Summary: Are we clinging to our faith in Jesus and His word as firmly and as stubbornly as the Christians in Pergamum did or are we guilty of trying to live a compromised life with one foot in the world and one foot in the church?
There was once a king who ruled over a vast city. He was feared for his might and loved for his wisdom.
Now, in the heart of the city was a well whose waters were pure and crystalline from which all the inhabitants drank … except the king. He lived in a castle on top of a hill overlooking the city and as such drank from a separate well that supplied the castle.
One night, while everyone was asleep, an enemy of the king snuck into the city and poured seven drops of a strange liquid into the town’s well. As the stranger poured out the potion, he cast a spell over the well. “All who drink out of this well,” the stranger chanted, “will go mad.”
Everyone drank from the well, except for the king, who, as I pointed out, drank from a separate well. Unaware of the spell that his enemy had casted over the well in the city, the king watched with dismay and growing alarm as his subjects became strange and upset. The people began to grumble and complain. “Have you seen how strangely the king has been acting lately? We used to love and admire him but he has gone mad and lost his reason. We cannot be ruled by a mad man, so he must be de-throned.”
The king grew fearful, for his subjects were preparing to rise up against him. The king figured that the only thing that could account for the change in the townspeople was that someone had snuck in and cast a spell over the town’s drinking water. Since he couldn’t undo the spell, he ordered a golden goblet to be filled with water from the city’s well and he drank deeply of the enchanted water and the next day there was great rejoicing among the people for their beloved king had finally regained his senses.
Have we been drinking from the well? Well … let’s have a look at what happened to some of the Christians in Pergamum who drank from a polluted well, so to speak, as a warning to us to be careful not to drink in false teachings and doctrines and become corrupted ourselves.
Pergamum … or “Bergama” as it is known today … is located about 50 miles north of the Smyrnan church that we studied last week. Let’s see … we’ve gone by boat from the Island of Patmos to the seaport at Ephesus where we disembarked and started traveling north along the coast to the port city of Smyrna. Leaving Smyrna, we continued north until we arrived at the city of Pergamum. After reading Jesus’ letter to the Christians in Pergamum, we’ll change course and begin to head south to the city of Thyatira.
In John’s day, Pergamum was a lot like the city of Smyrna … except that it wasn’t … and still isn’t … a seaport. At the time that Jesus wrote and sent His letter to the city of Pergamum, it had a population of about a quarter of a million people. Like Smyrna, Pergamum was a proud city and … like Smyrna … they had good reason to be.
First of all, Pergamum was the Roman administrative center for the entire province of Asia. In fact, Pergamum had been a capital city long before the Romans made it a center for their administrative activities in Asia Minor. Before the Romans, Pergamum was the capital and administrative center of the Selucid Empire of Greece.
The second thing that added to their civic pride was the fact that Pergamum was a very beautiful city. It was built on a rocky hill about 15 miles from the coast. It was high enough that you could actually see the Mediterranean on a clear day. While Pergamum was a busy and prosperous center of trade, it was known more for its great culture. Besides its many official buildings and amphitheaters, it was the home of the second largest library in the world at that time … second only to the great library in Alexandria, Egypt. The library in Pergamum contained over 200,000 scrolls.
The reason for this is really quite fascinating. As I’m sure you recall from last week, Smyrna got its name from its major export – “smyrna” … which we know today as “myrrh.” In the same way, “Pergamum” got its name from its chief product and export … vellum … or “parchment.” For centuries the Egyptians had a monopoly on the world’s parchment supply. They made “papyrus” out of a type of bulrushes that grew along the banks of the Nile River. When the Egyptians refused to sell papyrus to the Pergamites because of some political or trade dispute, the scholars in Pergamum put their heads together and made “vellum” … which was a parchment made out of animal skins. The Latin word for “parchment” is “pergamentum.” Pergamentum turned out to be such a superior writing material that they eventually put the Egyptians out of the paper business and made the city of “Parchment” very, very rich indeed. See, I told you it was fascinating!