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Lowell Brueckner

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Revelation 2:12-17

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The Church in Pergamos

12. And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword.
13. I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.
14. But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality.
15. So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.
16. Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.
17. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.

Pergamos, Satan’s throne

The Pergamos Altar in a German museum
The glorified Lord Jesus continues to address the churches in order, moving clockwise another 35-40 miles to the north and slightly east from Smyrna. The next church is Pergamos, also called Pergamum or Pergamon, about 20 miles inland from the Aegean Sea, and located northwest of the modern city of Bergama, a Turkish adaption of the name Pergamos. The old city is located on a promontory, overlooking the Caicus River from the north. At the time of John, it was another large city in Asia Minor, with a population of about 150,000.

As Smyrna, Pergamos became a major cultural center during the Greek period and the kingdom of Pergamum extended far inland eastward, as well as to the south, almost to the Mediterranean Sea. In those days, Pergamos was even more powerful than Ephesus or Smyrna. Pergamos was renowned for its production of parchment, and the name actually was derived from the name of the city (In English it is not so evident, but in the Spanish language, sit is called pergamino). Also renowned was the library of Pergamon, second only to the library of Alexandria in Egypt. Pergamos was also famed for a shrine to Asclepius, the god of healing, which became a spa, and fostered a great healing cult. Its medical symbol was the serpent entwined on a staff, the medical symbol to this day.  Galen, second only to Hippocrates as a physician, was trained at the healing center. The Romans largely maintained the glory of Pergamos, by constructing large temples, an amphitheater and a large forum. However, it fell behind Ephesus as a political power in Asia Minor.

We should know about the Altar of Pergamos, dedicated to Zeus and Athena, the Temple of Athena neighboring it. The altar was about 120 x 100 feet and was the most famous structure in the city.  Also in the time of the early church, the city had a temple dedicated to Caesar and was a promoter of the cult, which granted divinity to Caesar, declaring “Caesar is lord!”



Pergamos on its promontory
Remember, Luke records that through the powerful ministry of Paul, “all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks” (Ac.19:10). Luke writes of extraordinary miracles that the Lord did through Paul in Ephesus, perhaps extraordinary, because God wanted to get the attention of this territory in a special way. He wanted to bring forth this extraordinary group of churches, because of the extraordinary messages that He is recording in his eternal word. So a church was established in Pergamos, whether directly through Paul or later, as the effect of the gospel extended far and wide.

Compromise, the devil’s most effective weapon

Christ stands in the midst of His church as her glorified Lord and He presented Himself to Pergamos specifically, as the One whose words cut and penetrate as a two-edged sword (v.12). I revert again to my comments from chapter 1. A sword is nothing more or less than an implement of war. It is a divisive instrument. Jesus resolutely informed his disciples, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt. 10:34). He said it would upset families, dividing two against three in the same household. Wherever the gospel was preached in the book of Acts, it stirred trouble. Sheathe this sword and the world’s people will go peacefully to their eternal damnation.

No effort is spared to dull the sword proceeding from the mouths of preachers. The devil works unceasingly to get them to compromise principles and doctrines, soften their attitude against sin, and minimize the message of repentance, righteousness and judgment. The more effective his attempts, the more souls that he will carry with him to their doom. The dull sword that is unsheathed today seldom cuts deeper than the emotions and lacks the penetrating power to pierce the spirit. The sword of the Lord reveals the secrets of a man’s heart, convincing and convicting him, and so “falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you” (1 Cor. 14:25). From that contrite position, he is elevated to a new life in Christ Jesus. We pray for one more slash from the great Swordsman to prostrate another host at His feet.

There are different opinions as to what Jesus meant by Satan’s throne in Pergamos (v.13). We should beware of thinking that this is figurative language. The kingdom of the devil is neither mythical, nor symbolic. It is just as real as the physical city of Pergamos and its temples of stone. Jesus called the Jews in Smyrna the synagogue of Satan and here He speaks of the throne of Satan. He used these terms, because that is what they are. His flaming eyes penetrate to capture spiritual realities, which are invisible to humans. Jesus sees the devil, who is not omnipresent, sitting on a throne and governing over Pergamos.

I think that we can see powerful forces at work to advance the cause of the enemy in this city. Once again, we find idolatry in an advanced form, a pantheon of gods and goddesses that are worshiped and feared. The devil revels in this atmosphere and his demons possess the minds and bodies of the worshipers. The renowned altar that I previously mentioned must have been a center of demonic activity. Joining the historic religion of the Greeks and Romans, is the deification of the Roman Caesars. This perverse series of emperors reign over a kingdom of sexual orgies and of stadiums full of spectators, lusting for the blood of gladiators, or ecstatic to see Christians torn apart by the claws and teeth of wild beasts.  

The serpent symbol of Asclepius
Add to this, the presence of the serpent in its healing cult, deceiving and enveloping the popularice with its curing powers and promises of health. There is still more to consider. In Smyrna we learned of the production of myrrh; in Pergamos, parchment is manufactured, to the degree that it takes its name from the city. Putting the parchment to use, is the second greatest library in the world, with tens of thousands of parchments. Literature is powerfully used to promote the Greek/Roman culture and religion. The Ephesian Christians burnt a mountain of black magic parchments. Satan was alive and well in Pergamos!

The pressure was put on Christians in Pergamos to declare, “Caesar is lord”, by the prince of demons himself. They did not bend to the pressure, because they had experienced the revelation of the glorified King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Christians live according to the concept that they have of Christ and in this city, something less would have cost them their testimony and brought disdain to their Lord. At least one of their number had been martyred, Antipas, whom Jesus called my faithful martyr”.

Jesus knew their deeds, but He also considered what they were up against. With Him, nothing goes unnoticed. He is absolutely faithful and wonderfully kind and considerate. Their faithfulness in the heat of the evil situation was of great value to the Lord and He commended them for it. The name of Jesus was safe in the Pergamos church. That is the good news.

On the other hand, He will be totally honest with them. He must be, in order that they might be awake to their errors and repent. We do no one a favor, and we fail them as friends, when we overlook their faults. However, notice how the criticism follows His praise for them and He softens the blow by calling their tolerance of flaws, only a “few things”.

There was teaching entering the church, which was leading the members into compromise. Doctrine… theology… is important! Do not believe anyone, who tells you that it is not. First of all, Jesus recognizes the presence of the doctrine of Balaam. King Balak of Moab hired Balaam to curse Israel, but God forbade him to do so. Instead he pronounced wonderful prophecies upon them. 

Balaam, however, was strongly tempted by Balak’s offer and coveted the payment. Since God gave him prophetic blessings for Israel and would not allow him to curse, Balaam devised a plan that would cause God’s disfavor to fall upon His people. He taught Balak this spiritual principle. If the Israelites could be enticed into compromise, God Himself would bring judgment upon them. The plot turned from opposition to temptation through infiltration. The Moabite women began to mingle with the men of Israel and soon there was wholesale fornication between them. After that, the women invited the Israelites into idolatrous feasts and they fell into idolatry.

As a result, God’s judgment was severe, sending a plague, which killed 24,000 idolaters. I have been studying the book of Ecclesiastes and in chapter 10, verse 1, Solomon illustrates that dead flies turn perfume into a stench. The prophetic name and reputation of Balaam became a stench and his name was associated with evil in Israel and in the church.  Speaking of the women, who tempted Israel, Moses said, “These, on Balaam’s advice, caused the people of Israel to act treacherously against the Lord” (Num.31:16). Centuries later, the prophet Micah reminded Israel of Balaam’s treachery (Mic.6:5) and later still, Nehemiah spoke of his evil work (Neh.13:2).

In the last book of the Bible, the spirit of Balaam is still at work to disrupt the church in Pergamos and turn Christ against His people. Satan changes his strategy of confrontation and persecution, to the old tricks, which he used through Balaam and by them gains a foothold in the church. Doctrines of demons influence teachers to spread the cancer of compromise. The pagan library, with its literature to spread Satan’s propaganda, and the serpent’s healing cult, focusing on the human body and delivering the message “you will not surely die” (Ge.3:4), mix with Christian doctrine. The teaching opens the door to the same sins as those committed in Israel… sexual immorality and idolatry (v.14). Spiritual pressure is applied on the church members through the authoritarianism and manipulation of the Nicolaitans (v.15).

 Those involved in these doctrines, of course, must repent, but the whole church is called to repentance because they tolerated these teachings. Jesus presented His two-edged sword at the beginning of His message and now warns of using it against them (v.16). The writer of Hebrews speaks against disobedience, then describes the sword of the Lord: “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (He.4:12) The word designed to reveal God and to bring us to His Christ, can become a formidable weapon, of which there is no equal on earth. May we rather be brutally abused by the world, than yield to compromise with it, and bring the judgment of the word of Christ against us.

Not everyone in the body of believers in Pergamos has an ear of the heart, but the one who does, must use it now. He must determine to conquer and resist the trend to compromise, but all must be accomplished through the power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit. He will partake of the hidden, spiritual blessings by personal relationship with the Lord. He has a hidden source of sustenance, the hidden manna supplied by the Lord, and refuses the pagan idolatry feasts. No one can teach another these things. White and black stones were given as votes in judgment and a white stone was a vote of approval. Jesus directly gives the white stone to the conquering individual, signed with His own name, according to the new covenant and free from the ways he knew in the past life (v.17). In the next chapter, verse 12, He adds, “I will write on him the name of my God.” He can say, as Paul, “I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me” (2 Ti.1:12).
………………………………

Emperor Constantine
I believe that the age of compromise with the world in church history, represented in our study of Pergamos, began with Constantine. Before Constantine the church underwent great persecution, centering in Rome and carried out by a series of Caesars, that produced many martyrs. There was Caligula, Nero, Aurelius, and finally Diocletian (284-305 A.D.). The latter brought about the final and most severe persecution of Christians. Christians were ordered to sacrifice to Roman gods or face execution. Diocletian surrounded himself with opponents of Christianity and officially proclaimed a general persecution.

Then Constantine became emperor and reigned from 306-337 A.D. Before being recognized generally as Caesar, he ruled in Western Europe. He lived most of his life as a pagan, but became a Christian officially by baptism on his deathbed. However, years before, he declared tolerance for Christianity and took steps to popularize the church. This did more damage than any of the persecution previous to it. He began to promote the church, build its structures and has been deemed a saint by both the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Church. True Christians question his understanding of the faith and his own personal conversion. It was reported that around 313 A.D, he had seen a vision of the cross and heard a voice say, “By this sign, you will conquer”.

Constantine sought to unite the Roman Empire by uniting a church, which was seriously divided, especially due to the Arian heresy. He called for the council at Nicea, which established the Nicene Creed, which stands today as the definition of the Christian faith. It challenged the false Arian faith and clearly defined Christ as God: “The Son of God, begotten of the Father, the only begotten, that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God, and Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made in heaven and on earth; who for us, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man; he suffered, and the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven; from thence he cometh to judge the quick and the dead.” The term and defense of the trinity was also established in this counsel, although the doctrine itself is clearly taught in the Bible and was defended by Tertullian, early in the Third Century.

Heresies became highly problematic because of Constantine’s legalization of Christianity, which in turn brought many pagans into the church. Constantine’s concern for unity was his chief reason for calling the Nicene Council, even though his edict of legalization in 313 A.D. was the basic reason for the disunity. Yet the Council did a great favor to Christianity by establishing its Creed. It made it clear that anyone, who did not hold to these basic tenets was a heretic. So it stands today.

Neither the Roman Catholic nor the Eastern Orthodox Churches had formed, as yet, but Constantine laid the foundations for them. The church became rich and powerful and ungodly men found positions in leadership. The Post-Millennium idea also began to form at this time, because it was apparent that now that there was religious freedom, the church could bring the Kingdom of God to earth by itself. Relative to Post-Millennialism was the Replacement Theory that proposed that literal Israel was replaced by the church.

Constantine’s error was massive, probably one of the most serious errors, relative to the church, ever conceived in hell. I believe, that Jesus had this development in mind, when he spoke of the mustard plant becoming a great tree. He also prophesied of the leaven, inserted into the meal, to cause the bread to swell artificially. The church, who by the meaning of its own name, makes up the body of the called-out from the world, now joins the world and becomes the enemy of God.  

This Pergamos period of church history is thought to have ended sometime from the middle of the Sixth Century to the early part of the Seventh. In 538 A.D. Emperor Justinian decreed Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire, joining church and state. Boniface III, by imperial decree, was declared the universal bishop over all the churches in 606 A.D., taking his seat next to Satan on the papal throne. The Pergamos period of church history makes way for the Thyatira age.  Roman Catholicism is formally born.


1 comments:
Inten said...
December 11, 2018 at 8:33 PM  

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