Pergamum, the city in
Pergamum, also called Pergamos
from the KJV translation is another city of the
Roman province of Asia Minor that still exists
today. It is known as "Bergama", and is located in
modern day Turkey. It is primarily a Muslim city
now and as of 1996 had 15 Islamic mosques. One of
its mosques is a church building from ancient
times. Bergama (Pergamum), is built among the ruins
of the ancient city, but is not nearly as large as
it was in the first century. Among the ruins today
can be seen the base of the altar of Zeus, the
theater, the agora, the gymnasium and several pagan
temples. Today, the chief export of Bergama is
cotton, wool, leather and opium.
Ancient Pergamos was
located 3 miles from the Caicus river, and about 15
miles from the sea. The Caicus river was navigable
for small vessels. Two of the tributaries of the
Caicus were the Selinus and the Kteios. The Selinus
river flowed through the city; the Kteios ran along
its walls on the outside. On the hill between these
two streams the first city stood, and there also
stood the acropolis, the chief temples, and theaters
of the later city. The early inhabitants of the town
were descendants of Greek colonists from before 420
From 283 to 263 BC
Philetaerus founded the independent Greek dynasty of
the Attalid kings. The first of this dynasty to bear
the title of king was Attalus I (241 BC - 197 BC), a
nephew of Philetaerus, and not only did he adorn the
city with beautiful buildings until it became the
most wonderful city of the East, but he added to his
kingdom the countries of Mysia, Lydia, Caria,
Pamphylia and Phrygia. Eumenes II was the richest
king of the dynasty, and during his reign from 197
BC - 159 BC, the city reached its greatest height.
Art and literature were
encouraged, and in the city was a library of 200,000
volumes The books were of parchment which was
developed here. The word "parchment," is derived
from the name "Pergamos." Of the structures which
adorned the city, the most renowned was the altar of
Zeus, which was 40 ft. in height, and also one of
the wonders of the ancient world. In 133 BC Attalus
III, the last king of the dynasty, died and
bequeathed his kingdom to the Roman government. The
original Roman province of Asia was formed, and
Pergamos was made its capital. Upon the
establishment of the province of Asia there began a
new series of coins made at Pergamos, which
continued into the 3rd century A.D.
There were temples to the four pagan gods Zeus,
Dionysus, Athena and Asklepios. Asklepios was the
pagan Greek God of medicine and healing. The sick
and crippled from all parts of Asia flocked to his
temple. They would sleep in the court of the temple
where they believed Asklepios would reveal to the
priests and physicians the remedies which were
necessary to heal their maladies. There was a school
of medicine in connection with the temple.
Pergamos was also a chief
religious center in the province for Roman emperor
worship. In Pergamos, three temples had been built
to the Roman emperors where they were worshipped as
gods on earth. Being the capitol city of the
province and having three temples dedicated to
emperor worship, Pergamos was also the headquarters
of the Imperial Cult known as the "Concilia". This
cult was responsible for the enforcement of state
religion. This city was loyal to Rome and with 3
temples dedicated to Emperor worship, it was only
natural that it would become a center for this
imperial cult. In 29 BC the Concilia built a temple
for the purpose of worshipping Augustus Caesar.
They were unrelenting when it came to the
enforcement of emperor worship, especially under
Domitian who insisted upon it. It was possibly this
group that banished John to the isle of Patmos, most
probably during the reign of either Vespasian or
Titus. It was certainly the Concilia who saw to it
that the material possessions were taken from the
Christians when they refused to serve in the Roman
army or refused to bow down to the "gods" of the
Romans including the emperors. It was the Concilia
who issued certificates to those who they witnessed
burning incense and offering worship to the Roman
Emperors without which no one could buy or sell
food, participate in land transactions or benefit
from any government programs. It is no wonder that
the Christians located in Pergamum were suffering,
as they were first in line for the dispensing of the
persecution of this imperial cult empowered with the
authority of the Emperors and supported by the full
strength of the Roman army.
Smyrna was a rival city and
was a commercial center as well. As it increased in
wealth, it gradually became the political center.
Later, when Smyrna became the capital, Pergamos
remained the religious center.
Christianity was in
Pergamos in the first century and it was to the
congregation of Christ's church located therein that
this part of the Revelation was addressed.
"and to the angel of the church in Pergamum
write: These things saith he that hath the sharp
Jesus is depicted again as
having the two edged sword. As mentioned previously
this is a reference back to Hebrews 4:12-13 and from
our study of Revelation 1:16 and 2:16 we know this
sword comes from the mouth of Jesus which means that
the sword represents the words of Jesus. In
Ephesians 6:17, Paul calls the word of God the
"sword of the Spirit".
"I know where thou dwellest,"
Jesus is aware of where these Christians are. He is
telling them He knows they are suffering, He knows
of their persecution and their tribulations. The
application for us is that we serve a God who knows
us personally. He is aware of our goings on and our
surroundings. He knows of our triumphs and of our
failures. "Neither is there any creature that is
not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked
and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to
do" (Hebrews 4:13).
"(even) where Satan's
Pergamum was the capitol of Asia before Smyrna, home
to three temples dedicated to the worship of Roman
emperors and headquarters of the imperial cult
called the Concelia. It was the chief religious
center for the entire province and retained that
status even when Smyrna became the capitol.
The worship of Aesculapius
or Asklepios who was the pagan Greek God of medicine
and healing was characterized by the use of snakes
in the healing rituals. Non-venomous snakes were
left to crawl on the floor in temple where the sick
and injured slept. Asklepios had his own
constellation called Serpentarius in Latin and
Ophiuchus in Greek which means "serpent bearer" The
name, "serpent-bearer," refers to the Rod of
Asclepius, which was entwined with a single serpent.
This symbol has now become a symbol for physicians
across the globe today. The "star of life" is the
modern international symbol for the Emergency
Medical Services which features the Rod of Asclepius
as the centerpiece.
Satan is often depicted as
a serpent in scripture. All Christians of all ages
are well acquainted with the imagery of the serpent
associated with Satan. It is almost certain that
when the Christians read of Satan's throne, they
instantly associated it with the worship of
Asklepios. And if not, there was plenty of other
activities going on around them that would identify
Satan as having a seat of power and authority from
"and thou holdest fast
The Christians in Pergamum were commended for
holding fast to the name of Christ. In the Greek,
this word (onoma), means a name in authority and
character. It is important as we work through these
letters to the individual churches that we take note
of the positive things Jesus says as well as the
negative. We know from scripture that Jesus is God
(John 1:1), and that Jesus never changes (Hebrews
13:8), so we can be assured that if we take all the
good things Jesus said to the churches and make sure
we emulate these things in our lives, that it will
be commendable for us as well. It is as important
to us that we assemble all the positive things Jesus
says to all the churches and strive to add those
things to our lives as it is for us to assemble all
the negative things He said and eliminate them.
We hold fast, cling, hang
on to Jesus name, character and authority when we
seek His will, obey His will and glorify His name.
We hold fast to His name when we insist on being
identified as Christians only instead of manmade
names which glorify someone other than Jesus. We
hold fast to His name today when we call the body of
Christ by what it is; the church of Christ. 1
"and didst not deny my
faith, even in the days of Antipas my witness, my
faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan
Jesus refers to the faith as being His faith. Jesus
is the one who suffered, bled and died for us. He
is the one that paid the purchase price for the
faith, it is His faith. We today need to be very
aware of the fact that it is to His faith we are to
be faithful to and not some manmade faith with man's
ideas of righteousness. We are to seek only God's
righteousness (Romans 10:3-4).
Antipas was described as
Jesus' faithful witness. He had been slain among
them. The Christian persecution was already well
underway. Secular writings place Antipas as an
elder of the church in Pergamum, appointed by none
other than John during the reign of Domitian.
History portrays the death of Antipas as having been
publicly burned alive in the brazen statue of a Bull
by the priests of Asklepios. In Pergamum, the
Christians had already been given an example of what
was to come and Jesus held the death of Antipas up
as a shining example for the rest to follow if need
As a side note, the fact
that Jesus here speaks of the martyrdom of Antipas
in the past tense is strong internal evidence of the
late dating of the writing of the Revelation.
According to history, Antipas was martyred in 92
"But I have a few things against thee, "
Once again, as in previous messages, Jesus points
out that the good they are doing does not outweigh
the bad. The application today is that we cannot do
enough good in hope of offsetting the bad. Those in
the body of Christ who are guilty of sin cannot
stand on judgment day before God and point to their
good works as justification for any sin they may be
"because thou hast there
some that hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught
Balak to cast a stumblingblock before the children
of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to
commit fornication. So hast thou also some that hold
the teaching of the Nicolaitans in like manner."
There were some members in the church at Pergamum
who were going along with the teachings of the
Nicolaitans. We see here exactly what this teaching
was, eating meat sacrificed to idols and committing
fornication which could mean either physical or
spiritual fornication, both of which the Nicolaitans
were guilty of.
In old testament times,
Balaam was guilty of instructing Balak, a Moabite
king, of how to defeat the Israelites. Balaam knew
that God would forsake the Israelites in battle if
they were guilty of sin so he told Balak that if he
would send women out to seduce and participate in
fornication with the Israelites, that God would
forsake them in battle and hand them over as
punishment. The women that were sent to seduce the
Israelite men were successful and they were caused
to stumble. As a result of this stumbling block,
twenty four thousand Israelites lost their lives.
Corresponding to this,
eating things sacrificed to idols was also a
stumbling block to the Christians. Under the Roman
persecution, Christians were denied the right to buy
food in the empire unless they offered worship to
the emperors. Food was hard to come by for the
faithful yet there was plenty to be had if they
wanted to participate in the great public feasts
where the meat of the animals who had been
sacrificed to pagan gods was being served to the
public. Hunger is a powerful incentive and many
Christians gave in and participated in these public
feasts which were often times accompanied with wild
drunken, riotous and often times unrestrained sexual
behavior which caused many of them to stumble.
Benjamin Franklin once quoted: "He that lieth down
with Dogs, shall rise up with Fleas." In scripture
were are commanded to "Flee also youthful lusts:
but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace,
with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart"
(2 Timothy 2:22) and "Be not unequally yoked with
unbelievers: for what fellowship have righteousness
and iniquity? or what communion hath light with
darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial?
or what portion hath a believer with an unbeliever?
And what agreement hath a temple of God with idols?
for we are a temple of the living God; even as God
said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I
will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Wherefore Come ye out from among them, and be ye
separate, saith the Lord, And touch no unclean
thing; And I will receive you," (2 Corinthians
The Nicolaitans started out
as Christians who participated in the public feasts
and eventually stumbled and became just as bad as
the pagans they associated with. The application
for us today is the same. Stay away from evil
influences. Avoid situations that can cause one to
stumble. Shun activities that are not wholesome and
righteous. Do not join in with sinful worldly
activities, lest we too become tempted and stumble.
It is a foolish individual who would dance with the
devil and participate in activities where sinful
behavior prevails. Satan makes sin attractive but
those who company with Satan flirt with death.
"Repent therefore; or else I come to thee
quickly, and I will make war against them with the
sword of my mouth."
Jesus warns the church to repent. Repentance is a
sorrow of heart that leads to a change of behavior.
The church at Pergamum had to change their
behavior. They were accused of tolerating something
Jesus hated. This is a "repent or else" warning
where Jesus said he would wage war with those who
held to this doctrine. Being in a position where
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, would wage war against
someone who was a Christian is a serious thing.
This is not a war that any Christian could hope to
win. In short, Jesus told these Christians to
repent or die. These were the options available to
the Christians at Pergamum. These same options are
the only ones available to Christians in similar
sinful situations today.
"He that hath an ear, let him hear what the
Spirit saith to the churches."
Notice what Jesus says here. He knows this is being
written down in words that Christians will read. he
knows this message is going to be delivered in
written form. The Christians who read this letter
were going to hear what the Spirit was saying
through the words written by John. Today, we hear
what the Spirit says in the same way they did in
Pergamum. Through the written word. When we hear
the Word of God, then we are listening to the
"To him that overcometh"
To those who overcome. To those who resist
temptation, to those who prevail no matter what, to
those who do not give in to Satan and worship idols
and eat meat sacrificed to them, who remain faithful
against all odds will receive the following rewards.
"to him will I give of
the hidden manna"
Manna is what God sustained the children of Israel
with during their time in the wilderness after they
left the Egyptian bondage and before they were
allowed to enter the promised land. To the first
readers of the Revelation, manna would represent
that which sustains one's soul. Hidden from those
who refuse to see it, but available to all who would
accept it freely. "And the Spirit and the bride
say, Come. And he that heareth, let him say, Come.
And he that is athirst, let him come: he that will,
let him take the water of life freely" (Revelation
"and I will give him a
white stone, and upon the stone a new name written,
which no one knoweth but he that receiveth it."
The Greek word for Stone in
this instance means a pebble, so there is some
disagreement among scholars as to what is meant
here. Following is my best guess as to it's
meaning. Those who overcome become "fellowcitizens
with the saints, and of the household of God"
which is "built upon the foundation of the
apostles and prophets with Jesus Christ himself
being the chief corner stone" (Ephesians
2:19-20). White is a symbol for purity and truth
and the chief cornerstone all faithful Christians
receive is Jesus Christ. The name written on the
stone most likely represents either "Jesus Christ"
or "Christian". Scripture teaches that the faithful
"shall be called by a new name, which the mouth
of the Lord shall name." (Isaiah 62:2). "The
disciples were called Christians first in Antioch"
(Acts 11:26). Peter referred to followers of Christ
as "Christians" in 1 Peter 4:16 and Agrippa told
Paul, "Almost thou persuadest me to be a
Christian" (Acts 26:28). Secular writings about
followers of Jesus Christ contain numerous instances
of the name "Christians". This name was a well
established designation both historically and
scripturally. Since all scripture is given by
inspiration we know that the term Christian, being
inspired by the Holy Spirit, is from the mouth of
And the only people who
know this name are the ones who receive the name of
Christ. Our lives are "hid with Christ in God"
(Colossians 3:3). Jesus prayed: "I thank thee, O
Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast
hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast
revealed them unto babes" (Matthew 11:25). There are
things hidden from man which only be fully known
when Jesus returns and we see Him as He really is.
(1 John 3:2). Those who never receive the
figurative white stone with the new name on it will
never get to fully know Jesus Christ in all His
The Christians at Pergamos
were living in a tremendous center for oppression
and persecution. They were for the most part
faithful except for their leniency towards the
Nicolaitans. They were warned to modify this
behavior or suffer the consequences of a war with
In applying this to our
Christian life today, we need to take heed to the
words of Jesus. The circumstances under which the
Christians in Pergamum were living did not have any
effect on whether or not they were expected to be
faithful to God. Likewise today, we must be aware
that we too are required to be just as faithful as
they were then. We must be intolerant of doctrinal
error, ever vigilant and willing to persevere and
overcome against all odds, even to the point of
death if need be.