“And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges; 13 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. 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 stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. 15 So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. 16 Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth” (Rev. 2:12-16).
Having written to the Church of Ephesus, and to the Church in Smyrna, the Lord turns His attention to the Church in Pergamos. Pergamos had an impressive history of being a capital city for almost four hundred years. In 282 BC it became the capitol of the Seleucid kingdom. Geographically, Pergamos was impressive, being built on a tall conical hill. It was a center of culture, reflected in its impressive library that contained 200,000 parchment scrolls. Pergamos was a religious center.
The altar to Zeus was located here. The altar stood forty feet high, and was located on a projecting ledge of rock. It looked like a great throne on the hillside. A frieze was carved showing the battle of the giants. There was the Pergamene god, Asclepios, also called Asclepios the Savior. This god was known for his healing powers. The emblem of Asclepios was the serpent. Pergamos was the administrative center for Caesar worship. It was here that Christians had to decide whether or not to take an oath to Caesar, or die.
In light of this pagan influence, it is easy to understand how the Church might allow the doctrine of Balaam to be taught. Balaam himself was an Old Testament personage who lived in Pethor. He was hired by King Balak, of Moab, to pronounce a curse on the Israelites, who were on their journey from Egypt to the land of promise. Balaam was initially unsuccessful in his attempts to curse Israel, for the angel of the Lord intervened.
For his madness, his donkey rebuked the prophet. After Balaam found he could not curse Israel, the false prophet conceived of the plan to drain the people of God of their spiritual vitality through acts of physical immorality. In this he was successful. Balaam was finally killed, along with the leaders of the Midianites, and the Moabites, when the Israelites defeated these tribes in battle (Numbers 22,23,24,31 Deuteronomy 23:4, 5; Josh. 13:22; 24:9-10; Neh. 13:2; Micah 6:5; 2 Pet. 2:15; Jude 11; Revelation 2:14).
Despite his death, the Doctrine of Balaam survived the centuries. The doctrine of Balaam encouraged immorality and idolatry. Fortunately, not everyone in Pergamos followed the doctrine of Balaam, and the Nicolaitans.
As there were great sinners, so there were faithful saints, such as Antipas. Antipas was a faithful witness. Tradition says that he was thrown into the hollow of a brass bull that had been heated. The saddest part of the historical record is that persecution of the Church was largely Jews hurting Jews. Their non-Christian Jewish brothers were hurting Jewish Christians. The persecution came because of false charges.
The Christians were accused of being cannibals. The Christians were accused of immorality. It was said that orgies were held at the Agape Feasts. The Christians were accused of tampering with family relationship. They were accused of atheism. They were accused of being unpatriotic. They were accused of being incendiaries because they foretold a day when the world would end by fire.
Despite the accusations, despite the persecution, some like Antipas were faithful. Antipas represented the best in the Church at Pergamos.
The Hidden Manna and the White Stone
“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).
Despite having some that were faithful, the Church of Pergamos was called upon to repent. False doctrine must be forsaken, or the saints would find the Savior their sworn enemy, fighting against them with the sword of His mouth (Revelation 2:16), which is symbolic for the word of truth. Hebrews 4:12 speaks of the Word of God “which is sharper than any two edged sword.” Paul speaks of the Sword of the Spirit “which is the Word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). In 2 Thessalonians 2:8, the promise is given that the Wicked One shall be slain with the spirit of the Lord’s mouth. Putting all of this together, we find that in the word of Christ there is conviction of sin, an invitation to return to God, an assurance of salvation, and an utter destruction, if there is no repentance.
God is not willing that any of His own should perish. Gracious provision is offered to the church. The Lord promised to give the Church hidden manna to eat. In order to appreciate what the Lord is saying in this passage, the place of manna in Jewish life must be understood. Turning to Exodus 16:11-15, we read how God gave manna to the children of Israel when they had no food to eat in the desert.
When the people were established in the land, and could grow their own crops, they still remembered the faithfulness of God. A pot of manna was put into the Ark of the Covenant, and kept in the Holy of Holies (Exodus 16:33, 34; Heb. 9:4). While the years passed, the people always remembered the time that God provided for them. In 586 BC, Solomon’s Temple was destroyed, and the holy objects were taken away.
Still, the memory lived on. A legend developed that the prophet Jeremiah had hidden away a pot of manna in a cleft on Mount Sinai. It was said that when the Messiah arrived, He would return the pot of manna to the people. To be able to eat of the hidden manna was to enjoy the blessings of the reign of the Messiah.
A second promise the Lord offered to the Church of Pergamos was a white stone. In the stone a new name would be written which no one would know except the person who received it. In the ancient world there were a number of ways that such a white stone would be used. Colored stones were used in working out mathematical calculations. Juries, in rendering verdicts, used White and black stones. A little tablet, called a “tesserae” was made of wood, or metal, or stone. On the tablet was writing which conferred to someone, like a victorious athlete, a special privilege. One of the most common of the ancient customs was to carry an amulet, or charm, much like people carry a rabbit’s foot today. On the precious metal, or stone, was a sacred name. To know the name of a god was to have power.
The Lord may have been telling the Church at Pergamos that in as far as they reject false doctrine, they will have power with Him. The Church could know the name of the Savior, the Lord God Omnipotent.
This message to the Church of Pergamos is still valid today. The Church of Jesus Christ, visible or invisible, is either the enemy of Christ, or is part of His triumphant reign. Perhaps no clearer picture emerges of the Lord using the Sword of the Word of His mouth against the Church than the Reformation Period. By the Word of Truth, men like John Wycliffe, John Huss, Martin Luther, and John Calvin, spoke and fought the errors of the worship of relics, indulgences, the obscurity of Scriptures, and simony. From this section of Scripture comes several practical lessons.
The few can destroy the many. “So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate” (Rev. 2:15).
The Lord will not allow His Church to remain corrupt. “Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth” (Rev. 2:16).
The saints have spiritual ears, as well as physical ears. “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 ministry of the Holy Spirit is to the Church of Jesus Christ. The Spirit must lead us.
This is the message in the letter of love to the church in Pergamos.