Background

  •  The KJV has Pergamos (feminine form of the name). Many other translations have the neuter form, Pergamum.
  • In 282BC it was made the capital of the Seleucid kingdom. In 232BC the Attalid kingdom was established and under the reign of Eumenes II (197–159BC) the city was transformed. He built the Doric Temple to Athena; a vast theatre on the steep western slope; the throne-altar of Zeus (in commemoration of the great victory against the savage invading Galatae or Gauls); as well as the 200,000-volume library, second only to the unique library of Alexandria. He also completed most of the work on the city’s five palaces and five theatres.
  • In 133BC Attalus III bequeathed the whole kingdom to the Romans, who formed it into the Province of Asia and made Pergamum the official capital of the region. It was in fact the centre of Roman administration through the Proconsul and the state religion of emperor worship.
  • Pergamos was built on a tall conical hill, from the top of which the Mediterranean could be seen 25km away. Sir William Ramsay describes it: “Beyond all other cities in Asia Minor, it gives the traveller the impression of a royal city, the home of authority; the rocky hill on which it stands is so huge, and dominates the broad plain of the Caicus so proudly and so boldly”.
  • In The Two Babylons (pp 240-241), Hislop cites an oracle of Apollo to argue that the Attalids sat in the seat of the priest-kings of Babylon, and “were hailed as the representatives of the old Babylonian god”. If this is correct, then Pergamum’s religions had their origins in Babylon.

Exposition

2:12 – These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges;

– Gk sharp = sharp, swift; Gk sword – rhomphaia= long racian broadsword which was a close combat weapon, held in two hands and used to slice and pierce the enemy

– The Roman proconsul possessed ius gladii, the right of the sword, having the power of life and death; on their word a man could be executed on the spot—the Lord is depicted here as having ultimate authority over life and death (cp 1:18)

– Swords in general represent civil authority (Rom 13:4), national judgment (Rev 19:15; 2 Thess 2:8; Isa 11:4) and personal judgment (by the Word made spirit: Heb 4:12; Eph 6:17)

2:13 – I know thy works

– once again, he was aware of absolutely everything

and where thou dwellest,

– not “their works” as in other letters; Christ was fully aware of their environment, a city devoted to the worship of Athene and Zeus, with their massive altar dominating the city, and to Asclepios, the god of healing, and to the demands of Caesar worship; a city full of false worship

even where Satan’s

– Satan means “adversary” and in Revelation was used of false Jews (2:9; 3:9); in 2 Cor 11:13-15 the ringleader of the false apostles is called Satan

seat is

thronos – throne; in Pergamum was the Augustan temple with its altar-throne – famous for its emperor worship, but the Satan of this era refers more to those who promoted the mystery of iniquity rather than emperor worship (2 ess 2:7-10)

– in Smyrna was the synagogue of Satan (v9), but here is the throne, the first headquarters of the apostacy in organised form; here was the embryo of the church—the idea of a throne is that of authority and temporal power, implying that the false bishops had taken to themselves authority and were ruling over the flock that followed them (1 Pet 5:3)

and thou holdest fast

krateo – seize, become master of; idea of holding fast (Prov 4:13; 1 Thess 5:21; 2 Tim 1:13; Titus 1:9; Heb 3:6, 4:14, 10:23)

– constant exhort of the age – (2:25; 3:3,11)

my name

– equivalent to thinking, speaking and acting consistently with the purpose and character of Christ (cp 2:3; 3:8)

– all through the struggle the believers had kept the right spirit and right attitude; they had honoured their Lord in the sharp disputes that followed, until the apostate brethren left

and hast not denied my faith

– to deny the faith = to deny the basic requirements of living the Truth (1 Tim 5:8; Titus 1:16; Jude 4) and the important doctrines of the Truth (2 Pet 2:1; 1 John 2:22-23)

– the Truth and the spirit of Christ had been upheld in all the debates and arguments

even in those days

– this faith had been put to the test through active persecution and death in the past; the Lord is recalling the initial defence of the Truth by these brethren before AD96

wherein Antipas

– against all! (most likely symbolic of a group rather than an individual)

– so-called because they contended against all heretics, all pagans and all unbelievers; they were against the world and the world was against them

was my faithful martyr

– Gk martus = witness; they manifested the example of Christ (1:5; 3:14)

– a faithful witness is one whose veracity of message is supported by the truth of his character

who was slain among you

– most likely the false brethren had falsely accused them before the Romans and secured their death

where Satan dwelleth.

– Gk katoikeo = to house permanently; they had a strong and perpetual presence in the city

2:14 – But I have a few things against thee

– these few things related to doctrinal matters

because thou hast there them that hold

– Gk krateo – seize, lay hold of (v13)

– although the ecclesia in general was faithfully upholding the name of Christ, they were tolerating those who were teaching and promoting doctrines which Christ hated; the example of Antipas had been forgotten and a new enemy had arisen which was being allowed to fester unchecked

the doctrine of Balaam

– name means “waster of the people” – their doctrine and work devastated people

– Balaam was a wayward prophet from Pethor who had the power to bless or curse and received answers from God in visions (Num 22:5,6,8); his doctrine was very simple – religion for hire (Deut 23:4) – the truth for the wages of unrighteousness (2 Pet 2:1,15) – the faith for greedy reward ( Jude 11)

who taught Balak to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel

– the stumbling block was a religious festival which promoted eating sacrifices offered to the dead and committing fornication (Num 25:1-2; Psa 106:28); a leader of Israel was involved in this evil (Num 25:14) and the only way this could be handled was by the righteousness of God being executed in the action of Phinehas cutting off the flesh (Mic 6:5)

to eat things sacrificed unto idols

– Pergamon was full of magnificent Greek and Roman temples and the temptation to join the festivities would have been great; the command of Paul in 1 Corinthians 8:9-13 was being disregarded

and to commit fornication.

– Paul warned the believers of the evil of doing this in 1 Corinthians 10

2:15 – So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes,

– see notes on 2:6 – they were they most likely the Docetae or Gnostics (Eureka 1:256)

– their doctrine is outlined in the epistles written by Paul to Timothy whilst he was in Ephesus; it was a doctrine of devils and seducing spirits (1 Tim 4:1), of perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds (1 Tim 6:5) and involved profane and vain babblings like the resurrection having passed already (2 Tim 2:16-18)

which thing I hate.

– Christ loves righteousness and hates iniquity (Heb 1:9)

2:16 – Repent;

– Gk metanoeo = to think differently – the ecclesia would need to face the errorists, warn them, win them over and if they refused, withdraw from them after the necessary admonitions (2 Thess 3:6; 1 Tim 6:5)

or else I will come unto thee quickly

– Gk tachu = without delay, speedily – judgment would be swift

and will fight

polemeo – make war (Balaam was slain by the sword: Num 31:8)

against them with the sword of my mouth.

– we are not told what the Lord would do to the elders once he came, only what he would do to the errorists; his action against the ecclesia is implied, however, in the incident at Shittim – death and judgment (Num 25:5,8)

– this is teaching that we are accountable for our actions in ecclesial life; the Lord is expecting ecclesias to keep the faith pure, ensure that there is no immorality and refuse to countenance those who teach dangerous and unscriptural errors

2:17 – He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the ecclesias; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna

– not all manna was hidden; that which was hidden, was inside the ark of the covenant and a symbol of incorruptibility – eating manna is a contrast to eating at the feasts in the temples (v14)

and will give him a white stone

Acts 26:10 – voice = psephos – pebble – in the ancient courts the accused were condemned by black pebbles and the acquitted by white ones; Antipas received condemnation for the Truth – this will be reversed at Christ’s coming

and in the stone a new name written

– the new name is for those who hold fast the Lord’s name (v13); they have the name of God written in their forehead (14:1)

– a new name was conferred to mark a new status (eg Gen 17:5; 32:28); so Christ is promising a new status of glory in the kingdom age – he alludes to Isaiah 62:2

– to write in a stone is to engrave the stone; this is like the precious stones upon the High Priest’s breastplate engraved with the names of the tribes – they will be incorporated in the true Israel of God forever in the heart of our High Priest (3:12)

– this writing was to be permanent; a contrast to the writing on parchment in the library at Pergamos

which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.

– it will be known experientially when it is received in immortality