The seven churches of Revelation - Pergamos and the Virus of Compromise:
The 3rd of 7 churches in Revelation chps 2 + 3
The tactics so far from Satan have been:
1 - Drive a wedge between the believer and Christ – Ephesus.
Satan sought to distance from a person rather than simply from the intensity of a passion! The attack at Ephesus was not really about quantity / quality but rather about reality. The reality of the churches relationship with Christ! It’s the old error back again – substitution and distraction (v7). The same error as Eden; Satan presents something better than God! This is distraction from the true centre which at Eden was the tree of life rather than the attractive centre of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
2 - Persecution and attack – Smyrna
3 - Compromise – probably the most successful tactic so far!
Pergamos – can be translated as marriage, although some maintain that it ought not to be translated as marriage but rather as citadel.
‘per’ – mixed
‘gamos’ – marriage
The fact that it could be translated as marriage is nonetheless interesting since that would fit very well with what appears to have been happening at this church; union between church and the pagan world around it!
Pergamos would relate to that period of the church prophetically beginning with the professed conversion of Constantine and the Edict of Milan 313 AD
With the conversion of Constantine, this created a massive problem. Constantine was himself regarded as a god and headed up the whole Roman cultic system!
What do you do with paganism when the man at the top of the system gets converted?
The old paganism was adopted into Christianity.
Old pagan priests, places, practices were all Christianised.
- Christian buildings with altars and idols
- Holy water
- Mother and child cult
- The mysteries, sacramentum, sacraments – mystery of the mass and baptism
- Symbolism of saints
Pergamos is one of the 7 churches with serious problems, although not necessarily with a terminal prognosis.
A serious illness but not a terminal prognosis.
For the first time and the only time to these 7 churches Christ presents Himself as the one with the “sharp sword with two edges.”
The sharp sword proceeding from His mouth (1:16) – the Word of God (Heb 4:12)
Here is the sword of discernment
He is able to discern and divide even when they are not.
Here is the need of the moment met by Christ.
“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God that giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not…” (James 1:5ff)
This is a sword that will not only bring judgment but will also bring salvation by separation!
Vs 13 – The setting, circumstances and Satan
Sometimes Christians struggle and fail where we haven’t but perhaps they have fallen and failed in circumstances and under pressures and trials through which we have never passed!
Perhaps we have not fallen like them
Perhaps we have not been tested like them!
Their circumstances, intricately linked with Satan; ‘where Satan’s seat is’ (v13)
‘seat’ : throne: ‘θρόνος’
Is it a specific place at Pergamos?
There are certainly plenty of contenders for that title:
1 - The altar of Zeus and Athena – the great altar of Pergamon; a massive altar on the hillside.
Zeus – the head of the Greek Pantheon of gods; the ‘god of gods’ in paganism according to Plato Paul taught the Corinthians that behind the idol are devils (1 Co 10:20); Clement made the conceptual leap that since Zeus is the head of the false gods, he must be Satan!
The Pergamon altar was excavated by a German archaeologist and transported to Berlin in the early 1900’s. The exhibition opened in the Pergamon museum in 1930. This became the inspiration behind the design for Alberts Speir’s Nuremberg stadium from which Hitler made his first public declaration of the ‘final solution.’
2 - Temple of Asclepius
This represented the second largest temple in the Asian world to the cult of Asclepius and symbolised by the serpent on the pole. A symbol of course highly suggestive of Satan. Treatment at the temple involved lying on the floor under the influence of hypnotics and allowing snakes from the temple to crawl over you. Not that hugely effective I would think, but a great way of keeping the waiting lists down.
3 - Temples to the Emperor cult – Augustus, Roma
This was for the Christians of Pergamos very dangerous and ominous. A pinch of incense was required to be offered on the altar to Caesar. This was a dangerous place for a Christian to be who refused to deny his faith and blaspheme the God of heaven by worshipping false gods. Some later writers suggest that it was this that Antipas fell foul of.
Plenty of options – which one? It is impossible to say. Surely the atmosphere of the entire city is that of idolatry however, of demonism and satanic influence. Pergamon is the Asiatic stronghold of Satan; perhaps in a similar way to Jerusalem being the city of the Lord!
Little in the way of details given of his martyrdom, but interestingly referenced externally in other Christian literature.
Simon Metaphrastes, a Byzantine writer in the 10th century makes reference to the tradition that Antipas refused to offer a sacrifice to false gods, and refused to recant, that he was put inside a hollow brass bull and roasted alive and that he died under the persecution of Domitian.
Antipas is also referenced by Tertullian in the 2nd century and Andrea’s of Caeserea in the 6th century
There is also a later tradition that Antipas was challenged by his persecutors with; ‘behold the whole world is against you.’ Unphased by this Antipas is reputed to have replied ‘well that must mean that I am against the whole world!’
V14 – great pressure to compromise.
The doctrine of Balaam – a doctrine of corruption and compromise
Notice the power to overcome compromise:
Of the world around you
If it arises from a world foreign to God then its ideas, philosophies, appetite and entertainments are immediately suspect.
Almost by definition if it is good in the eyes of the world, it is probably bad!
The Nicolaitans appear to promote exactly this:
Iranaeus of Lyon; in his book ‘Against the Heresis’ comments that the Nicolaitans were a group who “lead lives of unrestrained indulgence.”
Nicolaitans could also be literally translated as ‘nico’ – over and ‘laitanes’ – people – probably a double meaning here in the name – both literal and symbolic in the context of the prophetic meaning of the church.
The encouragement and consolation:
Hidden manna: the manna of the Holy of Holies:
Hidden in the sanctuary
Hidden under the mercy seat
Hidden in the golden pot
Here is the Divine provision for those excluded and uncompromising – feeding on the bread of life, the bread of God, the bread that came down form heaven.
A distant experience of the world equates with a deeper experience of Christ.
A ‘white stone’ and a ‘new name’
Is this a white stone for:
Voting – white for innocent / black for guilty?
Invitation – to a social gathering
Reward for running well and winning – an entitlement to be kept at the publics cost for the rest of your life?
Such interpretations are very dependant upon the serendipitous bequests of ancient history; not too struck on that idea.
Probably a reference to the stones on the breast plate of the high priest.
Not only are we guaranteed an appreciation of Christ but we are brought into communion in the sanctuary.
A new name in recognition of our faithfulness to Christ?
Was that not the case too for Simon Peter?
Or Cephas? (Syriac)
Or Psephos : 5586 : stone
He was the stone with a new name!
This ministry from Pergamos has enormous practical implications for us:
It is possible to live for Christ even when circumstances appear impossible! It is possible but costly.
Contrast this with Laodicea – it is not always easy to live for Christ when circumstances are easy!
The danger to the church in difficult circumstances when oppression and persecution is present comes primarily from compromise rather than conflict; compare verse 14. The great enemy of compromise”
Cf Israel and idols
Cf. Demas and the world
Cf. Priesthood and foreign brides in the days of Ezra
Cf. Israel and Baal Peor
Here is proof if you need it, of the words of Jesus: “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”
Living out Christ in intense adversity
Christ is able to discern and distinguish His people, all is not lost! He has the sharp two edged sword!
Beware of Compromise in a society which is antithetical to the Word of God; the template for the Christian is that of “Antipas” – ‘against all’ !
Compromise is more dangerous than conflict! We are responsible for preserving the truth not for preserving ourselves!
We must identify, define and reject:
Doctrine from society
Diet of that world
Desires of that world
Be confident that the Saviours words can be trusted; “I will build my church....” 2000 years later at Bergama – Zeus has gone, Aesclepius is but a symbol, the cult of Caesar regarded as a bizarre historical curiosity but still today there is a small Christian community in that city!
From a series of bible teaching messages preached on the seven churches in the book of Revelation.
Yours by Grace in Christ
Dr J Stewart Gillespie