To the angel of the church in Pergamum write:
These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. I know where you live – where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city – where Satan lives.
Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: there are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.
Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it. Revelation 2:12-17 (NIV)
Pergamum is the third church written to in Revelation. Pergamum became an important city as the capital of the Roman province of Asia and, as with the other churches, it is likely to have been established during one of Paul’s missionary journeys.
The church at Pergumum is given a commendation that they have remained true, despite living in a wicked place (where Satan has his throne; where Satan lives) and also despite open persecution ( the martyrdom of Antipas). There is much speculation regarding the terms ‘… where Satan has his throne …’ and ‘… where Satan lives’. Some see them as a reference to the altar to Zeus which was prominent in the city, while others see it as a reference to the practice of emperor worship, with Rome being the persecutor. Whatever the explanation, the church in Pergamum faced severe testing and had yet remained true. Little is known about Antipas who was martyred in the city, but it is likely that there had been a period of earlier persecution and the church had remained true through it.
The letter moves on to the weaknesses in the church and in the two cases mentioned we are told that ‘… there are some among you …’ that hold to false teaching. While false teaching was not accepted by all at Pergamum, there must have been a reasonable number of the church who held these views to warrant such a rebuke. The false teaching mentioned was related to the teaching of Balaam and also the Nicolaitans. There is no need for us to speculate as to the exact nature of the false teaching, as we have some clarification in the text. It is sufficient to say that the problem was that the church (unlike Ephesus) tolerated false teaching, rather than resisting it. The church is urged to repent and if not the judgement on them would be ‘… I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.’ Note that the fight will be against ‘them’, the false teachers, and the weapon will be the ‘… sword of my mouth’. False teaching is to be resisted and refuted by reference to the Word of God.
The reward for resisting and being faithful is twofold – being fed with the hidden manna and being given a white stone with a new name on it. The manna could be a reference to being fed by God, rather than having to eat food sacrificed to idols. The significance of the ‘white stone’ is uncertain and has many possible explanations, all of which have credibility. Personally I like the idea of the white stone being used in a legal sense to indicate acquittal during a trial. The new name is a wonderful concept, bearing in mind that in ancient times a person’s name was given to sum up their character. So God has a name in mind that sums up the character of each believer. The key thing is that the name is secret between the believer and God.
Applying this letter to us today isn’t very clear cut. Although we do not face a problem with food sacrificed to idols, we do live in a society where sexual immorality is excused and even actively encouraged. The church should be a place where the proper place for sex is taught as being within marriage. This will bring us into conflict with society which accepts everyone’s right to do what they please. It will also bring us into conflict with society which redefines the concept of marriage away from that laid down by God.
False teaching and the liberalising of the gospel is a thing that the church faces and the lesson should be learned that to resist false teaching we need to use the Word of God. We have to resist getting into arguments with people, but gently to explain what God’s Word says about issues in contemporary society.
If you are like me, you will be excited by the idea of being given a new name by God that sums up your character. I wonder what it will be?
[Archives – click on the icon at the top of the page]