The Churches of Revelation: Pergamos - The Compromising Church

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Pergamos - The Compromising Church

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The Churches of Revelation: Pergamos - The Compromising Church

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This is the fourth part in the Bible study series:  The Churches of Revelation. Pergamos, the church “where Satan dwells” offers us a unique view of city and culture finely tuned to be the center for Satan’s operations in not only that city but the region. What lessons might we learn from about integrity of faith in a modern world that offers us many opportunities to compromise? We will go through those lessons in this fascinating period study.

Transcript

[Darris McNeely] Welcome to Bible study here in Cincinnati, home office of the United Church of God. It is a beautiful July evening outside. For once we have sunshine and no rain right now where we are and we are very grateful for that and we are about ready to begin the Bible study here. A number of us have gathered after a nice dinner tonight, hot dogs and hamburgers, a ubiquitous meal for summertime. I hope those of you that are joining us on the web that it is going well wherever you might be…as well as for those that will be listening later on.

Let’s go ahead and begin now that all of you have settled into your seats here. Go ahead and bow your heads and I will ask God’s blessing on the Bible study.

Father in heaven, our great God, we bow before Your throne. We come to You this evening grateful to You for the opportunity that we have to gather in this midweek study and go into a very interesting and compelling section of scripture, the messages to the churches in Revelation. We pray, Father, for Your blessing tonight on what is said and also the hearing. And help us, Father, to focus on this short but very important message. We pray, Father, for Your blessing on all who are here, and all who are listening in, and all who will listen in at a later time. Thank You, and we commit this into Your hands. We pray in Christ’s name, Amen.

Alright, we are in the middle of the series on the seven churches in Revelation chapters 2 and 3 and the messages of Jesus Christ, the Head of the church, to the various churches that are listed here in Revelation chapters 2 and 3 that are commonly known as the seven churches of Revelation. Looking at our big map, here, we have already covered the churches of Ephesus and Smyrna. Tonight we are going to talk about the message to the church at Pergamum. We have Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea to go. The seven churches to which these seven distinct messages are address in the book of Revelation are situated on an ancient mail route in Asia minor and they were written by the apostle John while he had a vision on the island of Patmos out here in the Aegean Sea out here in the mid 90’s AD as he had been exiled there by the Roman Emperor Domitian. And he received this vision that begins to unfold called the Revelation or the Apocalypse. That is, actually, the Revelation of Jesus Christ. Keep that in mind. The first verse of the book says that it is Christ’s revelation, it is not John’s. John is just the messenger through whom all this is given. So, tonight we are going to focus upon the message to the church of Pergamos and look at that here for a few minutes in what is a very fascinating historical study with a great deal of pertinent information here for us to understand in our time here for us in the church. One of the things, keep in mind, Peter Eddington covered this in his introductory study about these churches, was that while they were seven distinct churches in the first century the messages that were given to them can apply to all of God’s people, all of the church of God at any time in subsequent history, as we live today in the 21st century God’s church is still going. The gates of hell have not prevailed against it. We can look at these messages and we can gain valuable admonition, instruction, and information that applies to our Christian lives today. And I think that is a very important message, while at the same time look at the distinct messages that were given to these particular churches as they existed in the first century. Especially with the church at Pergamos, there is some fascinating historical information that helps us to understand the message that Christ gives to the church and application for us today. So let’s go ahead and jump into it. I am going to be stepping into a power point presentation on this here tonight.

The first map that we have up here tonight is essentially the same map that we are looking at on a larger scale over here with the seven churches. But let’s focus for a moment on the city of Pergamos, which, if focused on the screen, you will see right up here, kind of number 3 up here. Let me tell you a little about the city itself as it was when this letter was written to it. The city of Pergamos in the first century was not only the chief governmental civil city of all of these other these church cities, but also of the entire region of Asia Minor. A few weeks ago I took the first of the seven messages and I was talking about Ephesus being the largest city of these seven. But Ephesus, as I mentioned then, was not the capital. That distinction falls to Pergamos and in that distinction we have the beginning of a lot of our understanding about the message that flows to this church from Christ. If you were to look at the city today, it is city…and, again, those that go on the church’s tour of Turkey, there will be a church tour this year sponsored by the United Church of God and it is a regular tourist attraction for groups to go to Turkey and take the seven church tour. If you go to Pergamum, the modern name of the city is Pergama. It doesn’t go by that name today but the Turkish name is Pergama. Once of the distinctive impressions that you would get, I have not been there, my information comes from those who have been there plus what I have read and studied about it, but the city has a very large hill that juts up out of the plain on the River on which it is located and it dominates the entire region around Pergamum. Which is distinct from the other six churches which are mentioned here in Revelation. They all have their distinctive characteristics. Pergamum has a distinctive graphical distinction in terms of this very large impressive mountain that juts up right at the spot of this part of the city. The ancient city laid, basically, at the foot of this mountain. But on the mountain was built part of the city and especially the governmental and religious conflicts that this city is known for and gives us much of the background for what is said to the city. It is a very old city, even at the time John was writing it. It is a city that we know was at least 500 or more years old and it had been a city that had developed quite a distinction in the region, as well, for being ruled over by several kings and at some early point in the story of Pergamos, the city itself, one of the early rulers received a large sum of money that allowed him to begin to build temples and a complex in the city that was quite renowned. One of the things that the city had was a very large library. You might think, what is the big deal about a library, but keep in mind that in the ancient world printing presses were not there, books were not really the throw away type of commodity that we have today. They did not have half price bookstores in the ancient world. Books were very valuable. They had to be copied by hand on either papyrus, which was a reed or plant based form of paper that was primarily produced down in Egypt, or books that were of a permanent nature would be written on parchment. And parchment would have been made from the hide of an animal. In fact, the very word ‘parchment’ is a derivative of the word Pergamos. There is a reason for that. Because, as I mentioned, they began to develop and cultivate a library. And keep in mind that a library in the ancient world would have been quite a place to study. You would have found books and works of history and literature, geography such as they knew it, that would have not been tainted by the more than 2 millennia of historical experience and historical approach that we have today as we look at history. The history books that the library in Pergamum would have held would have contained information that you and I, in a sense, would kind of lust to know or read about. You can well imagine that they would have told the story of man from the earliest days, the peoples of the Chaldees and the UR, people like even Abraham, no doubt, would have been referenced by some of these works. And a whole vast numerous windows of insight would have opened up into that world had we still had those books today. We don’t have them. But it was a very interesting library. Now, if you think of a library in the ancient world you would normally think of a library at another location way down here in the region of Egypt in a town called Alexandria. The great library of Alexandria is the one that we know about primarily because a few years ago they found it. Did you know that? It was under a building in New York City. You didn’t see that movie? Yeah, Nicholas Cage. They found the Alexandria library under Wall Street (laughter) in New York City but that is another story. The famous library of Alexandria was rivaled by the library at Pergamum. And in those days the way they developed those libraries was you had to be a wealthy individual to have a book copied. You would, in a sense, donate it to the library. You would be a patron of the library like donating books. People would come through and they would have a book or some type of scroll of information that was deemed valuable. Somebody would take it and copy it, give the original back, and donate it to a library either in Alexandria down in Egypt or in Pergamum. And the library at Pergamum that began to develop began to rival the one down at Alexandria. This was in the post Alexandria the Great world. And what they did was down in Alexandria they cut off the exporting and selling papyrus to Pergamum, which necessitated Pergamum developing their own parchment, their own version with goat skins that were soaked in lyme and scraped clean and then they had their own special parchment out of necessity because of this rivalry between the two libraries.

So, it was a center that was known for its learning in that particular instance. It was also a city that was a center in the later years beginning in about 133BC. The last king of Pergamum died and what he did was for a number of years Pergamum had to light itself with the rising Roman Empire. And the last king of Pergamum did not have an heir. So, before he died he made a big quest. He technically willed the city to Rome. So, in the second century BC Pergamum became a center of Roman governance, occupation, and authority without having to have been conquered by Rome. Rome was, in that point in time, beginning to encroach over into Greece and into the region and the last king made a calculated bet that Rome was going to stay around for a while and he didn’t lose that bet. And so the city became the center of Roman authority and as a result it became the center of emperor worship, which is very important to keep in mind. I am going to write this particular point up on the board here. It was a cult of the emperor and that is very important to remember. It gained the honor of being the only Asian city with three temples dedicated to Roman Emperors over a period of time. It was designated as an imperial ward of worship. Now this is very important when we get into the message to the city. So, keep that in mind. The center of emperor worship here.

Let me step you through just a few overall pictures that show the region as it is today. This is the ruins of an amphitheater, a huge amphitheater that was within the city. This is essentially what you would see if you go there today. Again, like any other ancient city of that particular time on this very large hill. The remnants you can kind of see if you look at these, they are perched on a very large hill looking out over the lower regions from this outcropping. But this is the city as it looks today and essentially you are looking at the ruins of temples here. The ruins that are still available are the ruins of the religious center of ancient Pergamos which is what people would go there to visit and to see today in connection with this message to the church in Pergamos.

Now, I mentioned that it was the center of emperor worship. This is a representation of a coin from the ancient time of Pergamos. Coins in the ancient world are a very valuable source of information. We don’t have that library anymore, who knows what happened to it. We don’t have a lot of the original works of the ancient world. And what has come down to us is copies of and references to histories of that entire time. But as archeologists have dug into these various cities and unearthed inscriptions, and particularly coins. Coins told a part of the story of a specific time. They are very valuable to archeologists and historians with the history of Rome and the ancient world. Now, this a coin from the city of Pergamos and what is shows is a representation of the temple of Augustus at Pergamos. It is the backside of a coin. And this is  picturing, the figure on the left is that of Augustus who was a figure that we are going to come back to in a little bit. We are going to write his name up here. Augustus was the founder of the Roman Empire. And when I say that keep in mind that he was the first of the Caesars. This is after the assassination of Julius Caesar, the most famous of them all. After a period of civil war Augustus restored order after Caesars assassination and a time civil war Augustus restored order and he was basically made emperor, the first of the Caesars in the line that developed from them. It was Augustus Caesar who was Caesar at the time Jesus Christ was born, to put it in perspective. Which is, again, another reason why he is important. But he established what is known in history as the Pax Romana, the peace of Rome. He restored order in Rome and then that extended over the entire Roman Empire as it was. This is a temple dedicated to Augustus, who was worshipped as a god, as were all of the Roman emperors from his time forward. Julius Caesar was, as well, but Augustus was worshipped as a god and this is very important in this message to Pergamos. Keep that in mind because we are going to circle back to it. But, his temple was the first of the temples that were built here at the city of Pergamos and there are other coins that give us that indication, as well.

I should have gone to this a little bit earlier but let me establish this point about Augustus. This is a very famous statue of Augustus. It is in the Museum of Roman History in Rome. And this is a well-known statue of Augustus and what is significant about this particular statue, it is not the only one, there are hundreds if not thousands of depictions in marble and stone of Augustus. Look carefully at what he is wearing. You would think typical Roman toga but it is more than that. These are the robes of the Pontifus Maximus. Have you ever heard that term before? This is the name given to the leading priest of the ancient cult of Rome. The emperor then took on the title of Pontifus Maximus. There is another individual in Rome that still has that term applied to him. It is the pope. But that is another story. He is wearing the robes of the Pontifus Maximus. And he is, as I already said, worshipped as a god. But he is also the chief religious figure of all of the cults within Rome. This is very important, understanding emperor worship at the time.

This is another coin from Pergamos. This is another Roman empower from a couple hundred years after Augustus. It is another emperor by the name of Caracalla. He is depicted as adoring the godserpent of Pergamum. Not only was there a temple to the emperor of Pergamum, there were several others, but there was also a temple to the godserpent Esclepius, which was the God of healing. That is why you see the serpent there. We have all seen the sign of a pharmacist that is a well-known traditional sign of a serpent entwined around a stick that has come down to a sign of medical pharmacology today that traces back to the ancient world. Esclepius was the god of healing, there was a temple in Pergamos to this God, and it was a center of those arts. People came there looking for healing. In fact, even after the time of the message to the church of Pergamos there is a figure who studies here by the name of Galen. Galen, if you know anything about medical history, Galen is kind of the ancient father of medical science. He was the foremost doctor of the ancient world. He studied at Pergamos in this temple. This is a depiction of the Roman emperor paying homage to this serpent at the temple of Esclepius. Keep that serpent in mind because we are going to come back to that, as well, as we get into this story of Pergamos. Here is a coin of the same serpent depicted in a different image coming up out of a case and, to show you the worship of this god, this is the image of a different coin. This time you see two serpents coming up out of a bow there in the center. This god, esclepius, the sign of that god, a serpent. Very important part of the lore and the setting of the city at Pergamos.

So Pergamos is a very important city of and by itself in Asia Minor and its history being that the temple warden of the emperors and the center of the cult not only of Caesar and Esclepius, but also Dionesius, the god of mirth, and Athena also had temples there as well. There were many other temples that were all part of this large complex on this huge hill that rose up. It was a very imposing scene for any who would have gone there and lived there in that particular time.

So, with that as a background, let’s look at what is said to the church at Pergamos beginning in verse 12 of Revelation 2.

Revelation 2:12 Revelation 2:12And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things said he which has the sharp sword with two edges;
American King James Version×
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And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things says He ” Christ “ who has the sharp two edged sword ” In your Bibles ‘he’ is capitalized and it is very easy to understand that is speaking of Christ and it is His message to these churches. “ He who has the sharp two edged sword ” again, we look very carefully at each of the things that are said here to Pergamos. Only Pergamos, of all of the other cities would have understood this reference to this sharp two edged sword because a two edged sword like this would be a Roman sword of the day. It was the symbol of Roman authority, one of the symbols of Roman authority, a very important one. The Roman shortsword was carried by the legions, carried by the army, a very sharp two edged sword. There were many types of swords then as there are now in the ancient world. But they would have known what this one was and they would also have known what it meant the he who has a sharp two edged sword trumps the emperor who also has a two edged sword. Christ has a different type of two edged sword. And, again, this very important symbolism is what is being set up. Christ is saying ‘I have something better’. And it is a spiritual truth; it is a spiritual word and witness that is far greater authority from what you will understand from the Roman world. So, Christ, in a sense, as He addresses the church here in Pergamos, He is establishing that he has got more authority, He has got more weight  and power than what they would be seeing on an everyday basis in the city, by the buildings, the temples, and the entire culture of that Roman world.

I really can’t say this too much, and it would take more time that I have got but let me just comment that, try to understand that in the Roman world the rule of Rome over any city or region that it had conquered and what it did to establish this peace of Rome, which was a very hard peace, it was, in a sense, a peace on their terms. To the Romans, they valued order. And this kind of comes out in something else I will show you pertaining to this. To the Roman way of life from the emperor on down it was important that the Roman rule and culture of order be maintained at every level of society. To disturb that order with a different teaching or religion, philosophical, insurrection, to try to tamper with the system of slavery, to introduce a different God (which Christianity did), which is why Paul got himself in trouble at various times and ultimately he did lose his life because the gospel that Paul and the disciples preached was the gospel of the Kingdom of God, a different reign and rule, a different emperor and an overturning of the Roman order. When they finally got wind and when they finally understood what the gospel was, that is when the persecution really began to heat up on the church. Any threat to Roman order in the first century was met with the two edged sword of Roman authority. So, the church would understand this as Jesus says ‘I have a sharp two edged sword and, guess what? It is sharper’. That would have had their attention right off.

Now let’s go on to verse 13. Revelation 2:13 Revelation 2:13I know your works, and where you dwell, even where Satan’s seat is: and you hold fast my name, and have not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwells.
American King James Version×
I know your works, and where you dwell ,” He knew the church. He knew the members. He knew where they lived. He understood Pergamum and all that I have told you, the worship of the emperors, the worship of all the other gods. And what was behind it. I know where you live.  “ where Satan’s throne is; and you hold fast to my name,” they were faithful. “ and did not deny my faith, even in the days in which Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells .”

Twice in this verse He mentions where Satan’s throne is or where he dwells. This is not mentioned to any of the other six churches. This is a distinct message of Satan’s seat; Satan’s dwelling place is in Pergamos. Keep that in mind. Satan’s seat, because we will come to that here in just a minute. His throne and where he dwelt.

How many of you have ever been to St. Peters in Rome? If you go up and there is the huge alter in the center of the Bernini alter but up behind it on the wall there is a seat of the bishop of Rome. Some say that it is the seat of Satan, I have been told that, that it is the seat of Satan. It is quite an imposing edifice. The altar of Bernini itself is imposing but even further back at the furthest end of the nave at the altar of St. Peters is this huge emblem on the wall that some say is Satan’s seat at St. Peters. Well, Christ is saying that Satan had a seat here in Pergamos.

We are going to come back to that but let me make a comment and set something up here about Antipas. Antipas is mentioned here, and that is all that is ever said about him. We don’t know anything more about him. He is not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible, this individual. There are some who held fast to Christ’s name and held fast to Him and Antipas was “my faithful martyr”. He is not mentioned anywhere else. However, some of you might recognize this name. It is not a Jewish name. It is not a name that a Jew would have had in Pergamos at the time. Antipas, we can indicate is a martyr, is a member that was killed for his faith, probably the first of many that was killed in Pergamos. Usually when a name is mentioned like this it is the first of many. We can pretty well assume, and here I am getting off a little bit into speculation, but I think it is reasonable and it can be founded in certain things that we do know about the times and everything. Antipas is the name given to another ruler in Israel. We read about him in the book of Acts. His name was Herod Antipas. And he is the son of Herod the great. So he is a ruler of Judea in the time of early days of the church, he martyrs one of the apostles, James, then he himself dies a horrendous death in the book of Acts. So, he was also very close to the emperor, I believe it was the emperors Caligula and Claudius. He was contemporary of Caligula and Claudius and had been at Rome and he very tight with the Roman emperor. No Jew would have taken this name. It was probably Antipas who we read about in Revelation who takes the name Herod Antipas, was probably a gentile, and he was likely a prominent gentile of the upper classes. It is reasonable to assume that, and I am making an assumption. So, understand that, because we are not told anything else. But, if he was a gentile, which he likely was, perhaps even a wealthy gentile, he becomes a convert to the church and then loses his life as a martyr, Jesus says. And so we know that in Pergamos there are many who hold fast to Christ’s name, like this Antipas, this faithful martyr who was killed among you. It could very well be that he was killed in a public arena, an open setting kind of like they did with the gladiators and that it would have been done before a large crowd in one of those typical Roman settings, like you saw in the movie Gladiator with the emperor going up and down with his hand like that. It could very well have been that Antipas suffered that type of a setting for his martyrdom. They would have known, obviously, who he was talking about. So, that is all I can say or should say about this, it is a little bit more than is even in scripture but it may help to fill in a little bit of the background.

Let’s focus on this seat of Satan, this place where Satan dwells. Let’s go back and look at the city again. This is another view of the city. There is a large amphitheater on the big hill, you can get a little bit better picture of this huge hill that protrudes up out of the plain, the modern city below it, and these are the ruins on top of the hill, and here you see the amphitheater…a very large amphitheater built into the hillside. If you look the red lines on top and a little off the center and a tree poking out there, that is an outline of a temple that once stood there. We are going to focus in on that. Here is another view of that temple and the outline and the small grove of trees as it is today of what was a temple in Pergamos, one of the temples, in fact this is, as the archeologists know, a temple to Zeus. Zeus being the chief deity of the Greeks, his name being Jupiter to the Romans. He was the chief God and this was a temple to Zeus. It stood there but this is all that remains of it. If you ever go there, on one of the tours you will see this but you won’t see the temple. If you want to see the temple you have to go someplace else because in the late 1800’s German archeologists went down there and they excavated this area and took the remains of that temple and they brought it back to the city of Berlin. This is a scale model of the entire hilltop complex of various temples there of Pergamum in the ancient setting. This is a scale model, a tabletop model in Berlin today. The red outlined area shows the temple of Zeus. This is the temple we are going to focus on. You see the other royal buildings and the other buildings in the area We are going to look at that one. That is the temple of Zeus. If you go to Berlin today you go to the Pergamum Museum in Berlin you cannot see what I am going to show you. Because in doing the research for this I discovered that it is now closed for renovations for another four years but I was there about ten years ago and got to see it.  The Pergamum Museum named after this altar from Pergamum is there today, it was taken there in the late 1800’s and rebuilt in the city of Berlin in this museum that was originally built just for this. There is also a part of the Ishtar gate and the procession away from Babylon there today and it is a fascinating museum. This is the ancient temple of Pergamum and I am going to have to step through it quite quickly. It is a reconstruction from the excavated remains and what it tells is a very interesting story because on the freezes, or the sides of this temple, they don’t know if it was an actual working temple just for show or if it was a working temple with sacrifices. That is kind of unknown by the historians. But what they do know and what they do see are these large depictions of a gigantic battle and struggle depicted on the sides of this altar that are quite fascinating. Carved out of the stone are these depictions, and here are some more close-ups of them, is a titanic battle of mythology between the gods, half beast half man type gods that represent chaos. And it is a battle between the gods of  Zeus, Appollos, Athena as they battle these wicked evil gods that are attempting to overthrow the good gods of Greek mythology. Now that is what this shows. Now if we step through some of these very carefully, you will see depictions, in this case you see serpents intertwined between this scaly serpent is there through that. And here is a better one you see kind of a half serpent half man figure who is about to be killed by a goddess up here in this great struggle between the powers of order and disorder, chaos and order. It is from the ancient mythology, you see, of a lion that is biting into a man. And you will see another good picture here of a serpent and a struggle going on here. It is quite a fascinating scene to look at. There is another lion attacking there and one of the good gods standing over and about to kill one of the bad gods that is attacking them. Here is another scene right here I think that is Appolos there in the center with the helmet on and the serpents are intertwined among all of them here. Here is a close up, another lion, and then here is another with a couple of serpents, you can see the serpents’ heads there. What this is showing you, very clearly, there is the head of a serpent right there biting and there is another lion right there…what you are seeing here on this alter of Zeus are the two representations that we get from the Bible a lion and a serpent of who? Satan. This huge temple of Zeus had, on display right there in the center of Pergamum as everyone walked to and fro, scenes of this titanic struggle from mythology of gods from below seeking to overthrow gods from above. Does this sound familiar? From the Bible? With a mythological twist to it? And the serpent motif?

Archeologists that have studied this have come up with some very good conclusions that I think are correct. In fact, I have an article right here from Archeology Today magazine from about ten years ago. Actually, this came out in ’06. It basically calls it Satan’s throne. I don’t know if you can see it but it is a really nice article that was done on the Pergamon altar and the headline is “Revelations from Revelation, Satan’s throne” And this archeologist is giving a description of it and what they write of the sculpture. It says the sculpture on the altar depicts the battle between the Greek gods and the giants recounted in an ancient myth. According to Greek myth the giants were a clan of monstrous appearance descended from earth and heaven. They were fierce warriors who attacked the Olympian gods, the clan of Zeus. The gods learned that they could defeat the giants only if they were aided by a mortal. And so, as a hero, Hercules counted as a mortal since he had a human mother and his father was supposed to be Zeus. So, the gods enlisted Hercules on their side and they were able to kill the giants. So, they give a pretty good description of what is being depicted here. But what you are looking at here is very clear to see and understand, it is what Jesus refers to as the seat of Satan. You live where Satan dwells. Hearing this read to them, in Pergamos, they would instantly know this representation in their own city and what it meant. And it would certainly strike a note of awe in them, I think, for any member who was reading this. So, there is a reason they lived where they did, even with the history of the city.

Now let’s go on to verse 14. Revelation 2:14 Revelation 2:14But I have a few things against you, because you have there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit fornication.
American King James Version×
  He says “ But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine a Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality.”

Here is this reference back to the story of Balaam, who as the Israelites were in the wilderness before going into the land of Canaan were…very interesting story from the book of Numbers, that caused thousands of Israelites to succumb to idolatry as Balaam taught Balak how to entice them and get at their weak spot by throwing in their way temptations of idolatry and immorality. Stories told back in Numbers. And so what you see here, as it references this here, is a reference. Because Christ says “ I have a few things against you because you have there those who hold the doctrine Balaam.” Now it goes on to say in verse 15 you have also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.”  

This is the second time in Revelation 2 that the Nicolaitans are mentioned and they are connected with the idea of Balaam. Again we don’t know a whole lot about the Nicolaitans and their history other than what we are told here. What they must have been was a kind of an offshoot or group of people that taught compromise and how to get along. And Christ says “I hate their teachings”. Because it is not a pure teaching, he tells them to repent. Now let’s look at this very carefully here for a moment before we leave this. Notice what He is saying in verse 14, but keep in mind that earlier Jesus had said you have there my faithful martyr Antipas, first of probably many who held to Christ’s name. Now we have those again in Pergamos, in the church, obviously, who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who have learned to get along, who have learned to compromise with the culture, with the Roman authority, with the Roman culture. The temptation to get along,  to just go along would have been great. What you must be seeing here…I will just say that you have got people like Antipas and then you’ve got “those…”, alright? Since Christ says you have those that hold the doctrine of Balaam. What you have here, what is being described in the church of God at Pergamos, they have a candlestick and Christ is in the midst of those candlesticks as the head of the church, but you’ve got two churches in the same city, two groups of people, some who are faithful in their practice of Christianity and some who have learned to compromise. This is what Jesus is saying. Now do you begin to kind of get a connection? You can have the church of God, have the name “the church”, you can be in the church, profess to be a Christian believer, and you can have differences of practice and differences of how people live their lives, differences of how people get along in Cincinnati, in Las Angeles, in Houston, in New York City, in Portland, and, I will throw in my home town, in Cape Gerardo. You can have all these people in the same place and yet you’ve got differences of opinions, differences of practice, differences of faith. They had that in Pergamos and this is what Christ is describing. Some held to their faith to the point that they would die for their faith but some had learned to compromise. They held to the doctrine of Balaam and that of the Nicolaitans. It is the story of the Church of God. You’ve read Corinthians, haven’t you? That is the story of the Church of God. This is what Jesus is getting at.

Now, it is a fascinating story for us to consider in that way. We have taken the heading from the New King James Bible when we call this the compromising church but it comes from the letter itself, because that is exactly what we are dealing with. Now, this is something to consider and to understand. I want to go back to the idea of Augustus and that sea of Satan for a moment. This is a statueof Augustus taken from the Pergamum Museum taken from Pergamos. This is the emporer Augsutus. This is a closeup of him, depicted here as a god, almost like the god Jupiter. This was part of the complex here and keep in mind that Augustus was worshipped as a God. And, keep in mind also that the Roman Empire in the first century of this period of time was the fourth part of the image of Nebuchanezer from Daniel 7. The legs of iron, two legs of iron, that image that Nebucanezer dreamed and Daniel interpreted. We  all know that story…Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome. This is the beast. Daniel 7 tells the story as well, we are now in the book of Revelation. Chapters 13 and 17 are going to give more details about the beast, a woman riding the beast, a false prophet who comes up, and all of the various permutations of that up through history. But at the time of the city of Pergamos Rome was the beast. Rome was the empire and Rome was worshipped as a God. IF you understand that then you know when Paul said in II Thessalonians 2, there is going to be a man sitting in the temple claiming himself to be god. That was not an alien concept to them in the first century. But, Augustus was worshipped as a god. He was the first in this system of Rome that has come down through that time of 2,000 years of history through various resurrections, primarily as the DNA of Rome flowed into the formation of Europe and then the church after the fall of Rome and the various resurrections of this system that have come and gone through history tell us a fascinating story.

Now, keep in mind this alter in Germany from Pergamon and what we are looking at here. In the story of Europe, Rome, resurrections, we all know this particular individual, Adolf Hitler from the 20th century, and what many feel was a time of resurrection of that ancient Roman system in the form of a  3rd Reich, along with Italy forming in Europe, at least, a very great power that rose in the 1930’s and precipitated World War 2. And there is ample reason to connect that period with the story of Rome and its various resurrections down to this time. There is an interesting story with Hitler with what he did as he built his 3rd Reich. He, in the 1930’s, had taken the reigns in Germany and was building his perfect Reich, his father land, and re-arming Germany but also building what to him would be a system that he said would last 1000 years, this 3rd Reich. Hitler enlisted the plans of an architect by the name of Albert Schpere. And he said “you are going to build my Germany, the monuments, the buildings, the stadiums, the congresses, the halls, the government buildings.” Which he did. And he went down to Nuremburg in southern Germany, that was kind of the center for all of the Nazi rallies. When you see these black and white news reels from the 30’s of the Nazis having their political rallies in Nuremburg, you’ve seen those where they are all marching under the flags in these old black and whites. This is a complex that was built by Albert Schpere called the Zeppelin Field in Nuremburg. These are a few pictures of what it looks like. See the Nazi flag flying? And if you look at the façade there on the right you will see that what Schpere did was model his building here after the alter of Zeus which was, at that time, already on display at the Pergamom Museum in Berlin. It is a matter of history that he took this architectural design for the German center of political power in Nuremburg that they built, this great field and stadium. He modeled it after the altar of Zeus from Pergamon. IT is uncanny. If you look at this model, here is the model from the Pergamon Museum, and again, just a reminder of what it looks like, and this is what it looked like when the Nazis would gather in the 1930s for their big rallies. Notice the Nazi signs back there and Hitler would stand right in the middle of the edifice.  It is on a much larger scale but the design was taken from the altar of pergamon. The altar of Pergomon in the city of Pergamon, the altar to the chief god, Zeus, was worshipped as a god in the place where Christ said Satan dwells. Satan wants to be worshipped, he always has.

When we read in Revelation of the power of this political power called the beast the second beast, the false prophet in Revelation 13 causes the world to worship the first beast which is a political power. It is at that moment in time an expression of Satan’s age long desire to be worshipped by man. He will be in the form of a person and has been. When we see it from the time of Pergamon where Satan’s seat was, and we see it kind of permutated down from history and even a modern representation of it in the form of…let’s just say a modern extension of this ancient Roman power labeled in the Bible as the beast and they take even their architectural inspiration from an ancient pagan altar from the city of Pergamon where Jesus says that Satan dwells you begin to get an interesting historical prophetical connection to what is being said here. I find it verifying even what took place with Nazi Germany at that particular time. This is one final scene. This is a modern depiction of it. If you have ever seen those pictures at the end of World War II when the allies came in and at the top of this building, this is where Hitler would stand down here, but at the top of this building there was a huge Nazi swastika but the allies blew it up. You can go on Wikipedia and see the actual blowing up of it. But, if you have seen those news reels of the time they blew it up, the Nazi swastika which dominated this particular scene. So, this is a very stirring and interesting connection in Germany, even still there today of the Nazi era that had a connection all the way back to the time of the city of Pergamus.

Let’s go on back to Revelation 2:17 Revelation 2:17He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit said to the churches; To him that overcomes will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knows saving he that receives it.
American King James Version×
He who has an ear, let him hear ”. Now Christ is going to wrap this up. “ let him hear what the spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.”

The hidden manna is an obvious reference to Christ the Bread of Life. Those who hear what the spirit says will be given the hidden manna. Christ says I am the Bread of life. He who eats my flesh will live forever, as quoted from John 6. A reference there. But He says something else, “I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a   new name written which no one knows except him who receives it. ” A white stone. Remember when I told you that there was a library in Pergamos? And they developed their own parchment because the Romans cut off the papyrus going to them? Papyrus- plant based, Parchment-animal based prepared in a way. That is not the material on which Christ says I will write a new name. I am going to write your name on a stone, a white stone. A stone is far more permanent than papyrus, paper, and parchment. It is permanence. Christ says I am going to write it on something permanent; you don’t have anything like I am going to write on a stone. It is going to be your new name and no one will know it except him who receives it. What is this name? Well, the new name is God. We are going to be a part of the family of God and bear His name as members of that family. That is the only conclusion to come to as to what that new name is. To the Christian who overcomes and remains faithful, stands against sin and the encroachment of the world; that does not compromise. To the Christian who is like Antipas, willing to give his life, lay down his life even as a living sacrifice day by day. Forget being a martyr, none of us has had to go to the point of being a martyr today. Sometimes we think that would be easy, just get it over with, but to be a living sacrifice day after day and year after year and have faith? That takes tenacity, doesn’t it? For those that have been around for a few years. That takes tenacity. Christ says those who do that will be given a new name. God will give the one name that marks the transformation of character and nature, into the divine nature of God. That is His name. And as we bear that name as Christ lives within us. Only a person living with that new life, the life of the spirit, would understand what Jesus writes to the church at this point. That is why we are the only ones that would know it. And to understand who, in regard to the purpose of our life, why we were born, that we are going to have an opportunity to be in the family of God, God’s DNA within us that is a great teaching. I think we have a very high level of understanding that God has given us in church. We know that, to live it and to be faithful to it as no one else will except he who receives it. Now, again, to remember, we get a new name signifying a different life.

To a member of the church of Pergamon 2000 years ago there is another instance where they can relate to that. Remember Augustus, the first of the Roman Caesars, the Roman emperors that founded the Roman Empire? Augustus was not his original name. His original name was Octavian. He was the nephew of Julius Caesar. And after Caesar’s death and Octavian defeated Mark Anthony and Brutus and all the others he took on the name Augustus. Augustus was a name no one had at that time. It was a name used only within the Roman world to talk about the gods. No human had ever had that name before and they gave it to Octavian and changed his name to Augustus. And then he became worshipped as a god, he became a mangod, if you will. Which is the very antithesis of what Jesus wants, emperor worship. And so to a member in Pergamos, when Christ says “I am going to give you a new name”, because there was a temple of Augustus there, the emperor, knowing what they would have known they could have related to the fact that this man who gave his name to the Roman Empire and inaugurated the Peace of Rome and then was placed on a higher level than mortals, given a name to signify divinity, those reading this letter in Pergamos would catch the meaning. That those Christians who overcame the world and did not bow a knee to Satan and did not bow a knee in their day to the emperor would be given a realm and kingdom above all the others, a new name and no others would know it, but they would know it. To a point that a man like Antipas would be willing to be a faithful martyr. This is what Jesus is talking about here as He ends the message to the church at Pergamos.

What do we gain from it? What do we learn? We have our temptations. Satan continues to exert a relentless pressure in our world today from all different angles, from temptation to compromise, to water down our faith, to fudge a little bit, to go along so we can get along, it is always great on every level. What is in it for you? What would be in it for me? We do have to contend for the faith in a positive way. But different ideas will creep in, different ideas about various things and it gets to the point where it will create friction and , if not dealt with, division. But we have to contend with the faith. We have to avoid compromise. This is the great lesson from the church at Pergamos and it is a very important lesson for us to be reminded today as we look back at what Jesus wrote to the church about a person like Antipas, the place where Satan dwelled, and the new name that He promises He will give to us. It is a fascinating story from a piece of history. It is a piece of living history because the message to that church certainly applies to Christians today as we contend with a world that, in many ways, is just like the world of Pergamos in the first century. It is just like the Roman world, it has just got the internet and cars and jet planes and it is a whole lot more modern. But we are indeed modern Romans today.  And our compromises come in many different ways. I hope that we can learn that lesson and be encouraged but somewhat sobered as we go with this. So, that will wrap it up tonight. Next we will talk about the message to the church at Thyatira in two weeks. I believe Steve Myers will be conducting that Bible study at that particular time. So, good night to all of you and have a safe trip as you travel home here, and good night to all of you who are listening later on.

Comments

  • Val
    These Bible Studies are so rich in spiritual depth and meaning. These are powerful tools Christ left for us to help us examine self. Hopefully many will listen and take them to heart. Thank each of you presenters for the amount of time, research and prayer that went into these studies. Most of all thank God for all that went into giving and preserving them for us today.
  • Franc
    The works ascribed to the church at Pergamos perfectly depict those of many protestant (Christian) denominations today, which although rejecting the authority of the Beast and holding fast to Jesus’ name, they nevertheless allow erroneous doctrines to filter in, such as Sunday worship and pagan holiday observance in the name of God among other things (examples of the deceiving doctrines of Balaam and of the Nicolaitans). [It is interesting to note that while Pergamos brethren include those who uphold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, Ephesians hate such practices (an important point which demonstrates that these are separate groups of God’s people, and not one true church with opposing doctrines)]. The fact that Pergamos was a center of pagan worship where Satan dwells was well described in the presentation. Those people in Christian groups demonstrating the works of Pergamos who follow its described errors are rebuked by Jesus’ sword which is the written word of God (Isaiah 11:4; Ephesians 6:17; Revelation 19:15, 21), while those who repent and overcome will eat of the hidden manna and receive a new name written in stone (Revelation 2:17), clear symbols of eternal life.
  • orchids7
    We have just watched the program on Pergamos. Far too much time was taken up with the history of the city and not getting to what the real lessons are for us and what Christ is actually telling his people. Both Balaam and Nicolaitans refer to those in authority who have control over the people. Both names mean in Hebrew and Greek "Victory over the people"". As the Roman empire had victory over the people and subdued them, so the leadership of the church has done the same. In Ephesus the congregation hated the deeds of the Nicolaitans, but now we have in Pergamos people who have the doctrine of the Nicolaitans. This victory over the people is now incorporated into the Church. We see this in the way the clergy of the Roman Catholic church subdued the laity even denying them the ability to read and understand scripture. This is what was happening in Pergamos and the parallel is the Roman Empire. This has now also happened in the Church of God where the clergy have had the victory over the laity. The laity are fully excluded from all decision making and doctrinal discussion.
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