seven letters  pergamum part I

In Revelation chapters two and three, we see the details of seven letters that were given by Jesus to different churches that were active during the first century. The third church to receive such a letter from Jesus was the one that was located in the city of Pergamum (or Pergamos, as it was also known).

Pergamum was located about 50-75 miles (80-120 km) away from the city of Symrna that we looked at earlier. Pergamum was a big political center during those days and it was also known for it's emphasis on learning, art, medicine and literature as well. In fact, there was a library located within the city that was so large that it contained over 200,000 books. Unfortunately, the city of Pergamum was also a place that was well known for it's heavy involvement with false religions. For example, Pergamum featured one temple with a statue of the Greek god Zeus that was 40 feet (12 m) tall and located on a hill that was 800 feet (244 m) high. There were other temples too, including those that were dedicated to the worship of the Roman Emperor and a god named Asklepios who supposedly had the ability to heal people who were sick.

It's not certain how the church in Pergamum began but some believe that the Apostle Paul was involved in getting the church started during one of his earlier preaching trips that you can read about in the book of Acts. While Jesus' message to the church at Pergamum isn't very long, it still packs a strong impact because He writes to a church that had some really good points but also tolerated some things that He definitely had some problems with. Because of this, Jesus' letter to this church reminds us of the need to keep on checking our own spiritual lives against the Bible to make sure that we're not slipping back in any areas...

"Write this letter to the angel of the church in Pergamum. This is the message from the one who has a sharp two-edged sword" (Revelation 2:12 NLT).

What is this sharp double-edged sword that Jesus mentions here? Well, there are five separate references* in the book of Revelation that link Jesus with a sword that's usually described as sharp and/or double-edged. What's unusual however, is that four of those references specifically say that this sword comes from His mouth, including one that we'll see a little later in verse eighteen. Since a sword is almost always worn at the hip or slung over someone's shoulder, what exactly does He mean by this?

Well, the fact that someone's mouth is a bad (and not to mention impossible) place to keep a sword should tip us off to the fact that there is a deeper meaning involved here. You see, Bible uses the word "mouth" at times to refer to the words that someone speaks (you can find some examples of this in Isaiah 53:9 and Job 15:6). In fact, we sometimes use the word "mouth" in this very same way today whenever we refer to someone who brags a lot as a "big mouth." On the other hand, the word "sword" was often used in the Bible as a symbol for judgment, power or enforcement (see Psalm 22:20 and Romans 13:3-4).

Knowing this, we can make good sense of Jesus' statement by understanding it to mean that when He speaks, His words are just like a powerful, two-edged sword. Hebrews 4:12 also helps to make this idea a little clearer when it tells us that "…the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (NIV)." So Jesus appears to want His readers to know right away that they need to pay very close attention to the words that He is about to say.

"I know that you live in the city where that great throne of Satan is located, and yet you have remained loyal to me. And you refused to deny me even when Antipas, my faithful witness, was martyred among you by Satan's followers" (Revelation 2:13 NLT).

According to Jesus, the city of Pergamum was actually serving as Satan's base of operations during this time. In fact, a look at the NIV translation of this verse (as well as the original language) reveals that Jesus actually says this twice: "I know where you live... where Satan has his throne… Antipas, my faithful witness… was put to death in your city- where Satan lives" (emphasis added).

So does this mean that Satan literally lived in the town of Pergamum during that time? Well, remember that there was a lot of false religious worship in Pergamum at that time. Whenever people worship anyone or anything other than the one true God, the Bible says that they're doing something that ultimately comes from the devil (see Psalm 106:36-37 and 1 Corinthians 10:19-21). So it's possible that there was so much false religion in Pergamum that Satan himself was in the very heart of it according to Jesus. In any event, can you imagine what it would be like to have a church right in the same town where Jesus' arch-enemy has set up his headquarters? Well, that's what the Christians in Pergamum were up against and Jesus commended them for remaining loyal to Him. 

Jesus then takes some time to mention a person named Antipas, whom He described as my faithful witness. The name Antipas means "against all" and this man appears to be someone who lived up to his name- he apparently stood up as a Christian against everything that came against him in the city where Satan lived and was willing to give up his life for what he believed. Unfortunately though, nothing else is known for sure about Antipas beyond what is written here. However, while Antipas remains unknown to us it's still OK because he is obviously well-known to God.

So the Christians in Pergamum earned praise from Jesus for hanging tough in a difficult situation but that's not to say that there weren't any problems. We'll look at those problems and the rest of Jesus' message to the church at Pergamum when we get together next time!


* Revelation 1:16, 2:12, 2:16, 19:15 and 19:21

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Except as indicated, all Scriptural references taken from The Living Bible, 1971, Tyndale House Publishers

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