Message to Pergamum

“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. ‘So you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.” (Revelation 2:14-15)

We now look to the letter to the Church of Pergamum. Pergamum was located in what is now Turkey and was an ancient city in the Anatolia region. Pergamum was approximately 15 miles from the Aegean Sea in present day Bergama in Izmir Province of Turkey. The city of Pergamum was of strategic value as it overlooked the Caicus River Valley. The Caicus River gave Pergamum access to the Aegean coast. The height of Pergamum’s influence was during the Hellenistic period and became the capital of the Attalid kings. In the time of the Romans Pergamum was the first capital of the Asian province but latter times lost that status to the city of Ephesus.

Jesus began His letter to the Church of Pergamum with a compliment. “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) The Church did well to remain faithful in their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. One reason was, as Jesus identified, it was the place of Satan’s throne.

Satan’s throne was a massive altar built in the 2nd century BC. The temple itself was dedicated to the Greek god Zeus. Later in 1878 the altar was moved from Pergamum to the German city of Belin by an archeological team lead by Carl Humann. In the city of Berlin Carl Humann reconstructed the altar in the Pergamum Museum in the 19th century. It is not far from the Ishtar Gate which was taken from Babylon.

The altar itself was used as late as 330 AD for human sacrifices to Zeus. The altar is a picture of a titanic battle between two giants. One was the Olympian Zeus and the other was the forces of Chaos led by the giant Alcyoneus. Much to the liking of Satan most people do not believe in his existence. The Bible identifies Satan as the archangel Lucifer who fell from God’s grace because he wanted to be as the Most High himself. “I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ “Nevertheless you will be thrust down to Sheol, To the recesses of the pit.” (Isaiah 14:14-15) Lucifer’s name was changed by God at that time to Satan which means adversary. As the adversary Satan certainly tinted the Church at Pergamum.

Traditional Christians believe Saint Antipas to be the same as the Antipas that is mentioned here in verse 13. Christian tradition also says that the Apostle John ordained Antipas as the Bishop of the Church of Pergamum during the reign of Domitian the Roman Emperor. Antipas was later martyred in 92 AD by being burned in a bull-shaped altar for casting out demons that were worshiped by the local population.

None the less the Church was not perfect and Jesus made known to them their sin. They had been following the teachings of Balaam which was eating food that had been sacrificed to false gods. This was an adulterous compromise to the true worship of the living God. They also compromised themselves by practicing sexual immorality. Balaam was an unfaithful prophet who was deceitful as described in Numbers. Balaam had devised a plan with the Moabites and the Midianites to deceive the Israelites in immoral behavior. “While Israel remained at Shittim, the people began to play the harlot with the daughters of Moab. For they invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel joined themselves to Baal of Peor, and the LORD was angry against Israel.” (Numbers 25:1-3)

The Israelite people later paid a price for their sin when they did not destroy the women who had deceived them as God had commanded. “And Moses said to them, “Have you spared all the women? “Behold, these caused the sons of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor, so the plague was among the congregation of the LORD.” (Numbers 31:15-16)

We also have mentioned that the Church of Pergamum had followers of the Nicolations. The Nicolations are also mentioned in the letter to the Church of Ephesus. (Revelation 2:6) The Nicolations may have been similar to the teachings of Balaam but their complete doctrine is unknown. E.G. White writes that the Nicolations teaching is that Jesus made the law of God to be of no effect. That by believing in Jesus we are released from the law of God. That we need not be doers of the word. But we see here in this letter to the Church of Pergamum that Jesus condemns such teaching as the Nicolations. In Matthew 5:17 Jesus stated that He had come to fulfill the Law. “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.” (Matthew 5:17)

The name Pergamum means married, as the Church is the bride of Christ. But beginning in 312 the body of Christ became more married to the Roman Empire and elevated to a greater acceptance. Before then the Church was an independent collection with no central authority. The Church began to decline in spiritual blessing and power as it committed spiritual adultery. From 312 ad to 600 AD we see a number of unscriptural changes which we became more predominant than the teachings of Jesus Christ.

AD 312           Prayers for the dead.

AD 312           Making the sign of the cross.

AD 375           Worship of saints and angels.

AD 394        The Mass was first celebrated.

AD 431           The worship of Mary began.

AD 500         Priests began dressing differently than laity.

AD 526           Extreme use of rubbing or sprinkling oil during a religious ceremony.

AD 593           The doctrine of purgatory was introduced.

AD 600           The Mass started to be conducted in Latin.

AD 600           Prayers started to be directed at Mary.

We must be careful in the Church that we do not add or subtract from the Apostolic Teaching for the Church. We must not let tradition override the purpose. We must not let the world pull us away from the foundation of the Word of God. The letter to the Church of Pergamum ends with a promise to the faithful. “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)

The hidden manna is the new life that we will have in Christ by demonstrating our love for Him in obedience to His Word. The white stone may be a symbol of the freedom we will have from the bondage of sin. A new name will be given from the transformed character that we will have by the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit.

Thomas N Kirkpatrick

First Baptist Church of Durant, April 7, 2016

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