What’s in a name? For the persecuted believers of the ancient church of Pergamos in Asia Minor, the answer is basically “everything!”
Among them was Antipas, who the ascended Christ calls “My faithful martyr,” the Greek term meaning “witness,” who rendered the supreme sacrifice (Revelation 2:13). Who was Antipas? The Bible says nothing else about him. While apparently an actual person in the first century, he might also represent thousands of other Christians who suffered martyrdom.
Jesus tells this church, “You hold fast to My name and did not deny My faith” (same verse, emphasis added throughout). They were holding on to something far more precious than an autographed signature or verbalizing an individual’s given name.
As fellow disciples heeding the Master’s invitation of “Follow Me” (Matthew 4:19; John 21:19), let’s delve deeper into understanding why Christ commended Antipas and this challenged congregation. The answer behind the name they held to may hold the key to how you will handle not only your many tomorrows, but also the challenges facing you today.
The name above every name
There was a time when a name was the full personification of all that a person encompassed. A name spoke to one’s reputation based on his or her full capacity. Names were not merely a series of letters or sounds that identified a person. No, they were lived out and known by reputation! Your word was your bond, and your name sealed it. Proverbs 22:1 says, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches.”
The name also speaks to authority, Jesus having told His disciples to pray to the Father in His name (John 16:23). After His death and resurrection, Jesus received from the Father “the name which is above every name” (Philippians 2:9), being set “far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come” (Ephesians 1:21).
Considering that Christ’s name is above all names, is it any wonder that the apostle John would later write in 1 John 3:23 that it was our Heavenly Father’s desire that “we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ”? John was not instructing us to spell it, sign it or say it out loud. He was telling us to believe it!
What would such belief in a name have meant to Antipas and his fellow Christians of Pergamos? What exactly did they hold to by holding fast to Christ’s name? Let’s allow the Scriptures to fill in not the letters of a name, but the attributes that all of Jesus’ followers need to keep in heart when they “ask in His name.”
The only name by which we must be saved
Those early Christian martyrs held on to the reality found in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, which declared that Jesus is the Beloved of God (Ephesians 1:6). God’s Son is at the center of all that that our Heavenly Father desires.
These believers were further strengthened by the teachings of John confirming that Jesus was the Word of God (John 1:1-4, 14). Jesus is not only the Word who is God along with the Father, but He is the effective and powerful uncreated Word through whom God calls creation out of nothing and life out of death. Christ is not simply the informative Word of God who brings information, but the One who brings forth the “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17) and the transformation of men’s lives.
The faithful Christians of Pergamos would have probably come to appreciate the aspect of Jesus’ prophesied name echoing from the messianic prophecy of Isaiah. He proclaimed 700 years beforehand that one named Immanuel or “God With Us” would appear on the scene (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:22-23). He would come from heaven to earth so that man might touch God and, in turn, God might be touched by the existence and frailty of His creation.
The Beloved. The Word. Immanuel. And perhaps another name Jesus Himself disclosed gave the early martyrs critical insight: “I am the door” (John 10:9). Yes, He is our gateway to the Father above. He is our only entrance to this meaningful relationship as “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). The One known as the Door is our return path to Eden, in which God desired to walk and talk with His special creation. And He will yet abide again with His people in another garden, as prophesied in Revelation 22:1-5.
However, what happens when the way forward seems barred, with the end of this life closing in on us? It was then that perhaps Antipas and his fellow believers of Pergamos remembered how Jesus identified Himself in declaring, “I am the resurrection and the life,” and further stated, “He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live” (John 11:25).
Peace and assurance through His name
As Antipas and other believers faced death, perhaps they recalled one more name to comfort them in their last moments. This One for whom they were dying was “the Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).
The peace God grants is a divine calm that works from the inside out. It’s a peace that is better than knowledge, better than any understanding man might conjure up. It’s the peace of knowing that whatever God allows right now in our lives, He is working it out for the best (Romans 8:28).
Were early martyrs like Antipas humanly concerned as they were led to their deaths? I’m sure they were, just as you and I would be too. Impending death places the mind in extreme focus. But were they worried and doubting God’s love? I don’t think so, as I imagine them thinking about what Christ did for them. He is often referred to as “the Lamb of God.” That precious sacrificial name makes plain the divine family’s personal self-sacrifice for us. Jesus would never ask us to do something He did not first do Himself. Was God’s unfathomable and undeniable love in question? No!
Did these Christians doubt God’s wisdom at the time of their impending martyrdom? I have a hunch that their minds and hearts were in a good place as they recalled one of Christ’s titles being “the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24). Worry or doubt would have indicated concern that somehow God is not able to plan for His own or that the Master of our lives does not know what is best for those who belong to Him.
At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow
Is it possible that, as Antipas and fellow believers faced their executioners, they doubted the power of God to intervene at this seemingly most critical moment?
Perhaps in their last prayers they reflected on what Paul had shared with the Philippians about the exaltation of Christ following His death: “God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).
As an example of Christian faithfulness in the face of death, Antipas understood that the name he and other believers held fast to signified a spectacular existence that knew no bounds and met no borders.
Until that day when we are ultimately united with the One who bids us “Follow Me,” along with Antipas, other faithful Christians and those yet to understand the power of Christ’s name, let us hold fast to the fullness of His name as we ponder the words of Psalm 23:1, here in the New Living Translation: “The Lord is my shepherd, I have all that I need.”