The Church at Pergamum
This is PART THREE in a seven-part study on the Churches in the book of Revelation
The notes below compliment this live worship-hour video recording of a teaching on the Church at Pergamum.
Almost 2000 years ago Jesus shared a message to seven churches in seven cities located in present-day western Turkey. That message is presented in Revelation 2-3. When John wrote the book of Revelation, there were about 100 churches in greater Asia. So then, the question is: Why these seven churches?
These churches were not the largest or most notable—two of the seven churches had grave issues. Many believe Jesus chose to speak to these churches because their location and ministry are representative of both future periods in church history and the major issues individuals and churches struggle with today.
Located in a great pagan center known as, “The City of Temples,” this church struggled to remain pure. The Altar of Pergamos, which is infamous in history for its association with evil, was located there. Pergamum is a compound word meaning mixed (as in a negative sense) and union. The meaning of the name points to the reputation the church had earned. In time, the Church at Pergamum embraced worldly practices and philosophies and slipped into compromise. They had a mixed union with the world around them.
The first ‘Christian Caesar’ was Constantine. There are questions about the genuine nature of his faith, but his rise to power early in the fourth century does coincide with the reversal of many terrible laws designed to persecute and oppress Christians. This relaxing of prohibitions sounds like a great positive, but for many, the relaxed prohibitions coincided with a decrease of passion in living out the faith. As pressure diminished, the Christian Church slid into compromise and complacency. The period of 313—600 AD saw the church weaken and introduce worldly elements into various aspects of church government, structure, and doctrine. They had a mixed message.
The message to the Church at Pergamum warns believers not to embrace (become in union with) the things of the world (2 Cor. 6:14).
- The city was known as the Center of Temples. This included notable temples to Apollo, Athena, Dionysus, Aphrodite, Asclepeion, and Zeus.
- In Greek mythology, Zeus escaped the wrath of his father by going into hiding first in Crete, then Pergamum.
- Pergamum was established in a beautiful location—near the river Caicus. It was formally the seat of power for the kings of Attalia, and the capital of the kingdom during the Hellenistic period (281—133 BC).
- Attalus, the last king of Attalia, bequeathed the city to the Romans to prevent a civil war.
- The religious climate at Pergamum was not conducive to the Christian life. It was said that “Satan’s throne” was in the city (2:12). While verse 12 has varying interpretations, it is likely intended to identify Pergamum as a major center of pagan religion (especially the Roman Imperial cult).
- The Altar of Pergamum seems to be linked to war and destruction.
- The city was a judicial center in the Region. Most of the laws regarding oppressing Christians (110-300AD) originated there.
- The Goths decimated the city in the late 3rd century.
WORDS OF PRAISE:
“To the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. 13 I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to My name.” (Rev. 2:12-13)
- Here Jesus notes that He is aware of the difficult social, political, and cultural pressures this church faced. Indeed, Christ had called them to be a light in a particularly dark place. He praised them for remaining “true to My name.”
- “You did not renounce your faith in Me, not even in the days of Antipas, My faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.” (Rev. 2:14a)
- Antipas: A martyr who was put in a brass bull and baked alive.
- They were praised by Jesus for they were strong for Jesus, even in the face of evil (where Satan lives).
WORDS OF CHALLENGE:
- “There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality…” (Rev. 2:14b-15)
- Believers are called to always press to improve. Believers are always to learn, serve, love and grow in Christ.
- Believers are cautioned to beware of the subtle but lethal temptations (such as the Hebrews faced in the days Balaam).
- “Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth” (Rev. 2:16)
- Believers are to remain faithful to the Lord. Starting well is good—but finishing well is the believer’s calling. When believers stumble, they are to repent, confess, regroup and continue the good work.
- “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Rev. 2:17a)
WORDS OF PROMISE: “To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna…” (Rev. 2:17b)
- God has and will provide for His people, even as He provided manna in the days of Moses (Exod. 11; Num. 11; Deut. 11).
- “and I will give him a white stone…” (Rev. 2:17c)
- Jewish meaning: Acquittal
- Roman meaning: A kind of ticket or pass for the elite to receive preferred seating and refreshments at the games
- General blessing: A great blessing
- “[and I will give] a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it” (Rev. 2:17c).
- A reference to newness (of life)
- A reference to new insight (Isa. 62:2; 1 Cor. 13)
- A reference to a blessing
- Do not flirt with evil
- 1 Thessalonians 5:22; Psalm 37:27-29
- Sin is a slippery slope. Flee from it as possible.
- Be in the world but not of the world
- John 17:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:23
- Hear the knock
- “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock.” (Rev. 3:20a).
- Respond to His knock. Open the door:
- “…If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and sup with him…” (Rev. 3:20b)
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