A Survey of Revelation: The Church at Pergamum

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

Hebrews 4:12 NIV

Today we arrive in ancient Pergamum. Have you heard of it? An island city, it was located about sixty-five miles north of Smyrna in the Caicus River Valley. Renowned for its extensive library that was second only to Alexandria, most of its 200,000 volumes were written on costly sheepskin—marking this city as vastly wealthy.

It was also famous for its advanced medical knowledge. Is it surprising, then, that it showcased the temple of Asclepius, a god of healing? False worship was extensive, including three temples devoted to the worship of Rome’s Emperor, and one each for Dionysius, Athena, and Zeus. It’s obvious that their worship was of supreme importance.

Additionally, all-powerful Rome had granted that Pergamum use capital punishment, which established the sword as the city’s symbol.

Why is the sword significant?

The Christian church related to the power of the sword, both then and now. When Jesus addressed this message to Pergamum through the Apostle John, He reminded them that He is “the One who has the sharp two-edged sword” (Revelation 2:12a NASB). Ephesians 6:17 tells us to take up the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.

Residing in the midst of evil

He also acknowledged that this church resided in a very evil place, where believers proclaimed the name of Jesus in spite of persecution leading to death. ‘…and you hold fast My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days of Antipas, My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells’ (Revelation 2:13 NASB). It was an extremely difficult time and place to be a Christian, but Jesus commended them for their courageous faith.

On the other hand, Jesus also had a warning for this church.

‘But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling-block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality. So you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans’ (Revelation 2:14-15, NASB).

Do you recall the story of the talking donkey? Balak the king wanted Balaam the Gentile prophet to curse Israel. Read about it HERE in Numbers 22:1-25:9.

Who were the Nicolaitans?

We don’t know much about them, but we know that God hated their teachings. They encouraged sinful practices (licentiousness) so that God’s grace to forgive sin would increase, which is false teaching. Paul also addresses this in his admonition to the Romans, saying, “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under the Law but under grace? Far from it!” (Romans 6:15 NASB).

Lots of false teaching led to sinful actions. No wonder Jesus warned that unless they repented, ‘I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against [you] with the sword of My mouth’ (Revelation 2:16 NASB).

Can we imagine what a modern-day Pergamum might look like?

If we compare this city with the United States, there are uncanny similarities. Like them, our country has vast wealth, extensive libraries, the most advanced medical advances on the planet, and especially the sword of capital punishment.

But, like Pergamum, are our churches engaged in false teaching? Our Constitution affords religious freedom for all, whether we worship or not. But in these days of political correctness, we are conditioned to be tolerant of every religion—except Christianity.

There is even a move to combine the truth of Christ’s teachings with other religions, like combining vanilla and chocolate ice cream.  Swirled together, the vanilla gradually disappears, just as the truth of the Gospel cannot be watered down and remain pure. Just as a mouthful of cotton candy instantly dissolves in our mouths, so does the cotton candy gospel. It may taste sweet, but it’s empty. Beware of churches whose main attraction is personal prophesies, signs, and wonders, but devoid of studying the Word of God.

Fortunately, the Holy Spirit’s gift of discernment will protect us from churches preaching false doctrine. We must wean ourselves from milk to the meat of God’s Word so we can grow and mature as Christians. Jesus addressed this issue through John in the last chapter of Revelation.

I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.’

Revelation 22:18-19 NASB

Strive for the prize.

Last, after these severe warnings, Pergamum was once again encouraged to strive for the prize. ‘To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it’ (Revelation 2:17b NASB).

Wow! Such amazing rewards await us for our obedience. All the suffering and persecution the world can inflict may be able to take our physical lives, but nothing can take away our eternal salvation. Let that knowledge empower us all to witness boldly to the lost.

His return is so close. Are you ready to meet Jesus?

Dear Father, thank you for Your Word, the sword of the Spirit. Make us overcomers in these days so that we’re not deceived into believing false teaching. May we always be rooted and grounded in Your truth. In Jesus’s Name, Amen.

Let’s continue our journey to Thyatira. Meet you there!

A Survey of Revelation: The Church at Pergamum by Karen Jurgens © copyright 2023 All rights reserved