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Wednesday in the Word

Second Baptist Church

April 2, 2014

Revelations 2:12:17

  1. Verses 12a. The letter to the church at Pergamum. This is the third letter that Jesus gives to John to deliver to the angel or the messenger of the church. Pergamum was the Roman capital of the province of Asia. Located about 50 miles north of Smyrna. Pergamum (or Pergamos) was a beautiful and art-filled city in the province of Asia built along two tributaries of the Caicus River. The first temple of the imperial cult was built in Pergamum (c. 29-26 B.C.) in honor of Rome and Augustus. Pergamum was very wealthy, and it was the center of emperor worship with many temples devoted to idolatry. It was a center of pagan worship and there was a temple to Caesar there as well. For instance, this was the place Jesus says is ‘where Satan’s throne is’ (Rev. 2:13). This could refer to the numerous pagan cults, of Zeus, Athena, Dionysus and Asclepius (Esculapius which means the ‘savior,’ ‘healer’) being of special importance. Pergamum was a center for the worship of Dionysus, Zeus, and other pagan gods. Here was the magnificent temple of Esculapius, a pagan god whose idol was in the form of a serpent. The inhabitants were known as the chief temple keepers of Asia. The symbol for medical doctors with the serpent around the pole is from this idol god Asclepius. Near the top of the city stood an altar to the God Zeus. This temple almost looks like a throne. Zeus was the king of the Greek gods, and this altar was built around 180 B.C. The actual altar is today housed in a Berlin museum. During the first century, smoke continuously rose from this altar. This altar was the largest in the world at that time. These cults demonstrate the religious history of Pergamum, but “Satan’s throne” could also be an allusion to emperor worship as well. This was where the worship of the divine emperor had been made the determination of civic loyalty under Domitian. This city was full of false idols, false gods, and false teachers. Unlike the Church of Smyrna who faced great persecution this church had persecution but struggled more with compromise. Remember when Jesus speaks to this church he is telling them something that speaks directly to their situation. The readers would have known precisely what Jesus was saying. As interpreters we must try to see exactly how the initial recipients of the letter would have interpreted this letter. What we cannot do is attempt to place a 21st century understanding on a 1st century text. We must put ourselves in their shoes to get the correct meaning and then see how we might apply that to our lives now.

  2. Verse 12b. Jesus identifies himself with the title “him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. We can go back to chapter one to see that the double-edged sword refers back to the words of Christ which can cut right through anything. This normally speaks of being able to convict or judge rightly with words. Jesus is sharing that his words cut right through and divide the fact from the fiction, and the truth from the lie. A sharp double-edged sword cuts a clear line that separates. Jesus’s words make a clear distinction between light and dark, and good and evil. This church needs to be separated from some things that they have become too closely joined.

  3. Verses 13. Jesus commends the church for not renouncing the faith in spite of the fact that they live where Satan has his throne a place of all false gods and idols. This congregation lived in a place of extreme idolatry due to the religious activity connected with the worship of the serpent god of Esculapius, the worship of the Emperor of Rome, and the worship of Zeus. They were persecuted for their faith but remained connected to their faith. Jesus even mentions a person that we don’t know much about called Antipas who was a person killed for the faith. Jesus commends the church for holding onto the faith to a certain degree.

  4. Verses 14. Even though Jesus commends the church for not totally renouncing the faith, he does chastise some of them for compromising too much. Jesus shares that there are some in the church who hold to the teachings of Balaam. The story of Balaam can be found in Numbers 22 and Numbers 31:15-16. Balaam was a man who allowed his lust for money to influence him. He also led the people of God to forget their standards of holiness and partake in things God’s people should avoid. The teachings of Balaam are a compromise of holiness (see 2nd Peter 2:15, and Jude 11). Jesus is admonishing the church for partaking in pagan rituals and practices. For people in this city to eat things sacrificed to idols meant to engage in the feasting and orgies of the various idolatrous temples. It was easy for people to engage in illicit sexual activity in this type of community, and apparently some in the church didn’t see a problem with joining in the various sexual activities of the idol temples.

  5. Verses 15. Jesus also admonishes these members concerning the fact that many held to the teachings of the Nicolaitans. We don’t know who these people were, but we know they were false teachers. The name means "conquerors of the people." It appears they claimed to have a special relationship to God. They professed to be the beneficiaries of intimate revelations that were not given to others, and that they therefore had an inside track with God. They presumed to take the place of the priesthood in Judaism, and carried that error into the Christian church. I am speculating, but most likely these teachers taught a hierarchy of believers some greater than others. Notice in both admonitions, Jesus highlights the issue of false teachers. This church needed the word preached and taught correctly. Jesus highlights his “double edged sword” words as a prescription for this church that is receiving poor teaching. This is still the prescription. We must preach holiness and Jesus as the head of the church and not man.

  6. Verses 16. Jesus tells those who have accepted these false teachings to repent or turn away from this false teaching or he will come and fight against them with the sword of his mouth. Basically he will make it clear to them that they are positioning themselves for judgment through the preaching of the true Word.

  7. Verse 17. Jesus challenges the church to listen to what he says and the result of heeding his words will be a two-fold gift. They will receive the hidden manna, and also a white stone with their name on it. The hidden manna is the Lord who referred to himself as the manna from heaven. He is hidden to those who don’t believe but clear to those who have faith. Those who turn to the true word will get real bread that sustains their souls. They will also receive white stone with their name on it, which most scholars are not sure of the meaning. What is sure is that it signifies a position of privilege.

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