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Lesson Four • The Church at Pergamum

Dr. Randy T. Johnson

The third church was Pergamum. It was a wealthy city. However, it was wicked as the people worshiped pagan cults including Athena, Asclepius, Dionysus, and Zeus. It was famous for its university which had a library of about 200,000 volumes. They even manufactured their own parchment or paper (John Walvoord, “The Bible Knowledge Commentary”). Warren Wiersbe notes that Pergamum was called “the greatest city in Asia Minor.” He also points out, “The city also had a temple dedicated to Aesculapius, the god of healing, whose insignia was the entwined serpent on the staff.” This is the medical symbol of today.

Revelation 2:12
“And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: ‘The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword.’”

1. What is the “two-edged sword”?

This “two-edged sword” is also referenced in Revelation 1:16; 2:16; 19:15, 21. The clearest passage for this is Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

2. What does this passage say about the Word of God? What does that mean?

Revelation 2:13 records the Lord’s compliment on the church at Pergamum, “I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.”

3. What compliment does the Lord give the church at Pergamum?

The Lord acknowledged that the church at Pergamum was in a bad neighborhood. The phrases “where Satan’s throne is” and “where Satan dwells” might refer to the famous temple to Asklepius, the Greek god of healing, symbolized by the figure of a snake. This reference can take us back to the Garden of Eden or forward to the evil dragon in one of John’s later visions (Revelation 12:9 and 20:2) which is labeled as that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan (J. Ramsey Michaels, “The IVP New Testament Commentary Series”). The church held fast even though Antipas was martyred there.

Matthew Henry (1662-1714) applies this passage well, “Thou holdest fast my name; thou art not ashamed of thy relation to me, but accountest it thine honour that my name is named on thee, that, as the wife bears the name of the husband, so thou art called by my name; this thou holdest fast, as thine honour and privilege.”

4. Has there been a time when you have or have not been true (not ashamed) to the name of the Lord? Please explain.

In Revelation 2:14-15, the Lord mentions some criticisms He has against the church at Pergamum, “But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.”

5. What two criticisms does the Lord have about the church at Pergamum?

First, John references Balaam and Balak (Numbers chapters 22-24, 31). Balaam had been guilty of counseling King Balak to cause Israel to sin through intermarriage with heathen women and through idol worship. Intermarriage with heathen women was a problem in Pergamum where any social contact with the world also involved worship of idols (John Walvoord, “The Bible Knowledge Commentary”).

Second, he refers to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. It appears that the “Balaamites” and the “Nicolaitans” at Pergamum are almost certainly not two groups but one. “Nicolaitans” could have been a coined nickname. “Balaam” is Hebrew for “master of the people” while “Nicolaitan” in Greek could be read as “conqueror of the people” (J. Ramsey Michaels,“The IVP New Testament Commentary Series”).

6. How is being a Christian different than the meaning of the “Balaamites” and the “Nicolaitans”?

Revelation 2:16-17 records the Lord’s command to the church at Pergamum, “Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.”

7. What command does the Lord give the church at Pergamum?

I appreciate James Hamilton’s thoughts, “We call people to repent because we love them and want to keep them from judgment. And if they do not repent, we are to follow the steps prescribed in Matthew 18:15-18 because we love them and want to keep them from judgment.”

8. When was manna used in the Old Testament?

In “Preaching the Word,” James Hamilton suggests that idolatry arises from the desire to have our needs met. Jesus promises to meet those needs. Jesus offers the provision of “hidden manna,” which is a better provision than any idol offers. He tells us we do not need to go to other gods. Idols are gods we create, they have nothing eternal to offer.

9. What new name would you like written on your stone?

A.T. Robertson in “Word Pictures in the New Testament” makes an interesting cultural note. “A white stone” (or pebble) was used in the courts of justice. Black pebbles were used for condemning, while white pebbles were for acquitting. The only other use of the word in the New Testament is in Acts 26:10. It is where Paul speaks of “depositing his pebble” or casting his vote. The white stone with one’s name on it was used to admit one to entertainment and also as an amulet or charm.

The white stone or pebble means we are not guilty. We have freedom!

The white stone or pebble is our ticket to Heaven!

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17