“I know where you live – where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name…Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: there are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam.” Revelation 2:13a, 14a
Pergamum was located about 70 miles north of Smyrna and was an intellectual and religious hub and also the leading center for the imperial cult in Asia Minor. They built the first temple to a living emperor and the city was filled with all kinds of pagan cults with worship that was abominable to the Christian.
Jesus is calling the church at Pergamum to abstain from syncretism: the mixing of pagan and imperial cult worship and the worship of the true Sovereign.
“Jesus commends His church for persevering in faithfulness in spite of persecution but warns them not to compromise with an idolatrous and immoral culture.”25
“Obedience in one area does not cover for or excuse disobedience in other areas. Jesus rebukes this church for tolerating the practices of the Balaamites and the Nicolaitans, groups that encouraged Christians to use their freedom to participate in pagan worship activities, including the worship of the emperor. Practices such as eating food sacrificed to idols in the worship of false gods and sexual immorality were often part of festivals associated with local temples and trade guilds. Christians who refused to compromise suffered social and economic persecution or worse.”26
“The image of the ‘sword’ may allude to the Roman governments ius gladii, the right to execute capital punishment, in which case Jesus is reminding Christians that He, not the Roman governor, holds the power of life and death (1:18).”27
“The city had a temple dedicated ‘to the divine Augustus and the goddess Roma’ (built in 29 B.C.), another temple and related medical college dedicated to Asklepios the Savior (patron god of healing, symbolized by a serpent), and an enormous altar to Zeus the Savior on the city’s highest point. Any of these idolatrous monuments – certainly the three in combination – would justify Jesus’ pronouncement that this church dwells ‘where Satan’s throne is…where Satan dwells” (2:13).”28
“For Christians in Pergamum, to ‘overcome’ means to continue steadfast in the face of opposition (2:13), but especially to stand against teaching of compromise with the world and to do their best to purge such teachings from their ranks (2:14-16).”29
“Although most Western Christians today do not have to deal with literal idols, the analogy with the temptations we face is so straightforward as to be almost transparent – if we have the courage to face it. The problem with an idol is not the artwork, monotheism is not ‘one God or less,’ and pagan ideologies can include the atheistic premises of secular materialism no less than the blatant naming of other gods. In North America we do not confront emperor worship per se, but we have plenty of idols, whether materialism (Matt. 6:24) or celebrities who receive more attention than many people give to God.”30
- Why do you think that Jesus introduces Himself to the church at Pergamum as “Him who has the sharp, double edged sword?”
- In your experience, what are the most prominent forms of cultural accommodation in the Christian churches today?31
- How does it make you feel that Jesus acknowledges His “faithful witness” Antipas by name to the church? What does this say about how Jesus’ cares for and loves His servants even in death?
- What do you think it means when Jesus says to “Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.” (Rev. 2:16)
Spend some time in prayer and ask the Lord to search you and reveal to you areas in your life where you may be accommodating the world in order to make this life easier for yourself.
25, 26 Duvall, J. Scott. Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014.
27, 29, 30 Keener, Craig S. Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000.
28 Johnson, Dennis E. Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Pub., 2001.
31 Gorman, Michael J. Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness: Following the Lamb into the New Creation