The Church in Pergamum – The Morally Compromising Church
Background to Pergamum
Pergamum was the center of the religious life of the province.
The city was dominated by a huge hill that rose to 1000 ft. above sea level and had many temples.
The very name Pergamum means “citadel”.
Pergamum came to prominence in the 3rd century BC as the capital of the Attalids under Eumenes II (197-159 BC).
Pergamum became the finest of Hellenistic civilization. Its library boasted of more than 200,000 volumes.
Legend has it that parchment was invented there when the supply of papyrus from Egypt was cut off in reprisal for Eumene’s attempt to lure a famous librarian by the name of Aristophanes away from Alexandria (parchment is derived from pergamena).
The most famous was the temple of Asclepios, the god of healing, closely associated with the snake, which gave Pergamum a reputation like Lourdes today.
There was also a huge altar of Zeus, built to commemorate the “gods” of Greece in victorious combat against the giants of the earth (symbolizing the triumph of civilization over the barbarians). A famous frieze from this altar of Zeus commemorates the victory of Attalus I in the Pergamum Museum in Berlin today.
Most important of all, Pergamum had the first temple in the area dedicated to Augustus and Rome, as a result it became the center for the worship of the emperor in the province.
As this was as much a political as a religious affiliation it created peculiar problems for Christians. The titles of Lord, Savior and God were constantly applied to the emperor, which Christians could do no other than resist in the light of their sole rightful ascription to Jesus.
The Lord acknowledges Pergamum as being where Satan has his throne. This most plausibly relates to the throne-like altar of Zeus, itself a symbol of the idolatry that held sway in Pergamum.
I believe this is more a statement of the spiritual reality that the people constantly had coming at them from the evil one.
Yet these Christians remained true to the name of Jesus, the only Lord, Savior and God incarnate. Clearly a persecution had taken place, when one of their number had been executed, Antipas, my faithful witness. This could be the first occasion of witness (Gk ‘martyr’) being consciously used of one who laid down his life on account of witness to Christ.
1. Satanic evil is real but not a sufficient excuse to ignore compromise 12, 13
Wherever there is much false religion and education you have a spiritual hot bed (Satan is a liar and father of lies and education and religion are two of the most effective means of carrying lies).
2. Watch out for compromise and syncretism v. 14, 15
Understanding the story of Balaam helps us interpret this insidious group more accurately (see Num. 22–25).
Balaam was a true prophet who prostituted his gifts in order to earn money from King Balak, who hired him to curse the people of Israel.
God prevented Balaam from actually cursing the nation. In fact, God turned the curses into blessings! But Balak still got his money’s worth. How? By following Balaam’s advice and making friends with Israel, and then inviting the Jews to worship and feast at the pagan altars.
The Jewish men fell right into the trap and many of them became “good neighbors.”
They ate meat from idolatrous altars and committed fornication as part of heathen religious rites. Twenty-four thousand people died because of this disobedient act of compromise (Num. 25:1–9).
They compromised in permissiveness. However, the opposite and extreme response to compromise is legalism.
A. Legalism perverts the Gospel
Beware of abstaining from certain actions thinking yourself to be “righteous” because you did “good”. Filthy rags!
B. Lawlessness perverts the Gospel
Beware of offering oneself a license for rebellious actions by calling it “freedom”. Lawlessness!
3. Watch out for being condemned by the Word rather than being encouraged by the Word v. 16
Jesus himself will come and clean the false teaching out if the false teachers don’t repent or the church does not deal with them.
4. Conquering people are fully nourished by Jesus and are given access to the Kingdom of God v. 17
A. Salvation is personal (manna) v. 17c
He will provide for them and strengthen them day by day — just as he nourished his people with manna in the wilderness. Jesus described himself as ‘the bread of life’ (John 6:35) — a reality celebrated and shared in Holy Communion.
B. We are given access to the very things that give God pleasure and thus give us pleasure
(white stone) v. 17c
In those days, a white stone was put into a vessel by a judge to vote acquittal for a person on trial. It was also used like a “ticket” to gain admission to a feast. Both would certainly apply to the believer in a spiritual sense: he has been declared righteous through faith in Christ, and he feasts with Christ today (Rev. 3:20) and will feast with Him in glory (Rev. 19:6–9).
1. It is the Father’s pleasure to give us the Kingdom Matthew 5:3-11
2. It is the Father’s pleasure to have us do Justice Proverbs 11:1
3. It is the Father’s pleasure to cause us to love obedience 1 Samuel 15:22-23
4. It is the Father’s pleasure to delight in our prayers Proverbs 15:8
5. It is the Father’s pleasure that we would hope in his love Psalm 147:10-11
6. It is the Father’s pleasure to crucify the Son to save sinners Isaiah 53:10
7. It is the Father’s pleasure to do his people good Zephaniah 3:17
8. It is the Father’s pleasure to seek the fame of his name 1 Samuel 12:22
9. It is the Father’s pleasure to take delight in his Son Matthew 17:5