Revelation 2:12-17 – Pergamum

Acropolis in Bergama (Pergamum), Turkey, in Oc...
Pergamum ruins

2:12  “To the angel of the assembly in Pergamum, also called Pergamos, a name from which we can derive the Greek prefix pur- meaning, “much” or “an abundance,” and the word gamos, which means “marriage,” e.g., monogamy, bigamy, polygamy, etc.  This city of “much marriage,” was the capital of Asia in John’s time.  It had a famous Asclepium (a healing spa dedicated to the god Asclepius) but it was most famous for its library, which at 200,000 volumes rivaled the one in Alexandria until Mark Anthony moved its books to that latter city as a gift to Cleopatra.  Pergamos remained famous for its parchment, which was called pergamena.

The Pergamum Altar in Berlin, Germany. They built this in 1930. Do you think maybe that was a sign?

Pergamos was also famous for its paganism.  It had a grove called the Nicephorium which held shrines and statues of every god known to the Greeks, as well as a massive temple to Zeus.  Hislop argues that the seat of the Babylonian priesthood, “after the death of Belshazzar, and the expulsion of the Chaldean priesthood from Babylon by the Medo-Persian kings, was at Pergamos, where afterwards was one of the seven churches of Asia.  As a result, for many centuries this city was ‘Satan’s seat.’”[1]  Others suppose that Satan’s throne refers to the temple or altar of Zeus that was then in Pergamos, which was discovered by the German engineer Carl Human in 1878.  (A scale model of this altar was built at the Pergamum museum in Berlin, Germany in 1930.)  This could also “be a reference to the cult of emperor worship, because Pergamos was a center where this form of loyalty was pledged to the emperor of the Roman Empire.”[2]  Whichever was the case, the result was a great spiritual blackness over the city.

 Yeshua commands John, write: “He who has the sharp two-edged sword, which is the word of God (Eph. 6:17), living, and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and is able to discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb. 4:12), says these things:

2:13  “I know your works and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is, in the very heart of pagan worship. You hold firmly to my name, and didn’t deny my faith in the days of Antipas, whose name means, “Against All,” for indeed Yeshua came “[T]o set a man at odds against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.  A man’s foes will be those of his own household.  He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me isn’t worthy of me.  He who doesn’t take his cross and follow after me, isn’t worthy of me” (Mat. 10:35-38). Such an Antipas was my witness, my faithful one, who declared, But as for me, I will look to the LORD.  I will wait for the God of my salvation.  My God will hear me (Mic. 7:7), who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.  Such Antipas disciples, like their brethren at Smyrna, suffered greatly at the hands of Roman paganism, putting their hope on the Holy One of Israel:  Don’t rejoice against me, my enemy.  When I fall, I will arise.  When I sit in darkness, the LORD will be a light to me (Mic. 7:8).

You'd think that this would have been a hint that messing with Israel was a bad idea.You'd think that this would have been a hint that messing with Israel was a bad idea.

2:14  But though there were many such Antipases formerly, now I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to throw a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality.  The reference is, of course, to Num. 25:1-3:  Israel stayed in Shittim; and the people began to play the prostitute with the daughters of Moab: for they called the people to the sacrifices of their gods; and the people ate, and bowed down to their gods.  Israel joined himself to Baal Peor: and the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel.  This sin, we learn, was engineered through the counsel of Balaam (Num. 31:16), who did so in order to earn the great sum of money that Balak had offered him to curse Israel.  Since he could not curse Israel, he taught Israel’s enemies how to cause them to curse themselves by disobedience and intermarriage.  In the same way, when the Romans realized that they could neither curse nor destroy the Christians in their midst, they turned instead to subverting them.

The subversion began with Constantine’s “Edict of Toleration” (312 CE), which made Christianity legal.  Constantine himself was not baptized as a Christian until his death-bed, and it is evident that his chief concern was removing division from his empire, not true worship of the Holy One.  Shortly after, Constantine convened the First Council of Nicea (325 CE).  The Council was primarily concerned with creating a unified Christian doctrine of Yeshua’s nature—whether He was Divine or merely human—and developed the Nicene Creed.  The Council also formalized the canon of the New Testament.  The canon was mostly agreed upon, but there were some books in dispute, such as Hebrews and 2 Peter.  In addition, the following letters were issued:

Emperor Constantine, who really didn't like Jews all that much.

We further proclaim to you the good news of the agreement concerning the holy Pascha, that this particular also has through your prayers been rightly settled; so that all our brethren in the East who formerly followed the custom of the Jews are henceforth to celebrate the said most sacred feast of Pascha at the same time with the Romans and yourselves and all those who have observed Pascha from the beginning. (“The Synodal Letter” from Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, series 2, vol. XIV)

We ought not, therefore, to have anything in common with the Jews, for the Saviour has shown us another way; our worship follows a more legitimate and more convenient course(the order of the days of the week); and consequently, in unanimously adopting this mode, we desire, dearest brethren, to separate ourselves from the detestable company of the Jews, for it is truly shameful for us to hear them boast that without their direction we could not keep this feast. (From the Letter of the Emperor to all those not present at the Council. (Found in Eusebius, Vita Const., Lib. iii., 18-20.  See here for the full letter)

Christianity was later made the state religion under Theodosius (378-395 CE), the results of which “entailed some serious drawbacks,” including,

infringements on the Church’s freedom as civil authorities exploited the relationship for political purposes; mass conversions where social conformity was the chief motivating factor; the widening of the gap between the clergy and the laity thanks to the official status conferred on them; persecution of dissenters as a menace to the unity of the state.[3]

Millions of pagans suddenly entered the Church, and some of their customs inevitably crept into the liturgy: the use of the kiss as a sign of reverence for holy objects, the practice of genuflection, devotion to relics, and the use of candles, incense, and other ceremonial features derived from the imperial court.  Under this pagan influence Christians began to face the east [the direction of the rising sun, rather than towards Jerusalem] while praying, which made it necessary for the priest to lead prayers with his back to the congregation.[4]

Those who objected, like the Donatists and Nazarenes, were persecuted by the State-Church.  Even Augustine recommended persecuting dissenters, as in his “A Treatise Concerning the Correction of the Donatists” (see here for excerpts).

When Balaam enticed Israel to sin, the anger of God burned against Israel, for the sin in the camp was so great that Zimri ben Salu, a leader of a father’s household among the Simeonites (Num. 25:14) openly took Cozbi bat Zur to his tent in open defiance of Moses, and a plague ran through the camp until Phinehas, the ben Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it; he rose up from the midst of the congregation, and took a spear in his hand; and he went after the man of Israel into the pavilion, and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her body. So the plague was stayed from the children of Israel (Num. 25:7-8).

For his zeal, the Eternal One proclaimed, “Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned my wrath away from the children of Israel, in that he was zealous with my zealousness among them, so that I didn’t consume the children of Israel in my zealousness.   Therefore say, ‘Behold, I give to him my covenant of peace: and it shall be to him, and to his seed after him, the covenant of an everlasting priesthood; because he was zealous for his God, and made atonement for the children of Israel’” (Num. 25:11-13).  The Eternal One would reiterate this promise to Jeremiah:  If you can break my covenant of the day, and my covenant of the night, so that there shall not be day and night in their season; then may also my covenant be broken with David my servant, that he shall not have a son to reign on his throne; and with the Levites the priests, my ministers. As the army of the sky can’t be numbered, neither the sand of the sea measured; so will I multiply the seed of David my servant, and the Levites who minister to me (Jer. 33:20-22).  That is, the Levitical priesthood is just as eternal as the office of the Messiah Himself!

It is with that last point in mind that we read, 2:15  So you also have some who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans likewise, from nikao, which means to conquer or overthrow or have victory against (seen in the name of the Greek goddess Nike, whose name graces hundreds of millions of sneakers in America today) and laos, which means the laity, the common people.  In other words, the Nicolaitans are those who “overthrow the laity,” those who espoused a special elite to rule over the “lesser” believers.  As the Church became merged with the State, its bishops indeed became Nicolaitan.

2:16  Repent therefore, or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of my mouth, the very Word of God which they are abandoning in favor of worldly prestige and treasures.  2:17  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the assemblies. To him who overcomes, to him I will give of the hidden manna, the true Bread of Life which is the Word of God, and which is preferable to the dainties of kings, and I will give him a white stone, the sinless Rock from which the Living Waters of the Spirit flow, and on the stone, Messiah Himself, a new, or rather, renewed name written, which no one knows but he who receives it.  This may be in reference to the Tetragramaton, the exact pronunciation of which has been lost to us.

[1] Hislop, Two Babylons, p. 240

[2] Nelson’s, “Pergamos”

[3] Bokenkotter, History, p. 42

[4] ibid., p. 46

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