REVELATION STUDY (LESSON #4 – Letter to the church at Pergamos): Pergamos is the third church addressed in chapter two of Revelation. The name of Pergamos has dual meanings including “fortified” and “marriage”. Located about 70 miles north of Smyrna, Pergamos was considered to be the third royal city of Asia. Ephesus was a political center, Smyrna a commercial center, and Pergamos was a great religious center. Pergamum as it was also known was the capital of the kingdom of Pergamum. It was a very beautiful city and Caesar Augustus had a temple built in his honor. He would visit there when the climate got too cold in Rome. It was a fortified city (one of its name’s meanings) built on an Acropolis surrounded by two tributary rivers that fed the Caicus River. It boasted a 200,000 volume library which Mark Antony gave to Cleopatra as a gift. The people there had invented a new substance from fine calfskin they named pergaminus or pergamena (parchment) after the name of the city. It was the predecessor to vellum and was used for ancient books or codices. They had a 10,000 seat theater which was the steepest in the ancient world.
Christ introduces Himself as “…he which hath the sharp sword with the two edges” (2:12). This is His powerful word which Hebrews 4:12 tells us, “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” He discerns their true works and is about to get to the heart of the matter. He says once again that He knows their works that they have been faithful even though they were surrounded by pagans and fierce demonic opposition. He says that Satan’s seat is there, mentions the faithful martyr Antipas and speaks of his death in Pergamos “…where Satan dwelleth.” Many theories have been given as to what Christ means by Satan’s seat but I think literally Satan’s base of operations in spiritual warfare was there. Previously it had been located in Babylon from the time of Genesis 11 and the tower of Babel. Then when Persia became the second of the four great world powers the seat of Satan shifted to Persia in Shushan. Remember Daniel prayed in chapter 10 for 21 days and when the angel of the Lord finally arrived he said that the Lord had heard Daniel’s prayer on the first day and had sent this angel to answer Daniel but the “prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me”. That prince of Persia was a principality of Satan. Now Christ says that in Pergamos the seat of Satan is located and Satan dwelleth there. Pergamos was the center of idolatry and had many altar that have been considered to be ‘Satan’s seat’ by different theologians.
i. The Great Altar at Pergamon – thought to be an altar dedicated to Zeus. It stood on top of the Acropolis modeled after Athens. Interestingly, the Nazi-era architect Albert Speer used the Pergamon Altar as the model for the Zeppelintribüne, 1934-37. The Führer’s pulpit was in the center of the tribune. Even today a model of the actual Pergamon Altar is located in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.
ii. At the sanctuary of Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine, the city worshipped a living serpent. It is this symbol of the twisted serpent that is used for medicine today. “As you would enter the facility in ancient times, you go down long tunnels. Above are holes that look like airholes for ventilation but are not. As you walk along these tunnels, sexy voices come down through the holes, saying to you, “You are going to get well. You are going to feel better. You are going to be healed.” …You go down to the hot baths where you are given a massage. There is a little theater there where they give plays of healing. If they haven’t healed you by now, as a last resort they put you in that temple at night and turn loose the nonpoisonous snakes which crawl over you. They have a back door where they take out the dead. They don’t mention the ones they don’t heal; they speak only of those who recover.” (JVM)
iii. The Temple of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine. “Dionysius is the same as Bacchus, the god of wine, the goat-god. He is depicted with horns, but with his upper part as a man and his lower part as a goat, with cloven feet and a tail. In our day that is the modern idea of Satan, but the notion that Satan has horns, cloven feet, and a forked tail did not come from the Bible. Where did it come from? Well, it came from the temple of Dionysius, the god Bacchus, the god of wine or alcohol.” (JVM)
iv. The best possibility for what represented Satan’s seat was the Temple of Serapis, a combination of both Greek and Egyptian gods created in order to blend or merge both Egyptian and Greek religious practices. There was a temple to this god in Babylon which was consulted at the death of Alexander the Great. In Babylon his name meant ‘king of the deep’. There was also a temple of Serapis at Alexandria, Egypt. In fact, in Egypt during the first century, the Gnostic Christian community in Alexandria was known for worshipping both Serapis and Jesus and would prostrate themselves without distinction between the two. The Gnostics were self-described Christians in name only. They were known for their attempts to blend Greek philosophy and Christian belief. It is that community that produced such heretical works as the ‘Gospel of Judas’. It is interesting that Pergamon means ‘marriage’ and that the worship of Serapis was a marriage of initially Greek and Egyptian and then later Christian religions. By the way, Serapis was considered one of the gods of the underworld ruling with Cerberus, gatekeeper of the underworld. Serapis was even depicted on Roman coins during the reigns of some emperors.
Jesus then says “But I have a few things against thee” (2:14). He says there were some in that church at Pergamos practicing the doctrines of Baalim and the Nicolaitans. Baalim was the prophet in the book of Numbers hired by Balak the King of Moab to curse Israel. God didn’t allow Baalim to curse His people but Baalim counseled Balak to introduce his ‘strange’ women to the Israelites and that such fornication with them would lead the children of Israel to worship their gods thus making them corrupt if not cursed. In the New Testament, a council had been held in Jerusalem to determine among other things what to require of new Gentile converts, if anything. They decided in Acts 15 that Gentile Christians would only be required to “abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.” Idolatry and fornication continued to be a problem in the church at Pergamos and continues on in the present. With regard to the Nicolaitans, what was just deeds in Ephesus have now progressed to doctrines in Pergamos. Both the doctrine of Baalim and Nicolaitans was teaching church members that it was not just ok to sin but necessary but Christ says He hates that doctrine. Paul spoke against it in Romans 6.
Jesus tells them to repent or He will come and fight against them with His powerful word. To the overcomer (true believer) He promises special fellowship (hidden manna) and a white stone with a new name written within. “The meaning of the white stone with the new name written is possibly derived from one of the customs of the day. A judge determined a verdict by placing in an urn a white and black pebble. If the white one came out it meant acquittal; thus the white stone would mean the assurance that there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Charles Ryrie, Revelation, p. 25) 🙂
Just as Ephesus represented the early Apostilic Age (Pentecost-100 A.D.) and Smyrna the time of persecution (100 A.D.-313 A.D.), Pergamos also represents the time from 313 A.D at the signing by emperor Constantine of the Edict of Toleration to about 590 A.D. This was the time of the rise of what would become the Catholic church. Edward Gibbon (27 April 1737 – 16 January 1794), an English historian and Member of Parliament wrote His most important work, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, which was published in six volumes between 1776 and 1788. In Chapter 20 on page 555 in the 1890 reprint he wrote of Constantine’s “outreach” efforts to the pagans, “The salvation of the common people was purchased at an easy rate, if it be true, that, in one year, twelve thousand men were baptized in Rome, besides a proportionable number of women and children; and that a white garment, with twenty pieces of gold, had been promised by the emperor to every convert.” Constantine’s Edict of Toleration promised a bag of gold and a white robe to new converts so many pagans joined the ‘church’ of Rome. The church become worldly and the world became churchy and no difference could be seen. This is why Pergamos represents this period as their name also meant marriage. The church began an unholy alliance or semi-marriage when she was already espoused to the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. Constantine and thus the world’s ‘toleration’ of the church did more damage to Christendom than all the persecution of the Roman emperors before him. We must remember that we are to live in the world and not the other way around…
John 15:19 If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.
“THINK ON THESE THINGS…”