Be True to the Name (Revelation 2:12-17)
Pergamum was the capital of the Roman province of Asia and the place of residence of the proconsul of the area. It is significant that this letter contains, “The words of him who has the sharp double-edged sword” since the sword was the symbol of the proconsul’s authority (Ro.13:4), demonstrating his power over life and death. The opening words of the letter are a reminder that there is a greater power than that of an earthly governor.
The city boasted a vast library said to have contained over 200,000 parchment scrolls. The word ‘parchment’ derives from the name ‘Pergamum’, although parchment itself was around long before this time. As the provincial capital Pergamum eventually boasted not one but three temples dedicated to the worship of the Emperor and was an important religious centre. It has been described by some as, ‘the Lourdes of the ancient world’ and people travelled from all over the world to be healed by the god Asclepius. It also had important temples dedicated to Zeus, Dinonysos and Athene, alongside a multitude of heathen temples, as well as being the principal centre of the imperial cult in the region.
When Jesus said, “I know where you live – where Satan has his throne” this was not mere hyperbole; Satan ruled this place and, while Christians counted it as their permanent earthly home, the Lord knew that this was where Satan lived. “Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me” says the Lord. There had been times, and there would be again, when Christians would face spasmodic periods of persecution but here, in Pergamum, they faced a continuing crisis and challenge to their faith (the first martyr of the region, Antipas, was tortured to death here) and yet they had remained faithful.
Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth:
“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realise that Christ Jesus is in you – unless, of course, you fail the test” (2 Cor.13:5)
Of course, the saints in Pergamum had not failed the test for the Lord had already commended them for being true to his name. “Nevertheless, I have a few things against you” said the Lord; and the problems were inside the church. It was not so much that the church was steeped in idolatry as that “you have people there who hold to the teaching...” There is something insidious about this type of tolerance, a tolerance that is popular in today’s liberal world and all-too-often manifest in today’s church. Tolerance of error in whatever form is a trap.
The particular example given of Balaam illustrates this very well. Balaam was the one who advised the king of Moab that the way to get the Israelites to forfeit God’s protection was to induce them to worship idols (Nu.31:16). This is what is meant here in the reference to Balak enticing the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols. This was not merely a reference to food purchased in the market place that was previously sacrificed to idols (1 Cor.8) but an involvement in sacrificial worship to foreign gods. “Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teachings of the Nicolaitans.”
The answer is a call to repentance. It is Jeremiah, the probable writer of Lamentations, who wrote:
“Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord. Let us lift our hearts and our hands to God in heaven and say: ‘We have sinned and rebelled...” (Lam.3:40)
Despite its role as a seat of learning with a great library and its reputation as a religious centre and place of healing this was the home of Satan. Even Christians of whom the Lord could say, “You have been true to my name” could fall into the trap of compromise with false teaching and were reminded that judgement will come on those who teach error. It is a timely reminder that correct doctrine is important and sound teaching vital. Religion itself is worthless if it is built on unsound foundations; healings and miracles are worthless if they are predicated on lies. People are capable of justifying all and any sins, including sexual immorality and strange worship if they are not grounded in the word of God. That is why we teach as we do and urge others to be true to the name of him who has saved us and who will one day judge us.
Previous Posts in this Series:
A Message of Hope
Remember Your First Love