The second and third chapters of Revelation record Jesus’ communication to seven of the churches in Asia. This article is the third in a series of seven reviewing these chapters. Although Jesus spoke specifically to each church, his message is of great significance to all who want to enter the Kingdom of God.
And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: The One who has the sharp two-edged sword says this…. (Revelation 2:12)
Pergamum was the first capital of the Roman province of Asia and famous for its great library containing more than 200,000 parchment scrolls. The English word “parchment” is derived from the name “Pergamum.” It was an immense religious center. People from all over the world came for healing by the god Asclepius. Dionysus and Athene also had notable temples in the city. Caesar-worship was very prominent, with a temple dedicated to Rome as early as 29BC and a second and third temples were built to honor the emperor. It attained the coveted title neokoros, temple-sweeper, and took its devotion to emperor-worship seriously. Behind the city was a great hill, the site of a multitude of heathen temples. Pergamum as a religious city would be comparable to current day Rome, Mecca, or Jerusalem.
In this religious environment, Jesus refers to himself as “the one who has the sharp two-edged sword.” In chapter one verse 16, it says, “out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword.” This imagery may correspond with Ephesians 6:17 – “the sword of the spirit which is the Word of God.” Hebrews 4:12 also uses similar wording “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Jesus rightly discerns all the religious baloney, speaks truth, and will punish those worshipping wrongly.
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. (Revelation 2:13)
In this very religious city, Jesus sees clearly with a “behind the scenes” spiritual perspective. He said of Pergamum - “where Satan’s throne is” and “where Satan dwells.” I wonder what Jesus would say today in Rome, Mecca, or Jerusalem.
This must have been a difficult place to “hold fast” our Lord’s name. Persecution was intense to the degree that the faithful witness, Antipas, was killed, yet through it all, the believers stood faithfully. For them to maintain their faith in this environment was remarkable, and Jesus commended them for it. However, he did have some significant concerns.
But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching[doctrine] 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.
So, you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. (Revelation 2:14-15)
The false teaching was not only prevalent in the city but had crept into the church. Balak was the king of Moab when Israel was entering the Promised Land for the first time. When he saw the millions of Israelites and heard how they destroyed the Amorites, he was petrified. He hired Balaam, the prophet of Yahweh, to curse them; however, God only allowed him to bless them. Balaam lusted after the wealth and power Balak offered and came up with another plan to destroy Israel. He told Balak to have his women sexually seduce the Israelite men leading them to worship Baal-peor, their pagan god. Baal-peor literally means “lord of the opening,” referring to the orifices in the human body. They worshipped him with sexual intercourse, oral sex, and most prominently, with anal sex. The plan worked to the degree that 24 thousand Israelites died, but eventually Midian/Moab was completely slaughtered. For a more detailed study, review Numbers 22:1-25:18; 31:8-16; Deuteronomy 23:3-6; Joshua 24:8-10; Psalm 106:28-31; 2 Peter 2:14-16; and Jude 11. So, the doctrine of Balaam relates to immorality and idolatry. The Nicolaitans’ doctrine was probably similar, but there is no clear biblical explanation given.
For many today, sexual immorality is very prevalent even in Christianity. Sex preferred over godliness is idolatry. Many pagan religions worshipped inanimate idols made by men’s hands. Today, some of the largest religions in the world still worship idols instead of Yahweh. The ten commandments recorded in Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21 are fundamental to Judaism and Christianity. “You shall have no other gods before Me” is the first, and the second is “You shall not make for yourself an idol.” The Roman Catholic Church has approximately one billion followers worldwide. Unlike all the rest of Christianity, they eliminated the second commandment about idolatry and divided the tenth into two making a different ten commandments. The deliberate exclusion of idolatry is because they worship idols. Statues of men and women are prayed to instead of Yahweh. Mary, the so-called “mother of God,” receives more devotion than Yahweh or Jesus. Pendants, crosses, and other religious artifacts are also worshipped. The command to repent of all such behavior is eye opening and just as prevalent for many today as it was in their time.
'Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth. (Revelation 2:16)
For those have ears to hear and overcome, the rewards will be great.
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. 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 he who receives it.' (Revelation 2:17)
Manna was provided for Israel during the forty years they were in the wilderness. God commanded Moses to place three items in the Ark of the Covenant: a golden pot of manna, Aaron’s staff that budded, and the two tablets on which the Ten Commandments were written. Jesus in John 6 made the comparison of manna and himself as the bread of life. Aaron’s staff represented the high priest pointing to Jesus, and the Ten Commandments as the word of God represented Jesus the word of God in the flesh.
Manna provided life for the people in the wilderness; the new manna will provide eternal life in the age to come.
A white stone was given to someone acquitted of a crime at the end of the trial. White stones were also used as entrance ticket into events. Either may fit here since we are cleansed of our sins by the blood of Jesus and have been invited into the Kingdom, the greatest event of all time.
We are also given a new name, a new identity. God changed Abram to Abraham (father of many nations), Sarai to Sarah (mother of nations), and Jacob to Israel (with God you prevail). Nebuchadnezzar changed Azariah to Abednego, Hananiah to Shadrach, Mishael to Meshach, and Daniel to Belteshazzar. Their Hebrew names reflected Yahweh, and their changed names reflected the false gods in Babylon. The change was designed to rip them away from their Hebrew identities and transform them to a Babylonian lifestyle.
For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name…. Ephesians 3:14 and 15
Everyone in heaven and earth derives his or her name from God. The name talked about is not the same one your mommy and daddy gave you at birth. Revelation 3:12 and 19:12 tell that Jesus will also be given a new name. Our new name will correspond with our new beginning, our new life. Today, a name is no more than a distinguishing mark, a label. In antiquity, the name was widely held to sum up whatever the man stood for. It represented his character. It stood for the whole man. Here, then, the new name represents a new life with a new character. People get your attention and influence your behavior by using your name. Our new name will be hidden so that only our Lord and our God can call and influence us.
The Roman emperors had many names, and often name changes took place with their rise to power as Caesar. Augustus Caesar was born with the given name Gaius Octavius, and he took the name Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus (Octavian) in 44 B.C. after the murder of his great uncle, Julius Caesar. Perhaps, our new name relates to our reigning with Jesus as kings and priests (Revelation 2:26 and 27) in the age to come.
So, indeed the rewards for repentance and faithfulness are abundant and good reason to deeply consider these matters as they may relate to us. In our next article, we will look at the church at Thyatira.