ 50). The also addressed the problem of what should be expected of gentile converts. James, Bishop of Jerusalem suggested "...instead of making things more difficult for gentiles who turn to God, we should send them a letter telling them merely to abstain from anything polluted by idols (eating meat sacrificed to idols), from illicit marriages, from meat of strangled animals (in pagan rituals, sacrificial animals were usually strangled. Jews were required to kill animals for food and for sacrifice in the most humane way by slitting their throats with an extremely sharp knife) and from blood." The Council agreed and this became the decision of the Church regarding gentile converts. James was suggesting what had been God's first law for all peoples of the earth...the Noachide Law as found in Genesis chapter 9 (by tradition these laws were 7 in number). Paul revisited the subject of eating meat sacrificed to idols in 1 Cor. 8:4, 9-10 and 1 Cor. 10:20 "The things that the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons;" To partake of the 'table of unclean spirits' (1 Cor. 10:21) was inconsistent with participation in the Eucharist.
Question: Paul also mentioned that while eating such meat might not have any special meaning to a 1st Century Christian, such an activity might have been misconstrued by others. Do we have to be careful that our activities might give a false impression of Catholic Christians? Should we modify our behavior because of this possibility?
Verse 15 "..and among you too there are some also who follow the teaching of the Nicolaitans." (See reference to the Nicolaitans in the letter to Ephesus). St. Irenaeus identified this group as "followers of that Nicolaus who was one of the seven first ordained to the diaconate by the apostles." (See Acts 6:1-6). Most modern commentaries dispute St. Irenaeus' (d. 202AD) claim as being unreliable but both St. Hippolytus (d.236AD) and St. Jerome (d. 420AD) also make the same claim. Hippolytus: Refuting all Heresies, xxiv; Ante- Nicene Fathers, vol. 5, page 115: "But Nicolaus has been a cause of the wide-spread condemnation of these wicked men. He, as one of the seven (that were chosen) for the diaconate, was appointed by the Apostles. But (Nicolaus) departed from correct doctrine, and was in the habit of uncalculating indifference of both life and food. And when the disciples (of Nicolaus) continued to offer insult to the Holy Spirit, John reproved them in the Apocalypse as fornicators and eaters of things offered unto idols." And St. Jerome in his Dialogue Against the Luciferians, chapter 23; Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. 6 page 332: "Then Nicolas, one of the seven Deacons, and one whose lechery knew no rest by night or day, indulged in his filthy dreams."
In disobedience to the true apostolic Council of Jerusalem, the false Nicolaitan apostles advocated what is called "antinomianism": the teaching that Christians were "freed from the law." It was no longer a sin, according to their teachings, to commit idolatry and fornication; the believer was not under obligation to obey the law, but can live as he feels he is 'called' to live because Christ died for all their sins.
Question: Are there those who advocate the antinomian 'life style' today?
Verse 16-17 "So repent, or I shall soon come to you and attack these people with the sword out of my mouth. Let anyone hear who can hear, listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches: to those who prove victorious I will give some hidden manna and a white stone, with a new name written on it, known only to the person who receives it."
Repent is a key word here. Notice that justice will be swift "I shall soon come!" Failure to repent will bring judgement. Once again there is the repeated pattern of chapter one with the reference to 1:16 "the sword out of my mouth". It is also interesting that in the story of Balaam in the Book of Numbers that the Angel of the Lord had met Balaam with a drawn sword (Num. 22:31) and a sword was used to kill Balaam (Num. 31:8). As we have already commented (see 1:7 and 2:5), the warning of the imminent coming of Christ in verse 16 "I shall soon come" is not a statement about the Second Coming at the end of history, but rather the "I shall soon come" refers to a judgment within history. It is a judgment that was imminent to the church at Pergamum. This same principle has been repeated throughout the history of the Church. Wherever heretics are indulged by the community or by the leadership, that particular community is on the verge of being destroyed by the jealous wrath of Christ.
This phrase is followed by the repeated pattern of the closing of all the letters in the "Let anyone hear..." passage. Then there is the promise of the blessing to those who persevere and are victorious.
Question: What three things does Christ promise to those who are victorious?
Answer: 1)manna , 2) a white stone, 3) a new name. Let's look at these 3 gifts more closely.
#1: "I will give some hidden manna..."
Question: Of what Old Testament passage does the word "manna" remind you?
Answer: Read Exodus chapter 16 especially verses 32-36 and Hebrews 9:4, and Psalms 78:23-25. First He will give "hidden manna" The Exodus passage and Hebrews tells us that manna was hidden in the Ark of the Covenant.
Question: The Ark of the Covenant that was placed in the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle was only a shadow of the real Ark. Who was the genuine Ark of the Covenant? Keeping in mind that when John first recorded his vision there were no chapters or verse divisions, read Revelation 11:19-12:2. First John see the Ark and then he sees...
Answer: The Woman clothed with the sun. When we study these passages later on we will talk about the 4 images mentioned: 1) the women, 2) the serpent, 3) the son, 4) the angel. We will come to understand that the son is Christ, the serpent is the devil, and the angel is Michael, prince of angels. Three of these figures are real beings not just symbols. But what about the woman? True she represents the Church but if each of the others are more than symbolic shouldn't " the woman" be more than symbolic as well?
Question: Who is 'the Woman'? Hint: Read Genesis 3:14-15. Who is the promised "Woman" of Genesis 3:15 whose "seed" (remember in normal human reproduction the "seed" comes from a human male but not in this case). She is the one Jesus always addressed by her 'title'; the one that was prophesied in the Genesis 3:15 passage: see John 2:1-4. Who is it that Jesus addresses by this title?
Answer: She is Mary as St. Juan Diego saw her on a hill near Mexico City in 1531, and as she is described in Rev. 12:1.
Read Exodus 40:21-35. When God took possession of the Ark of the Covenant in verse 35, the Greek translation of the Old Testament uses the word 'episkiazo' = overshadowed. Now read Luke 1:35. The same Greek word is used in this passage 'episkiazo' when God the Holy Spirit 'overshadowed' Mary and she became the "spouse of the Holy Spirit".
Question: At this moment, when the Holy Spirit 'overshadowed Mary, Jesus began to live inside of Mary. Do you see the link to the hidden Christ and Mary and the Ark and the 'hidden manna'? What is the Christian's hidden manna? It is the same manna promised those who are victorious at Pergamum?
Answer #1: The manna the Children of Israel were fed in the desert was a symbol of the supernatural gift we have been given, the Eucharist, the body of Christ Himself. The Children of Israel were given daily strength and sustenance during the exodus from Egypt as they prepared to enter the "Promised Land" just as we are able to partake of daily sustenance as we continue on our life long journey of faith to our "Promise Land" –heaven. Christ is the true mama, the heavenly bread. Read 1 Cor 11:20 and John 6:31-35.
Answer #2: The Christian is promised "a white stone". This reference has puzzled Biblical scholars and commentators for centuries. I have found seven different suggested interpretation of this phrase: (1) It was a practice in the first century to send a stone or potsherd (a broken piece of pottery) to a guest who was invited to a feast with the necessary information such as the name of the host and time and date for the feast. The guest would show this invitation to the servants upon arriving at the feast to gain admittance. (2) It has also been suggested that a black stone would be used in a court trial to condemn an accused person while a white stone meant acquittal. (3) It is perhaps a reference to reckoning, since white stones were often used in calculations. (4) It was a symbol of a "happy day." (5) It was a Roman custom to use a white stone, which represented a ticket to bread and entertainment in the coliseum and horse racing in the circus.. (6) An amulet bringing good luck. (7) Reference to the 2 stones in the breastplate of the high priest. No biblical description exists but it has been suggested that each stone was black on one side white on the other side symbolizing' no' and 'yes' as answers to God's divine will. These stones were called the urim and thummim (Hebrew for 'lights' and 'integrity'(plural); see Ex 28:30; Lev 8:8). Some of these interpretations may be legitimately criticized on the grounds that either the stone is not white or it has no inscription.
I think both interpretations #1 and #2 have merit. Interpretation #1 is a reasonable suggestion since there is a link between the symbolism of an invitation to a feast and the personal invitation Christ gives to each baptized believer to the Eucharistic banquet here on earth which is, in fact, Himself, and the promise of the heavenly banquet which we are promised at the end of our 'exodus.' The victorious eating of the true manna of the Eucharistic banquet can also be seen as a counter to the sin of eating the food of idols. Paul makes this comparison in 1Corinthians 10:21-22 when he tells the Corinthians "You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons as well; you cannot have a share at the Lord's table and the demon's table as well. Do we really want to arouse the Lord's jealousy; are we stronger than He is?"
The second interpretation can symbolize our acquittal from the sentence of death for our sins because Christ paid our price for sin by His death. But there is also an Old Testament connection to the white stone and manna, which I think, is perhaps closer to John's reference. Read Exodus 16:31 with Numbers 11:7. Ex. 16:31: "The House of Israel named it 'manna'. It was like coriander seed; it was white and its taste was like that of wafers made with honey." Compared to Numbers 11:7 "The manna was like coriander seed and had the appearance of bdellium." Bdellium =Hebrew Bedolah, Greek bdellion: an aromatic transparent whitish gum obtained from a tree native to Southern Arabia, Babylonia, India, and Persia. So manna has the appearance of white blobs (stone shaped) from the resinous material from a tree. There is another reference to bdellium in Genesis 2:10-12 "A river flowed from Eden to water the garden, and from there it divided to make four streams. The first is named the Pishon, and this winds all through the land of Havilah where there is gold. The gold of this country is pure; bdellium and cornelian stone are found there." So the white stone is connected with the manna and Eden. Perhaps the reference is to remind us that Salvation is a New Creation and restores God's people to Paradise.
Another Old Testament passage we might consult is Exodus 28:9-12 since our passage refers to a name being written on the white stone. In the Exodus passage the onyx stone was marked with the names of the tribes of Israel. But the onyx stone was not a white stone'it was black and two stones were placed on the shoulders of the High Priest engraved with the names of the 12 tribes. Maybe we could see the symbolism in the imperfection of the Old Covenant (black stone) followed by those names made perfect in the New Covenant in Christ which are carried by our high priest = Christ Jesus. If you have any other suggestions for interpreting this phrase send me a note. Click on "contact" at the website and send me a message.
The third promise from verse 17: #3 The Christian is granted "a new name."
Question: What happens in our baptism? Name at least 2 changes that take place in our lives. What about the Sacrament of Confirmation?
Answer: There are, of course, several answers but I am looking for 1) forgiven original sin and 2) We become a new creation: we are reborn into the family of God (also called the first resurrection). How do you know to what earthly family you belong? Well, you carry the Name of that family. When we are born again...the supernatural rebirth into God's Holy Covenant Family we are also given a new name....we are named through the Father...."In the Name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit!" We are granted a new name = a new character and identity because we belong to Christ. As always, God is the definer who has called us into being and wholly interpreted us in terms of His predetermined plan. It is the prophecy of Isaiah 62:2: "The nations will see your righteousness, and all kings your glory; and you will be called by a new name, which the mouth of Yahweh will bestow." In the Sacrament of Confirmation the Bishop asks what 'name' we have chosen. That name of a saint is a sign of our new role as adult members of the community and acceptance of our mantle as Apostles for Christ. In religious orders those making the commitment of consecrated lives take a name that, by tradition, Jesus has whispered to them.
Then there is the closing phrase, which says the name is "known only to the person who receives it." Biblical scholars point out that the meaning of this expression, rooted in a Hebrew idiom, is that the name is 'known' by the receiver in the sense of owning it; "to know" in Hebrew means intimate knowledge. Compare this passage with Rev. 19:12-13, 15 & 16. In other words, the point is not that the new name is secret, but that the new name is exclusive. Only the one who overcomes possesses the name, the divinely ordained definition of himself as belonging to the Covenant of the Lord Jesus Christ'no only else has the right of possession except those who are true to the Covenant. This exclusiveness points to the personal, intimate relationship between God (who issues the invitation) and the invited guest. See Isaiah 43:1 "I have redeemed you, I have called you by your name, you are mine." In this particular Church, the Nicolaitan heretic does not truly own the name "Christian". That name only belongs to true doctrine Christians. Only these are granted re-admittance to Paradise (the Garden of Eden/ Heaven) because they gain entrance through the sacrifice of Christ in whom they have been redefined and renamed.
Question: What Old Testament references did you find in this letter? In what Old Testament books are these references found and what period in Salvation History?
Answer: Balak, Balaam, manna (indirect reference to the Ark of the Covenant)..... Exodus, Numbers; The Sinai Covenant and Israel in the wilderness . The imagery is taken from the sojourn of Israel in the wilderness, the abode of demons (Lev. 16:10; 17:7; Deut. 8:15; Matt 4:1; 12:43). The Christians of Pergamum also dwelt "where Satan's throne is." The enemies of the church are described as Balak and Balaam the evil king and false prophet of Numbers 25:1-31:36. Like the Angel of Yahweh (Angel of the LORD) and Phineas the priest, Christ threatens to make war against the Balaamites with the sword (Num 22:31; 24:7-8). To those who overcome He promises a share in the hidden manna from the Ark of the Covenant (Heb 9:4).
Further reference: See the Chart of the 7 Churches to compare the messages to each church at a glance.
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