Pergamos is about sixty miles north and east of Smyrna. It was the next staging point on the circuit of the seven churches. Its name means "powerful marriage." Prophetically, Pergamos looks forward to the time of Emperor Constantine, who became Emperor at Rome in 306 A.D. Under his rule, the church became united to the state. Christianity was actively and officially promoted. The assembly, which should have been faithful to Christ, was married to the world whose very system was opposed to God.
She ignored the warning: "Love not the world, nor the things in the world. If any one love the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (1 Jn. 2:15). To escape the persecutions of the world, suffered at Smyrna, the church went into the world. But the marriage was an unholy alliance. A ship, well designed, constructed, maintained and controlled, is safe in the midst of a stormy sea, but when the sea gets into the ship, it sinks. It would seem that from this period on the church, as a whole, lost her heavenly character.
And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges;
"Angel" means "messenger." The letter was addressed to what we might call the responsible element in the local church; that is, those who both acted responsibly in the assembly and were also prepared to accept responsibility in assembly affairs.
The sharp sword with two edges
Christ presents Himself in a way appropriate to the condition of the assembly at this period, as "He which hath the sharp sword with two edges" (cf Heb. 4:12). He has the capacity to discern and judge, righteously (2 Ti. 4:8). Self-judgment is the best judgment, but if the assembly does not judge itself, He shall not hesitate to do so.
I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth.
The church at Pergamos was situated in a most ungodly place. She faced peculiar difficulties and trials. The Lord was conscious of that. "I know where thou dwellest, even where Satan's throne is." Pergamos was the first city to adopt ruler worship. This was instigated by a local pagan king Attalus 1 Soter. He had a temple, dedicated to himself, erected on a prominent hill which dominated the local landscape. When the Roman Caesar Dominitian was visiting the area, he accepted the principle of ruler deification, but insisted that he, as emperor, and not his local representative, was the one to whom worship should be rendered. The local populace, even many of the Christians, evidently were quite content to tolerate that. Satan, the implacable enemy and adversary of God, was, of course, the real if unseen power. He is the god of this world (2 Co. 4:4) and the prince of this world (Jn. 12:31).
Sadly, the church as a whole had chosen to develop strong links with the world. They were dwelling where Satan’s power was being exercised. This weakened the witness of the church in the world and to the world. One cannot bear witness against a system with which one is moving hand in glove. Satan ruled the very world-system which was infiltrating the church. The result was that this professing church (like much of so-called Christendom generally today) was settling down to live in a world dominated by Satan, thus displacing the true God and making Satan, in effect, her king.
Thou holdest fast My name
Despite the failure of many at Pergamos, there was still that element which the Lord could commend. He said, "Thou holdest fast My Name, and hast not denied My faith." A name in Scripture always identifies and characterises a person. In the midst of such a corrupting environment, they continued to maintain the great cardinal truths of Christianity, especially concerning the Person and work of Christ. Even though the Lord could no longer speak of the assembly as a whole as "My faithful witness," there were, thankfully, still some faithful individuals. This is exemplified in the instance of Antipas the faithful martyr.
Whether or not the name Antipas was his actual, literal, personal name, its meaning ("against the father") was certainly characteristic of him. Antipas was martyred as a result of his attempts to combat the error then current. Men were arising, taking to themselves the position, status and title of "father." Antipas was not against THE Father, God the Father, but against any man who set himself up as a so-called official, ecclesiastical "father." The Lord commends him as "My faithful witness, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth." Antipas was a bright example of one who remained steadfast, unyielding, even though his faithfulness led to a martyr’s death. He was a bright witness to Christ in Satan's world, a shining example of what the whole church should be in this world. The Lord's words, "he was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth" was a clear reproach against those who were content to go along with the tide of popular opinion.
But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.
What could not be achieved by persecution from without, as Satan attempted at Smyrna, was now gained at Pergamos by corruption from within. Hence the reference to Balaam (v. 14), who, although encouraged by Balac (Nu. 22:6), found he could not curse the people of God, and proceeded to corrupt them. Balaam’s counsel to Israel, "Be friendly with Moab" (Nu. 25:1-3), exactly characterises the moral position at Pergamos. In the history of the church, what starts as the "way of Cain" (self-will) and continues its course as the "error of Balaam" (self-seeking) must inevitably be judged as was Korah (self-assertion) (Jude 11).
A church which has settled down to dwell in the world adopts its ways. Individual Christians might have protested against such things, but most professing Christians no longer resisted these false teachers. The Lord had to say, "Thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam." Evil teachers were tolerated, and evil practices followed. As ever, bad doctrine leads to bad practice.
So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.
The Pergamos stage of the church’s history was marked by those that held the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes. It is difficult to determine just who these Nicolaitanes were, or precisely what they taught. They had apparently developed a form of teaching to justify conduct which by scriptural standards would be totally unacceptable and universally condemned. The tendency had first shown itself in immoral practices brought into the assembly at Ephesus. These indecent deeds were at that stage hated and refused by that church. However, in Pergamos, this evil become more serious, inasmuch as what had been deeds in the Ephesian church had now become an established doctrine at Pergamos. Fundamentally, the Nicolaitanes were people who abused the grace of God. They would probably have said "Let us continue in sin that grace may abound," an attitude condemned by the apostle Paul (Ro. 6:1-2).
The Lord warns that the sword of His mouth, His word, will refute what they say, their doctrine.
which thing I hate
The Lord Jesus is The Righteous Judge, and hates unrighteousness (Ps 45:6-7, Hebrews 1:8-9).
Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.
Unless there is repentance, and self-judgment, it will be necessary for Christ to use the sword of judgment against those responsible. The Lord did not say I will fight against "thee," but against "them." If the church no longer had the moral power to deal with false teachers and evil doers, the Lord, Himself, would act to cleanse out the evil and maintain the honour due to His Name. This judgment would be executed with the sword of His mouth, His word.
The first attack of Satan was to cast doubt on that which proceeded out of the mouth of God - "hath God said?" (Gen. 3:1). He whose Name is called The Word of God shall ultimately, at His Appearing, smite the nations with a sharp sword going out of His mouth (Rev. 19:15). His word will suffice. Prior to that, the false teachers at Pergamos will be both exposed and condemned by the Word of God proceeding out of the mouth of the Son of God.
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.
There is then an appeal for the individual to hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The very words of Scripture are, indeed, God-breathed, in the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Co. 2:13, 2 Ti. 3:15-16).
To him that overcometh
There is a three-fold promise for the overcomer, he who has an opened ear and is prepared to accept the word, and obey it.
hidden manna, a white stone, and a new name
At Pergamos, much of the food for sale had been previously dedicated to pagan deities, or to the Roman Emperor. Christians who abstained on conscience grounds (Acts 15:20, 1 Co. 10:25-29) from eating such meat were promised hidden manna. This refers to the manna that was placed in the ark of the covenant for a memorial of God's goodness to Israel while they journeyed through the wilderness. The manna itself was typical of the holy, perfect manhood of the Lord Jesus, manifested in His life in this world. The overcomer, the faithful believer who is morally separate from the world, is let into the secret of God’s own appreciation of the holy, separate Manhood and life on earth of His only begotten Son. The overcomer has the personal sense in his own soul of God’s own appreciation of the perfect Manhood of the Lord Jesus. The Father alone has a full appreciation, but the overcomer gains a fresh appreciation of what is hidden to the eye of all but God and he to whom it is revealed (See Exodus 16:33 and Hebrews 9:4).
In addition to this mark of an inward appreciation, the Lord says, "I will give him a white stone," an outward sign of His approval. This most likely refers to the custom of placing a white stone into an urn in order to show approval of a candidate in an election. The stone itself bore the name of the candidate. A black stone would indicate disapproval.
There was another local connection. Normally, the local dark granite was used for public buildings. For special buildings, especially those erected in honour of some notable person, and for monumental statues, pillars, and tablets, expensive, white, Italian marble was imported. Local honours granted for services to the community involved commemorative plaques or tablets in this same white stone. At the same time as this honour was conferred, a new name was given, and engraved in the white stone.
It signifies the Lord giving the overcomer His manifest approval. The overcomer might well be rejected by many because he stands against the unholy alliance of the church and the world; nevertheless, he should be encouraged by the thought of the Lord's approval as set forth in the white stone.
There are two valid understandings of what the new name represents.
1. The overcomer is given a special appreciation of the Lord’s beauty and glory that is a personal revelation to him because of his personal faithfulness to the Lord, even or perhaps especially in difficult days.
2. A special appreciation of the overcomer expressed by the Lord. The moral character which Christ personally sees and appreciates in the individual to whom He gives a white stone will be expressed in that new name.
There is merit in both considerations.
The fullness of eternal, spiritual, heavenly blessing lies ahead for every believer on the Lord Jesus Christ. But, what do I know now of the hidden manna, the white stone, and the new name?