“These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. I know where you live – where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name …
“Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality …
“To him who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.”
(verses 12-14, 17)
Pergamum was capital of the Roman province of Asia, being also a devoted centre of Emperor worship. This was a city where the power of the state was specially in view. It is significant, then, that the Sovereign Lord makes himself known as “him who has the sharp, double-edged sword” – he has greater authority than either Emperor or state.
Indeed, greater authority also than Satan, who is identified as having his throne in the city. This might specifically refer to the fact that Pergamum was the centre of Emperor worship for the whole province. But it’s likely a broad statement, embracing the multitude of temples to various gods, including the temple to Zeus (perched high on the Acropolis, dominating the city), to Asclepius (god of medicine, whose dominance made Pergamum a centre of healing, and whose symbol was the serpent), and to Dionysus and Athene. Not only so, but one of the early believers, Antipas, had been martyred, and the Lord specifically links this to Pergamum being “where Satan lives.”
In light of all this, the believers in the city had done well. The Lord says, “You remain true to my name.” They hadn’t deserted their faith even when Antipas was martyred. The Lord commends them.
Yet, he has “a few things against” them, things serious enough that if they don’t repent the Lord himself “will fight against them with the sword of (his) mouth,” the same sword that demonstrates his authority over all.
What is it that the Pergamum believers have done that is so serious? The Lord puts his finger on it. They have tolerated false teaching that can lead believers astray. The details aren’t clear, but the teaching is compared to that of Balaam who seduced Israel into worshipping other gods, leading them into idol sacrifices and sexual immorality. Further, the teaching of the Nicolaitans was also present in the church, teaching which promoted much of the same perspectives. In the pagan spiritual atmosphere of Pergamum, these were obviously real dangers.
Repent therefore!” Open your eyes, have a change of mind that leads to a change of behaviour, put these dangerous teachings aside, don’t tolerate their message – rather, follow Jesus closely. That’s the message.
Those that heed this word will receive “hidden manna” – nourishment from the Lord himself. But more. They will receive “a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.” A “new name” is symbol of new-ness in the whole of a believer’s life – transforming newness worked by the Lord. But it speaks also of deepening spiritual intimacy, for that new name is known only to the Lord and the one to whom he gives it, reserved solely for their relationship. Each time he speaks it there is a growing affirmation of connection, belonging, embrace, value, and love.
The stakes are high for this group of believers. The danger is real. The need for repentance is crucial. But the Lord’s promise is sure and good.
May we, too, hear the word of caution and keep Jesus always, only, at the centre.
Lord Jesus, thank you that your love is so strong that you rebuked these early believers when they recklessly walked close to danger. By your Spirit and your word, guard my path also. Keep my eyes focused on you alone.
What perspectives in the world around you could endanger your own walk with Jesus? Take time to reflect. Ask the Lord for his direction. Listen. Turn fully to him.
Photo by Mim Wickett