Summary: We’re to stand firm & faithful in the midst of a fallen world, in spite of opposition.
"Pergamum--a compromised congregation", Revelation 2:12-17 Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts -Series on the 7 Churches of Rev 2-3
Do you have a mentor, someone with experience and expertise, who helps you learn to do a better job? Mentors care enough to tell us when we’re doing things wrong. The goal of a critique is to help, not tear us down. Christ is a role model for all mentors. He writes to the 7 churches out of compassion, offering both positive encouragement and negative appraisal of their ministries.
The city of Pergamum is located about 60 miles north of Smyrna and is set 15 miles in from the Aegean coast. The ancient historian Pliny called it "the most distinguished city in Asia Minor." Of all the cities of the 7 churches, Pergamum is the best-preserved archeologically. The name Pergamum means "a citadel", which is an appropriate description-the city rises like a fortress atop a huge hill in the Valley of Caicus. Key terrain with a commanding view of the Mediterranean Sea and surrounding area.
In spite of its natural defenses, the city surrendered quickly to Rome rather than be conquered. The city elders saw Rome’s aggressive advance and realized that there was little hope of survival should they oppose the Legion…so they offered their service to Rome and in return became the official Roman seat of government, the provincial capital of Asia Minor-a quid pro quo.
Pergamum was practically overrun with pagan temples. The city was the center of worship of the deity Asclepius, the so-called "god of healing". An ancient coin depicts the Emperor rendering honor to Asclepius, raising his right arm in an exact gesture of the Nazi salute. The symbol of this god was a snake entwined around a staff. This image can still be seen today as the caduceus, or emblem of the medical profession. A constant influx of people came to Pergamum to be healed of their diseases. The city was also renowned for its temple to Caesar Augustus, the first temple ever built to honor a living emperor.
Pergamum got its name from its invention of vellum, a writing material made from animal skins. This invention aided its library, which contained over 200,000 volumes. Authors from all over were invited to contribute to the massive collection of writings, which was second only to the library of Alexandria. I wonder if this library had the most significant book of all?
The description of Christ in vs 12 refers back to how He is vividly portrayed in 1:16, "…out of His mouth came a sharp double-edged sword." Pergamum was granted by Rome the rare power of capital punishment, symbolized by the sword. Jesus uses the sword of His truth to oppose falsehood and advance His Kingdom. Hebrews 4:12 observes that the "word of God is full of living power, sharper than any double-edged sword; cutting deep into our innermost thoughts and intentions, exposing us for what we really are." Our Savior’s words are life-changing, cutting away our camouflage and penetrating our defenses. They lay bare our sin and need.
Jesus tells His church, "I know where you live-where Satan has his throne" (vs 13). This may refer to a massive throne-like altar of Zeus that overlooked the city. Our Lord understands that His people are living in an unbelieving world; He is well aware of the continuous pressure of pervasive, anti-Christian influences. His followers are sheep among wolves. The same holds true for today-we are besieged with ungodly worldviews and secular philosophies. We are in enemy-occupied territory!
Of all the 7 cities, Pergamum was the one in which the church was most likely to clash with the Roman imperial worship. The pagan residents of the city were willing to accommodate other gods, but they were not willing to tolerate an exclusive religion, whose Savior claimed, "No one comes to the Father but through Me" (John 5:40).
In spite of opposition, the church was committed to Christ; they did not deny their faith. Jesus singles out a martyr, Antipas, who opposed the idolatry of the Empire and was faithful unto death. His name means "against all"; Jesus calls him a "faithful witness." How would He describe us?
In spite of their faithful stand, all was not well with the church. In vss 14-15 they are rebuked for tolerating in their fellowship the false teachings of Balaam and the Nicolaitan heresy (which the Ephesian church opposed, 2:6). Balaam was a renegade Jewish prophet hired by the king of Moab to curse Israel. The scheme was unsuccessful; God wouldn’t allow the prophet to utter curses. However, Balaam advised the king to corrupt the Jews by tempting them to intermarry with pagans and accommodate the worship of idols. The followers of Balaam are those who perform religious work for ulterior motives, covetous gain, and who corrupt God’s people in the process.