Lesson 5 - The Church at Pergamos

Lesson 5 - The Church at Pergamos

(Revelation 2:12-17)

Pergamos was a pagan worship center, as well as an intellectual city.  The city boasted a library with over 200,000 books (rivaled only by Alexandria in Egypt).  They had people famous for medicine, pottery making, tapestry making, making parchment paper and book making.  They also had their temples dedicated to the pagan gods and the Roman Emperor.  Later they built another temple to the Roman Emperor.  Therefore, Caesar-worship was the most intense in Pergamos. 

Jesus described Himself as the One Who has the sharp two-edged sword.  We saw this same phrase in Revelation 1:16, which we pointed out referred to the judicial judgment of Jesus Christ.  The two-edged sword is the Word of God that proceeds out of the mouth of Jesus Christ in judgment of the nations.  (Isaiah 49:2; Ephesians 6:17; Hebrews 4:12-13; Revelation 19:15)

Jesus Christ knew their works, He knew where they were living (in one of Satan’s strongholds) and He knew their faithfulness.  Where there is pagan worship, man worship or even animal worship, Satan will always have a stronghold.  Satan promotes both evil and human good as a way to distract the unbeliever from finding the truth and the believer from executing the Christian Way of Life. 

Satan is a real created being, an angel and a cherub. (Ezekiel 28:14)  His original name was Lucifer (Son of the Morning), God’s most beautiful creation. (Ezekiel 28:17)  He fell through arrogance, which led to rebellion against God. (Isaiah 14:12-15) He was superior to all of the angels. (Ezekiel 28:14)  In Revelation 12:9 he is called the Dragon, which is “derchomai” in Greek, and means to see clearly, an obvious reference to his superior intellect.  We can learn a lot about Satan’s personality and character by an examination of his names, titles and the descriptive words used for him in Scripture:

  1. Lucifer - son of the morning (his beauty contributed to his arrogance)
  2. Devil – accuser (a legal term used in a court of law referring to his accusations against God and believers)
  3. Old Serpent – deceiver (Satan is the master counterfeiter)
  4. Satan – adversary (a legal term for opposing counsel in a trial)
  5. Dragon - evil intelligence (superior intellect)
  6. Beelzebub - prince of demons (a military term which teaches us that he has a vast army of organized demons)
  7. Belial - good for nothing (Satan and his demons cause human good to be produced)
  8. Wicked One - evil one (Satan and his demons cause evil to be produced)
  9. Prince of this World - ruler of this world system

Satan was obviously in control of this city.  The Greek word for seat is “thronos” meaning a chair of state or a throne.  The implication is that Satan was in control of the Roman authority in this city.  Since emperor worship was so prominent in Pergamos, it is easy to believe that Satan and his demons were the ones perpetrating the evil in this city.

In the midst of this evil city, the local church remained faithful to Bible doctrine and to the Lord Jesus Christ.  Both truths are put forth in verse 13.  The words hold fast are the Greek word “krateis” meaning to hold on to or to prevail.  These believers were holding on to their faith in Christ. Not denying “my faith” can be a reference to the Bible doctrine they had been taught or specifically the doctrine regarding Jesus Christ (Soteriology).  Either way, they were remaining faithful to their faith in Jesus Christ despite the pressure to deny Him.

This faithfulness was particularly impressive given the fact that they had witnessed the martyrdom of Antipas.  Seeing a fellow believer killed before them must have made it increasing difficult to remain faithful.  The only explanation is that they had remained faithful to Bible doctrine and had enough truth in their souls to withstand the persecution and the possibility of becoming a martyr.

In spite of their strong faith, Jesus Christ did have some things against this group of believers.  There were two specific things mentioned, which the local church was allowing to exist among them.  They were those who were holding to the doctrine of Balaam and those who were holding to the doctrine of the Nicolaitans within the local church. 

The doctrine of Balaam was teaching Balak, king of Moab, to corrupt God’s people by tempting them to intermarry with pagans.  The result was idolatry and sexual sins, both practices of pagan religion.  In return, Balaam was to be rewarded greatly by Balak.  Balaam, a prophet of God, used his office for material gain, and typifies the false teachers in the Church Age. (II Peter 2:15; Jude 11)  Notice that the faithful believers were not practicing the doctrine themselves, but they were allowing those in the church to hold to these doctrines without protest.  Eating things sacrificed to idols was tantamount to condoning the worship of these idols.  One of the practices of the pagans in worship to their gods was a “love feast” or what we would call an orgy.  This immoral practice was obviously sinful and those practicing this should have been confronted by those in authority within the local church.

We know from our previous study that there is little known about the Nicolaitans, except that what they were teaching was false doctrine and God hated it.

Revelation 2:6 speaks of the Nicolaitans and there has been much conjecture about who they were or what they represented.  Here are the two most prominent theories, neither of which has a Biblical basis:

  1. They were the beginning of a priestly and a laity (non-priests) order within the local church.  This theory is taken from the etymology of the word, which means to conqueror the people.  
  1. They were a sect of believers founded by Nicholas, one of the original deacons. (Acts 6:5)  They practiced and promoted antinomianism (the saved have a license to sin).

Jesus calls for this church to repent (change their minds) regarding their lack of action regarding false teachers or He would come in judgment against them.  This can be a reference to an immediate action on the part of the Lord or a reference to His Second Coming at which time He will war against those who teach false doctrine.  (Revelation 19:11-21)  We must remember that the Second Coming of Jesus Christ was imminent (He could have come back during their lifetime).  Therefore, the warning to repent was legitimate. 

The overcomer is promised a reward by the Lord Jesus Christ.  Here He offers the reward of “hidden manna.”  Manna was the heavenly food given to Israel by God as they wandered in the desert.  Manna speaks metaphorically of Jesus Christ as the Bread of Life, of God’s constant provision on the basis of our faith in Christ and future rewards in Heaven.  The word hidden is the Greek word “krupto” and means to keep secret or to conceal and may refer to the fact that this manna is hidden “in God.”  It may, however, be something totally different that God will reveal at the appropriate time. (John 6:30-35, 48-52, 58; Colossians 3:3)

The white stone in ancient Rome was used as a reward for victors in athletic games.  The white stone would enable the holder to participate in great feasts.  This seems to be the best explanation of the white stone, which could also help explain the meaning of the hidden manna.  Perhaps Jesus was referring to the coming marriage supper of the Lamb where the hidden manna of God will be served and only those who have the white stone (overcomers) will be admitted.  (Revelation 19:9)  We also notice that these white stones are engraved with a new name, which only the holder knows.

The Greek word for a new name is “kainon” and “onoma”, which mean new in nature, not new as in contrast to old.  This new name is an obvious reference to the fact that the believer has a new position in Christ (a new nature).  This new nature, of which we are recipients at salvation, will reach its ultimate reality in eternity.  The phrase, “which no man knows except he that receives it” speaks of the eternal security of the believer and the fact that only the person and God know that he possess eternal life. (II Corinthians 5:17 where the same Greek word is used for new)

The doctrine of eternal security is the Scriptural teaching that once a person becomes a believer in Christ, that person is secure in Christ forever.  (I John 5:13) There is sound doctrinal reasoning for knowing that a believer is secure forever.  The most important fact to note is that eternal security depends upon God’s faithfulness, not man’s faithfulness.  It is the life of God (eternal life) that He imputes (credits) to every believer at the moment of salvation, which assures us of an eternal relationship with Him.  The Bible says that believers are guarded in the “hand of God.”  We are also given a guarantee in the Person of the Holy Spirit, Who indwells every believer.  The Holy Spirit Himself is the seal that secures forever our eternal life.  Since salvation is a grace function and has nothing whatsoever to do with human effort or human merit, losing your salvation through sin would negate God’s grace – a blasphemous thought. (John 10:28-29, 14:16-17)