Hold Fast My Name - Pergamos

Pergamos receives praise for remaining faithful to his name, but correction for tolerating the teachings of Balaam – Revelation 2:12-17. 

Pergamos is some sixty kilometers to the north of Smyrna and twenty kilometers from the sea. Though not a major commercial center, on occasion, it serves as the seat of the Roman provincial government and the center for the imperial cult. The first temple dedicated to Augustus Caesar in Asia was built at Pergamos, making it “ground zero” for the veneration of the emperor.

The city’s patron deities included Zeus, Athena, Dionysus, and Asclepios. Its most prominent feature is a large altar dedicated to Zeus Sotér - “Zeus the Savior,” and this may be alluded to in the letter, namely, the “throne of Satan.”

  • (Revelation 2:12-17) - And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write: These things say he that has the sharp, two-edged sword; I know where you dwell, where the throne of Satan is; and you are holding fast my name and did not deny my faithˎ even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was killed near you where Satan dwells. Nevertheless, I have against you a few things, that you have such as hold fast the teaching of Balaam, who went on to teach Balak to throw a cause of stumbling before the sons of Israel, to eat idol-sacrifices, and to commit fornication, thus, even you have such as hold fast the teaching of the Nicolaitans in like manner. Repent, therefore, otherwise, I come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches. To him that overcomes, I will give to him of the hidden manna, and I will give to him a white stone, and upon the stone, a new name written, which no one knows, except he that receives it.”

THE SHARP SWORD


Jesus is the one who holds the “sharp, two-edged sword,” an appropriate symbol for his absolute authority, and this includes his sovereignty over the awesome power of imperial Rome, the incarnation of the World Empire in the first century.

Imperial soldiers are armed with the short double-edged sword used for hand-to-hand combat, the rhomphaia. This is the Greek noun that is here found on Christ’s lips. The sword symbolizes the power of life and death. The Roman proconsul had almost unlimited authority or imperium, including the right to execute criminals and political offenders.

The “sword” wielded by Jesus is the same one seen in the vision of one “like a son of man.” Later, John will see the sword “proceeding from the mouth” of the “rider on a white horse” - (Psalm 2:1-9, Revelation 1:16, 19:11-16).

The “two-edged sword” is derived from a passage in the book of Isaiah that here serves to stress his messianic identity and status:

  • (Isaiah 11:1-4) – “And there shall come forth a shoot out of the stock of Jesse, and a branch out of his roots shall bear fruit… but with righteousness shall he judge the poor and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth; and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked.”

In contrast to Roman magistrates, Jesus wields the ultimate power over life and death. Whatever authority is possessed by the governing authorities of this age is derivative. And he displays the sword to the messenger of the congregation as a warning to errant members. If they refuse to repent, he “will come and war against them with the sword of his mouth.”

COMMENDATION


Jesus is aware of the difficult situation of the assembly, and he commends the “angel” for “holding fast my name and not denying my faith.”

The reference to “Satan’s throne” may point to the altar dedicated to Zeus at the heart of the city, to the temple to Augustus, or to the Roman provincial authority based in Pergamos.

More significantly, the reference is a verbal link to the satanic “throne” of the “Beast from the sea” in chapter 13. Already, the Pergamene church is under threat from beastly authorities - (Revelation 13:2, 16:10).

At least one Christian has been executed, “Antipas, my faithful witness.” The same term is applied to Jesus at the start of the book, the one who is the “faithful witness and the firstborn of the dead.” By his death, he bore faithful witness, and thus, also, Antipas - (Revelation 1:4-6).

SHORTCOMINGS


The “teaching of Balaam” echoes the story of the prophet Balaam who attempted to serve God AND money by cursing Israel for the Moabite king. But God caused him to bless Israel instead. However, he found another way to earn his reward by teaching the Moabites how to corrupt Israel through fornication and idolatry.

Here, “fornication” is metaphorical for idolatry. In Pergamos, the problem is not sexual sin but accommodating the idolatrous practices of the surrounding pagan society (Numbers 25:1-3, 31:16, 17:1-2).

The proponents of this false teaching are probably identical to the Nicolaitans. In popular etymology, the name is the Greek equivalent of ‘Balaam’ which in Hebrew means (possibly) “master of the people” (i.e., Ba’al [“lord, master”] + ‘am [“people”]). Likewise, ‘Nicolaitan’ signifies “one who conquers people.”

Some Christians tolerate this teaching by compromising with the larger society. The warning that Jesus will wage war against them is conditional, and therefore, does not refer to his final coming at the end of the age. More likely, it has in view visitations by him in judgment so he may purge the congregation.

THE OVERCOMER


The “hidden manna” alludes to the “manna” that was kept in the Ark of the Covenant. It served to remind the Israelites of how Yahweh sustained them in the wilderness. Here, it is contrasted with the “meat offered to idols.” The former yields everlasting life, the latter, the “second death.”

It is not clear what the “white stone” represents. Possibly, it is related to the “manna.” In the Hebrew Bible “manna” is compared to “white bdellium stones” - (Exodus 16:33-36, Numbers 11:7).

The “new name” refers to the name of God or Christ inscribed on the foreheads of faithful believers. Jesus reveals its true significance to his faithful disciples. The clause alludes to the promise to Ancient Israel found in Isaiah that is now applied to faithful saints of Pergamos:

  • (Isaiah 62:1-2) – “For Zion’s sake, will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake, will I not rest, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation, as a torch that is lighted. So shall nations see your righteousness, and all kings your glory; And you shall be called by a new name, which the mouth of Yahweh will name” - (Compare, Revelation 14:1, 22:3-4).

He that has an ear, hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches!” Once again, the noun rendered “churches” is in the plural number. The summons is for all his assemblies in Asia and elsewhere to heed the words of the “Spirit.”

The repeated call to heed the “Spirituniversalizes the seven letters. Every believer must “hear what the Spirit is saying,” whether in Pergamos, Smyrna, or Ephesus (“he who hears”).

And the same promise of the “new name” will be realized in the city of “New Jerusalem” by every faithful believer who “overcomes” and perseveres in faithful witness.


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