My Notes on Revelation 2:12-17, Letter to Pergamos
Introduction to Pergamos
The third letter of the seven letters in Revelation is addressed to the angel of the church at Pergamos, which is today located in the modern city of Bergama, Turkey. Asclepius (the Greek and Roman god of healing) and Serapis (the Egyptian god of the underworld and a Greek god of healing) were worshipped there: the ruins to their temples still stand. The city is also famous for its temple to Trajan, for having housed the second largest library after the library in Alexandria, and for the invention of parchment.
Revelation 2:12, The Lord's Two Edged Sword
The Lord introduces himself to the angel of the church at Pergamos as the one who has a sharp sword with two edges. This sword is the same sword that proceeds from the Lord's mouth (Revelation 1:16, 19:15, 19:21), and he uses it to battle against the nations and rule over them. It represents power, but not just any power: to be more exact, it represent the spoken word of God (compare to Hebrews 11:34, Ephesians 6:17), by which God created the universe (Psalm 33:6).
By representing himself as the one who holds a sharp sword with two edges, the Lord is not only asserting that he is powerful and divine (divine, because the word of God proceeds from him), he is also indicating that he is ready to battle (whether it be for or against someone).
Revelation 2:13, The Faithful Martyrs and The Seat of Satan
Jesus tells the angel of this church that he knows his works. Since the angel represents the entire church, what is meant is that Jesus knows the works of the church and of everyone who is part of the church.
Jesus also knows that this church dwells where Satan's seat is found. The seat of Satan represents Satan's power and authority (Revelation 13:2). At the time Jesus spoke to John, Satan's seat was found in Pergamum.
The Lord acknowledges this church because they still identify themselves with him and have not recanted their faith in him, even though one of them suffered martyrdom.
This martyr's name was Antipas, and the Lord declares that he was faithful. Antipas may have been nobody of consequence to the world; nevertheless, the Lord knows his name and his faithfulness: that is all that matters.
The Lord also declares that Antipas was slain among them, where Satan dwells. Thus, Satan's rulership over Pergamum seems to have been a reason for the death of Antipas.
Revelation 2:14, The Doctrine of Balaam
Having acknowledged the church's faithfulness to his name and faith in the face of martyrdom, the Lord now rebukes the church because they have with them those who hold the doctrine of Balaam.
Balaam was a gentile prophet (Numbers 22:5) unto whom Balak, King of the Moabites, offered wealth and promotion so he would curse Israel (Numbers 22:7, 17).
Nevertheless, God did not allow Balaam to curse Israel (Numbers 22:12), so Balak did not promote Balaam (Numbers 24:11). Then Balak and Balaam each went his own way (Numbers 24:25).
Afterwards, Israel sinned by having sex with the women of Moab, and by sacrificing to the gods of these women, eating of the sacrifices to these gods, and worshipping Baal-peor (Numbers 25:1).
God then revealed to Israel that the Moabites had done this at the counsel of Balaam to put enmity between them and God, and thus defeat them (Numbers 25:16-18; 31:16).
Israel eventually killed Balaam by the sword (Numbers 31:8).
Thus, those who follow the doctrine of Balaam (as Balak did) are those who like Balak entice others to commit sexual sin and worship idols. Perhaps this is a reference to people who had infiltrated the church to promote businesses and interests that were related to sexual and idolatrous activities.
Revelation 22:15, The Sin of the Nicolaitanes
The Lord also rebukes this church for having the Nicolaitanes with them.
In a previous post, I explained that the Nicolaitanes were a group that was indifferent to committing adultery and eating food sacrificed to idols.
Thus, the Nicolaitanes and those that have the doctrine of Balaam are similar: they are involved with sexual sins and with idolatry. The difference between them, however, is that the followers of Balaam entice others to commit these sins, whereas the Nicolaitanes practiced these sins.
Revelation 22:16, The Church Will Be Judged
The Lord commands the angel of this church to repent, or the Lord will come unto him quickly and battle against the Nicolaitans and the ones who hold the doctrine of Balaam with the sword of his mouth (the spoken word of God).
The quick coming of the Lord is specific to this angel (I will come to you): so this is not a reference to Revelation 19:15, but the assurance of soon judgment against this church. The Lord will pronounce a sentence against them.
The effect of this judgment against them could represent death, since a sword is a weapon that is meant to kill.
Revelation 22:16, The Hidden Manna and The New Name
The refrain that is common in all the letters invites everyone in the church to pay attention to what the Spirit of God is saying to the churches through the revelation that is given in the letter.
Jesus tells us that the one who overcomes will be given (a) to eat of the hidden manna, and (b) a white stone with a new name known only to the one who receives it.
The hidden manna seems to be a reference to the manna stored by Moses and Aaron before the Lord so future generations could see what God had given Israel to eat while they were in the desert (Exodus 16:32-34). It was not meant to be eaten of it, so eating of it would be a great honor.
The new name that is on the white stone and that is known only to the one who receives it is similar to the Lord's hidden name in Revelation 19:12. Just as eating of the hidden manna would be a great honor, receiving a new name would also be a great honor: Abram's name was changed to Abraham (Genesis 17:5), Sarai's name was changed to Sarah (Genesis 17:15), and Jacob's name was changed to Israel (Genesis 32:28). Their new names represented their new identities before God according to God's purpose for them.
Thus, by offering the hidden manna and a hidden new name, the Lord is offering great personal honor to those who overcome. They will be able to eat of something sacred; and they will also have a new identity before the Lord.
Questions for Reflection
- How are you faithful to the Lord? Are you able to stay faithful to Him when you face adversity?
- Is there sexual sin in your life? Are you involved in any pagan activities?
- What does it mean to repent? How can you repent from your sins?
- What heresies is the church facing today? How can the church repent from these heresies?
- What people, ideas, or practices in the church are causing it to stumble? How can the church repent in regards to these?
- How is your personal relationship with the Lord? Are you spending quality time with Him through prayer and worship?
Ask the Lord to forgive your sins. Pray to the Lord to help you remain faithful to Him. Tell the Lord how much you desire a closer relationship with Him.
Invitation to the Reader
I would like to invite you to share your questions, insights, and opinions in the comments section below. I also would like to invite you to read the other devotionals I have published on the book of Revelation.
© 2018 Marcelo Carcach