Revelation 2:12-17 Part 1

12) And write the message for the Church in Pergamum:  The One having the sharp two edged sword says these things.

13) I know where you dwell, in the place of Satan’s power, and you are laying hold of My Name, and you did not renounce My Faith even in the days of Antipas My witness My faithful, who was killed among you where Satan dwells.

14) But I have a few things against you, that you have there ones who are holding to the Balaam teaching, who was teaching Balak to lay a scandalous trap before the sons of Israel, to eat sacrifices to idols and to commit fornication.

15) As mentioned previously, you likewise have ones who are holding to the Nikolaitan teaching.

16) Repent therefore!  But if not, I Am coming to you quickly, and I will make war with them arrayed with the sword of My mouth.

17) Let the one having an ear hear what the Spirit says to the Churches.  To the victorious one I will give to him the hidden manna, and I will give to him a white stone, and upon the stone a new name having been written which no one has known except the one who receives it.


We will spend some time on the ancient city of Pergamum this morning because, as with the other cities, the history is very important to the reading and preaching of the text.  Our Lord sent messages to Christian Churches in a specific time in history, and the Churches existed in specific geographical locations.  Neither time nor place is inconsequential to our understanding of what He said to them, and we have to become as intimately acquainted with them as we can.

This Church of our Lord Jesus was established in a city-state that was already well over a thousand years old!  And, as we’ll soon see, as the authority of the One Who appeared to John on the island of Patmos was established over all the mountains of the earth, it was Pergamum that took center stage; for, in all of Asia, Satan’s free reign among the peoples of the earth was more evident here than in any other place; and there are a number of reasons for that.

It is variously called “the place where Satan had set up a throne to himself”, or “the place of Satan’s power”, or “the dwelling place of the very personage of Satanos”.  So there was no city in all the earth (maybe other than Jerusalem itself) where the God-ordained free reign of the “accuser”, or “the slanderer”, was more prominent than it was in the city of Pergamum.

But here is some history for you... and some geographical information – as well as some sordid cultic stuff… all of which we need to know.  This city was WAY beyond even the most fertile of imaginations – especially for those of us who live in union with the living and enthroned Jesus Christ.

The site of the celebrated city of Pergamum, also known as Pergamon and Pergamos, is located 16 miles from the Aegean Sea and about 40 miles northeast of Izmir (ancient Smyrna) in the old region of Mysia ( now northwest Turkey). It was situated between two small tributaries of a major river.  Fertile, self-contained and easily defended, it provided the perfect setting for a major city-state. Part of the ancient site, which was at the foot of the acropolis, is now covered up by the modern Turkish city of Bergama.

Pergamum is a pre-Greek name presumably meaning "height" or "elevation”, which is also what “acropolis” means.  The earliest city was built atop a cone-shaped acropolis rising over a thousand feet above the surrounding valley. The acropolis walls were almost perpendicular, except on one side, where there was a steep and narrow passageway to the top, which was easily fortified and guarded. Lines of walls (at one time numbering three) provided additional protection.  Because of its defenses, natural and man-made, the city was considered impregnable.  And as we’ll see, Rome did not have to attack the city in order to possess it in its sweep across the known world.

Pergamum (the city) dates back to 1000 BC, perhaps earlier, but there is no written evidence until the fourth century BC when the city emerged as a power during the struggle for territorial control.  Following the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC, Lysimachus, one of Alexander's generals, named his most trusted lieutenant, Philetaerus, governor of Pergamum and left him what was equal to $10,000,000 (according to one source) to use for war expenses.  Philetaerus had other ideas: In 292 BC he deserted Lysimachus and used the money to establish himself as ruler of the state of Pergamum.  Under him and his successors, Attalus I (269-197 BC) and his son Eumenes II (d. 159 BC), the city became a great power and one of the principal centers of Hellenistic (Greek) civilization. Over that time the kings of Pergamum became staunch allies of Rome. In fact the last king, Attalus III, was so loyal to the Romans that upon his death in 133 BC he left the entire kingdom to them in his will. So the Roman armies had no need to attack and defeat Pergamum. 

Four years later, the once independent Kingdom of Pergamum became the Roman province of Asia, and the city was named its capital.  So Pergamum became the capital of the entire Roman province of Asia, and the seat of governance for the province.

Pliny called Pergamum the most illustrious city of Asia. It was the educational center of the region with its massive library; the poet Homer and "the father of history," Herodotus, studied and wrote here. Pergamum was also a center for the worship of a pantheon of pagan deities (Egyptian, Greek, Roman) and, as the provincial capital of Rome’s rule over all of Asia, it became the official home of the emperor worship cult, a great “honor” for the city and its leaders.

But, twice in this message to the church in Pergamum, Jesus mentions the city's status as a cult center for emperor worship and other idolatrous atrocities.  Satan’s great power, ordained of God, was most evident in this place.

As one approached the ancient city, there was a colonnade-lined walkway named “the sacred way”.  It led to a very complex “healing center” named the Aesklepion, named for Aesklepius, the son of Apollo, who was the Greek mythical god of healing.  Aesklepius was said to be able to resurrect the dead; and he became known as the god of the Pergamenes.  In this massive healing center was every delight of the depraved human heart.  People from all over the world came to the Aesklepius to participate in all those things and, of course, to be healed.  It’s interesting to note that the insignia of this son of Apollo was the snake.  Snakes were sacred to Aesklepius due to their ability to renew themselves by the shedding of their skin. 

In the temple to the god Aesklepius, there in the healing center, was a white stone altar of marble depicting many snakes.  And over the entrance were the words: “in the name of the gods, death may not enter here”.

Before we get to the Acropolis (the mountain top of the ancient city of Pergamum), let me just mention the temple of serapis, which is still there in the middle of the present city of Bergama.  The worship of serapis was originally an attempt to find a god acceptable to Hellenists and Egyptians alike.  So he was a “combo” god… said to be involved in the death of Alexander the Great in the fourth century BC.

The temple of serapis in Pergamum isn’t that old, having been built after the Church was established (probably sometime during the second century AD).  At this time, now called The Red Courtyard, there is an inactive Church there, in the same building where the temple was, called the Church of St John the apostle.

But going on through the city of Bergama, Turkey toward the passageway up to the ancient acropolis, one would encounter several other temple sites where a growing list of gods were worshipped.  The most famous of these is the temple of Hera.  In Greek mythology Hera was the queen of the olympian gods, and the sister and wife of Zeus – who was worshipped as the god of heaven and earth, and savior of mankind.

But having left the temple sites of some of these “lesser” gods and goddesses, one would then be confronted by the passageway up to the acropolis – the “height” city of ancient Pergamum.  The acropolis is about thirteen hundred feet high (so the passageway was long and steep), and at the top were some of the world’s oldest, largest and most beautiful structures of idolatry.

First is the temple of athena, the Greek virgin goddess of war and heroic endeavor.  The primary temple of athena is, of course, the parthenon on the acropolis in Athens.  Parthenon means “temple of the virgins”.  Athena’s origin in Greek mythology stems from the Greek god zeus who, having been struck on the head with an ax, out popped athena – fully armored for battle.  The temple of athena in Pergamum was every bit equal to the one in Athens – maybe more so, and she was called “the goddess of the city”.  And, by the way, the Greek goddess “nike” was the goddess of victory; and often she is portrayed in sculptures as an attendant of athena.  If one would look closely at an ancient sculpture of athena, the nike “swoosh”, seen on present day running shoes and clothes, is quite evident.

On the right, on the acropolis in Pergamum, was the massive temple of zeus – the savior of mankind.  I understand that the only thing left there now is a scattering of stones and the foundation for the altar of sacrifice.  All else, it is said, was removed in the early nineteenth century by German archeologists and rebuilt in part in a Berlin museum.  I also read that there is a frieze (i.e. a long wall-to-wall painted or sculpted scene – or series of scenes) (there is a frieze) there in that museum in Berlin that depicts what the Pergamum acropolis (and especially the temple of zeus) might have looked like at the approximate time of the establishment of the Lord’s Church in that city.

Zeus was called zeus soter.  Soter is the Greek word “savior”.  So, at the very top of the whole, long list of the world’s Greek mythological gods, was the “savior” – zeus.  And the temple in Pergamum, on the acropolis, took second place to none other in all the world.

Over against the temple of athena was the second largest library in the world – second only to the one in Alexandria, Egypt.  It has been said that there were over 200,000 volumes in Pergamum.  Academics and other interested parties from all over the world came to Pergamum in order to study, to read, and to write (and, of course, to indulge themselves in all the “healing” activities in the aesklepion).

The story goes that the library had to buy papyrus from Egypt (the only place it was made).  And the library in Alexandria became jealous and fearful of the fame of Pergamum’s library, so they arranged, politically, to stop all shipments of papyrus to the city.  The aim, of course, was to prevent Pergamum from overtaking Alexandria as the world’s most famous library. So, not to be deterred, Pergamene entrepreneurs developed “parchment” to replace the paper product from Egypt.

Parchment was a beaten, shaved and dried animal skin which was every bit a good as papyrus to write on; and it usually lasted longer than papyrus.  So the library at Pergamum is credited with the invention of parchment, which increased its fame and its library – much to the chagrin of those in Alexandria.

In addition to these magnificent structures was the theater built in to the crest of the acropolis.  It held about ten thousand people; and it is said to be the steepest theater ever to be built.  It was also said that one should never go to the theater having drunk much wine, because if there happened to be a fall, it was a very long way down to the stage.

Lastly, to add to the world-wide fame of Pergamum (with its massive healing spa with all of its depraved delights, and its famed library, and the spectacular temples to the gods, there arose the “roma” cult and the emperor-worship cult.

The first Roman emperor “god” was Augustus Caesar.  And a magnificent temple was built honoring him, and for his worship, in Pergamum.  This was about forty years before the birth of Jesus, and it was the first temple in Asia to be built to worship an emperor.  There would be two more built in Pergamum (the second in the second century, and a third in the third century).  But when the Church was established there between 30AD and 65AD, Pergamum was already in the vanguard of world-wide emperor worship with its temple to Augustus Caesar, god and emperor of the world and the “link” between heaven and earth.  At the time of the writing of this message from Jesus, the emperor worship cult was already a hundred years old!

To participate in the temple worship to the Roman emperor was seen as an act of loyalty; but to reject emperor worship was synonymous with subversion, disloyalty, corruption and debasement of a deity.  In the literature it is said that Christians who didn’t attend temple worship of Caesar were accused of “atheism” and “hatred of the human race”.  These accusations, satanically inspired, came not only from the general population of the city, but especially from judaists in the synagogues who, in addition to their hatred of God’s Messiah, were fully persuaded that they needed to  meld into, and become a stable component of, the Roman Empire.  Therefore they used the Roman government in their accusations and slanders against the Church, the members of which would not accede to the worship of an emperor as a god.

As long as the Roman province of Pergamum gave due obeisance to “caesar god”, then people were permitted to have all of their other gods and temples and places of sacrifice.  Judaistic synagogues presented few problems to Rome before 70AD, since most judaists wished to be a part of the Roman empire.  And the Roman governors of the provinces allowed all forms of worship and all the pagan Greek mythologies as long as caesar was the first among many!

So, as you can readily see, the entire culture posed many problems for the new Christian Church in Pergamum.  And since judaists were pursuing Christians with blasphemous accusations and slanders, there were many opportunities for them to cause great suffering and affliction to those united to the Christ.  Not the least of those opportunities was emperor worship, because, for the Church there was no king of heaven and earth but Jesus Christ.

Not only would the Pergamum Christians not worship the Greek gods and goddesses of the city (causing great consternation among the pagan Gentile pergamenes), but neither had they anything to do with emperor worship or roma worship!  Therefore those united to the Christ in Pergamum were on the bad side of the Roman governors and military as well!

All the judaists had to do was to bear witness against them, and suborn witnesses against them, to the Roman authorities that the Christians refused to pay proper respect to Rome and to Rome’s caesar-god.

The authorities in the capital cities of the Roman empire (as Pergamum was) were appointed by the emperor; and the provincial capitols had, by law, the right of ultimate and final punishment.  The madman Nero (who, as far as we know, never visited Asia), was the Roman emperor at the time the apostle John was exiled to Patmos.  And although he committed suicide in 67 AD, Nero was a ruthless despot whose severity carried over after his death in the orders that he issued before his death.

Nero would not put up with any impertinent behavior, or any countermanding of his rule over his empire; and that filtered down to the capitols of all the Roman provinces.  This would not bode well for the Christians in Pergamum who, as Roman citizens, refused to pay homage and adore Rome and its emperors!  And judaists would see to it that this defiance on the part of Christ’s Church was well-known to province authorities!

In addition, Nero viciously put down turbulence and sedition in any province in which it occurred.  And his order before his death in late 67AD was to eliminate the trouble that had been brewing for decades in Israel.

Not only were armies from many provinces formed and supplied in order to carry out that order, but the order was obeyed to the maximum as Jerusalem and Israel were destroyed, and Jews slaughtered everywhere in the empire.  Christians were also caught up in the purge as well, since Christianity was considered a “sect” of judaism by Rome, since it was a “jew” that Christians worshipped.

This was a time of great turmoil in all of the known world as the newly enthroned Son of God – Son of Man made His Presence known among all mankind.  The raging of the satanically controlled Roman empire was matched – and surpassed – only by the hatred of the Church by world-wide judaists.

In every place where the Church existed there was persecution of Christ’s people.  Even the Church in Rome suffered terribly as it was accused of nearly burning Rome to the ground while the raving lunatic emperor conspired to blame it on them rather than on his sadistic, perverted self.

The entire world looked as if it was coming apart as the One with the sharp, two-edged sword was coming in judgment against idolatrous Israel, and Who also was establishing His Kingdom over all nations, bringing His elect to Himself from every tongue and tribe.

But this “mustard seed” of a Kingdom would have all the Churches under terrible stress as they were afflicted and persecuted and imprisoned and killed.  The brutal Satanos was howling and enraged and furious that the Gospel of Jesus Christ was being preached in the nations; he was provoked and wrathful that the Christ was taking his territory; and he was lusting after the ones who belonged to the King of Kings. 

But the One Who was dead, and was now alive forever more was given a Kingdom which would never end; and nothing could separate His people from Him.  None of them could be hurt by the second death, and they would all be vindicated in their resurrection.

Now we have a good context for looking at the message of our Lord to the Church at Pergamum.

But before we’re finished this morning, in the last couple of minutes let me just give you some context that’s a bit broader than just 65 to 70AD.

It is no accident that there are multiple instances of God’s favoring Gentiles in the older testament prophetic Scripture.  We’ve noted a number of them – especially in the Gospel of Matthew series.  And it’s no accident either that one of the first instances of worship of the newborn King of Kings involved Gentile magi from afar in the East – maybe from Mesopotamia, or from Persia, or even from India or China!

It was the half-breed, Rome-installed, king of Israel – the descendant of Esau – that Satan inspired to kill the newborn Jesus; but it was the pagan Gentile magi that thwarted the plan.  And that’s when Joseph and Mary, with Jesus, fled to a Gentile county – Egypt – for protection.

Later, just before Jesus’ crucifixion, he commanded that all of His elect people, who would be united to Him in His resurrection, be freed, liberated, loosed from Israel before the coming abomination of desolation.  It was, in some ways, reminiscent of the “loosing” of Israel from Egypt fifteen hundred years before.

The freeing of thousands of newborn babes in Christ from the horror to come, and their resettling into the – Gentile – nations of the earth was the planting of the “seed” of the Kingdom all over the world, as families gathered for worship in the name of Jesus in the cities and provinces of the empire.

In one generation those gatherings – Churches – had grown in size and numbers – both Jew and Gentile; and they had Spirit-inspired Gospels and apostolic letters circulated to every location.  During the worst persecution imaginable, the Churches flourished.  And their numbers grew – magnifying the Name of the King of Kings.

And now, only sixty generations later, and although with much “pruning” along the way, the Kingdom has many millions gathering on the Lord’s Day, worshipping the Lord Jesus Christ in public in hundreds of thousands of Churches in nearly every nation of the earth.

Just as pagan families give birth to their children, and in their heritage, so Christian families give birth to their children in the heritage of Christ the second Adam.  On the surface it all “looks” the same, since we’re all human.  But it’s not the same!  Those born to pagan families are born outside the covenant; and they are not “holy”.  But those born to covenant families are, indeed, holy.

And then the “new set” of newborns in Christ begin the work of establishing more places of public worship, and giving birth to more children united to the Christ, and extending the Gospel to others who must be “rescued” or liberated from death.  And, by the way, that’s what “soter” (to save) means – to rescue.

This is the way our Lord has ordained for His authority to be extended over all the kings and all the kingdoms and all the peoples.  He could have terminated Adam and Eve and started over.  But, you see, this way His glorious perfections and His Kingship over the heavens and the earth are adored and revered as every power, every authority, every enemy is put under His feet, in history, for all the creation to see and praise!

And every single one of those united to Christ are preserved to the end and vindicated.  And all the honor redounds to the Christ, because He’s the One Who did it!  Not one single one who belongs to Him will be lost.

The prophetic promise of Jahveh of Hosts, through the prophet Isaiah, is that there will be a time when the knowledge of God will cover the earth as the water covers the sea!  This is His ordained plan, covenanted before the creation and executed through generations, for His Own glory.   And we are to hold to His Name, for He has promised….and we are to faith in that promise.