12 “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: ‘The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword. 13 “‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is.
Pergamum was a city that prided itself on several temples dedicated to the Roman Imperial cult. In the Roman period, the city of Pergamum, a former administrative capital of Asia Minor that later was moved to Ephesus, became a flag ship for Roman patriotism expressed in religious devotion. As with most major Greek cities, Pergamum boasted a theater, stadium, library and a healing center of Asclepius among the other buildings that were part of normal life in the Greco-Roman world.
The healing center (Asclepion) in Pergamum, considered to be the headquarters, was a part of a very large network of healing centers throughout the Roman Empire. For many years Galen, the most well-known physician in the Roman Empire and personal physician of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, worked in this Asclepion. The Pergamum library was considered second only to the world-famous library in Alexandra. The Pergamum library boasted, according to Plutarch, more than 200,000 volumes. Another account states that Marc Anthony, a Roman military commander, bequeathed the collection to Cleopatra as a reimbursement for the total destruction of the library of Alexandria’s by Julius Caesar.
Other than temples to emperors and even to the goddess Roma, the city held the high honor of hosting and maintaining a temple to Zeus – Father of all gods and man and the ruler of Olympians on Mt. Olympia in accordance with ancient Greek beliefs. Zeus was closely associated with the Roman deity Jupiter whose name means the sky or literally the “heavenly father” god. The altar to Zeus was one of the most impressive structures in Pergamum. The altar’s stairs, columns, and sculptured sides once stood forty feet (12 meters) high. Today, only the steps around the altar’s base can be seen in the Pergamum museum in Berlin. The sides of the altar were ornamented with marble panels depicting a mythical battle between Greek gods and rebellious giants who were the sons of Mother Earth.
Many have suggested that this altar to Zeus is what is meant by the throne of Satan in vs. 13. But there exist a number of other possibilities – such as the Asclepius cult headquarters or a concentration of the Imperial and Roman cult in that city. As was mentioned earlier, in Roman antiquity, the image of a sword and especially a double-edged sword was highly symbolic. So, in this city, it can truly be said that it hosted the throne of Satan, the symbol of Roman Imperial authority and rule. Christ introduced himself to the assembly of the follows of Israel’s God in Christ as “the one who has the sharp two-edged sword.” If the above identification of the throne of Satan as Roman imperial cult is correct than it would make a perfect sense for Christ here to be presented as someone with the authority of the double-edged sword.
Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.
Not much is known about the person Antipas in this passage. Later Christian tradition holds that he was ordained as the bishop of Pergamum by the Apostle John, just as was Polycarp in the city of Smyrna. The tradition also holds that he was boiled alive in a bronze kettle that resembled a bull. This first century account comes from much later Christian martyrology accounts of questionable reliability. What can safely be assumed is that by the end of the first century, when the letter of Revelation was being written, the martyrdom of Antipas already took place. It was still a fresh memory in the minds of the Christ-followers of Pergamum. No doubt, Antipas met his destiny, embracing death because he was not willing to honor and sacrifice to pagan gods. Only one God can be worshiped and adored.
14 But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. 15 So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.
In the section about the congregation in the city of Ephesus, we discussed the evil deeds and teachings of Nicolaitans. The most probable explanation is that the Nicolaitans were followers of the movement, dubbed Nokhal among early Christ-followers. Nokhal in Hebrew means “We will eat,” in this case referring to meat that was sacrificed to Greco-Roman Gods.
Nicolaitans of vs. 15 are connected with the evil Balaam and Balak. Their strategy to undermine Israel was the same. They wanted Israelites to worship Baal Peor. The main attraction was the sexual orgies that accompanied such worship. We read in Num. 25:1-5:
“While Israel remained at Shittim, the people began to play the harlot with the daughters of Moab. 2 For they invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. 3 So Israel joined themselves to Baal Peor, and the Lord was angry against Israel. 4 The Lord said to Moses, ‘Take all the leaders of the people and execute them in broad daylight before the Lord, so that the fierce anger of the Lord may turn away from Israel.’ 5 So Moses said to the judges of Israel, ‘Each of you slay his men who have joined themselves to Baal of Peor.’”
Christ called the assembly in Pergamum that tolerated in its mix those who both professed Christ and ate meat sacrificed to Roman gods, to repent. Christ the King threatened them with his soon-approaching judgment, calling them to finally make a choice between the God of Israel and the gods of the Roman Empire.
Join the conversation (46 comments)
Can “eating the food of idols” be associated with the apparent mixing of worship we have within Christ followers today? Is it a general biblical term for the world’s way of worship? I see many profess Christ yet celebrate the world’s holidays that are not in the Word of God by putting Jesus in them and calling them “holy” by their understanding.
They are not literally eating “sacrificed” meat, however the symbols and celebrations are still there. The mixing is there. Thank you for your article.
Here is a question, what is the true meaning to be married pertaining to Jewish? Someone once asked, do you have to be married “by law”? Because Adam and Eve were not married by law. Someone said, it is not considered pre-marital sex if it is with someone who is commited to you and you accept each other and that does not require law to state that you are married. And the word fornication means sex with several partners, without commitment to marriage. Are all these statements true? Thank you so much.
I have been taught that the word Nicolaitans meant to rule over, such as the clergy laity system we have in our churches. It seems to fit though what you are saying. I appreciate your insites.
I am overwhelmed w/thanksgiving.
Thank you for making this studies available for me.I am grateful to God and you.The study is expositry and wonderful.
First of all-thank you and blessings over you for making these wonderful truths available. As I was reading and coming to…”so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols” I had a thought I have never considered. Obviously, this physical eating of idol sacrifices was the specific issue at hand but I suddenly thought of how we also entertain “idols” of all sorts in our lives without truly considering them idols. Maybe our station in life, our children, our work, even our studies-thereby “eating” (being satisfied) with that sustenance instead of Him. I believe I will set a watch over myself so I don’t fall into the trap of Pergamum and a “throne” I never intended to worship!
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Thank our GOD for you and others like you. You are an answer to a prayer of mine before our GOD to understand about the nicolaitans in this verse. May our GOD continue to use you the to teach the brothers and sisters around the world these deeper truths of righteousness that are before us but we are blinded sometimes until we get together with others of like faith in the GOD who was before all others. Hallelujah!!!
Glad to be of help 🙂
Blessed Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg,
As I recall how you told us about a similar cult in Jerusalem, (something totally unexpected) I wish to refer to this book review (https://creation.com/images/pdfs/tj/j24_1/j24_1_32-34.pdf )
as well as to a Northern–Chinese song. I beg you pardon me for not having learnt Chinese characters but rather put down in pinyin what I memorized (the first line being “Mang, mang wu ji lanside gu xiang” and may be familiar to your Chinese friends) : singing “kun peng nan yue guang mao de tu di” the husband of my tutor explained how the ‘kun peng’ was a mythical creature.
And of course I have never seen not can testify about living dragons!
Anyhow, Herodotus in his third volume of ”Historiae” (tr. Henry Clay, 1850, pp. 75-76.) “tell how these animals could sometimes be found in the Arabian spice groves. He describes their size, coloration, and reproduction. It seems that venomous flying serpents were infamous for living in frankincense trees.”
Shalom over Israel!
When I lived in Israel and encountered some…not all….Messianic Believers I was saddened that they had learned the ways of the gentiles and no longer observed Kashrut laws. I would talk with them about that and ask what they didn’t understand about God’s word which said they should observe these ‘laws’ forever….what does forever mean? I wish I had known then what Nicolaitans meant….it might have given them pause. I don’t mean this to be judgmental; Only God knows one’s heart and how or why someone chooses certain actions. For me this is a dire warning because I prescribe to the Hebrew Roots of my Christian faith. Today we are being more and more exposed to Halal meats in our grocery stores and restaurants. If the meaning of Nicolaitans is what you say, then it requires me to seek alternative sources for my meat purchases or do without. Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I say I observe Kosher, but really…… only in that I do not eat certain foods and do not combine meat and dairy. The meat is not actually kosher……so where do I stand with that???? Lots to think about. PS: I’m a new student currently taking The Jewish Origins of the New Testament. Love the course and all you are doing to further our understanding of the history and culture of First Century Christianity. Thank you!!
Dear Sheila, let’s keep thinking about these issues together! So glad you are enjoying the course. Blessings and much peace, Dr. Eli
Thank you VERY much, Dr. Eli, for your interesting insights and profound explanations. I visited Pergamum and saw the original steps of the Zeus Temple there (even took photos). I also visited the Pergamum Museum in Berlin where NOT the original steps can be seen but some of the original marble panels.
The structure of the temple looks like a giant ancient royal throne on which not only the king sat but also his wife(s?) and sometimes special guests to be honored by the king. So, I believe that the author of Revelation thought of this temple as “throne of Satan”. In the Asclepion I did not see anything that could suggest a throne of Satan – unless the Christian writer thought of the many images of snakes (symbol of the god Asclepios) whic might remind Jews and Christians of Genesis 3, of the temptation and the fall of Adam and Eve, caused by the Evil One = Satan.
Mrs. Sheila Dale, with your permission: God said forever to the jews, as He said, also, forever to the rechabites, not to the gentiles nor for the Crhistians. Jesus Christ, Himself, said to His follwers that he’s Lord of The Sabbath; that sabath was made to the man, not the man to the sabbath. Thank you for your attention.
Thank you, Sonia Suely, for your comments. It is what you said that is at the heart of my seeking to understand from a First Century perspective what God requires of me as a Believer in Yeshua (Jesus).
In my comments above, my interaction with the Messianic Believers was with Jews who now believe and accept Yeshua as their Messiah….for that reason it seemed they were still under the requirement of ‘forever’.
For me, way back in the l980’s ,way before I knew anything about a gentile movement we often call Messianic or Hebrew Roots, God convicted me that the foods he prescribed as clean and unclean were for me as well. When I was 6 years old and memorizing The Ten Commandments, I asked my mother why we didn’t go to church on Saturday….I already understood that the Jews worshipped on Friday night and Saturday and they called it the Sabbath. Unusual at that age…yes…but my mother listened to a radio station in Chicago, Illinois, that aired their Bible instructors’ teachings throughout the day. I got a ‘seminary’ teaching at a very young age!
Volumes have been written as to whether a gentile Believer is required to observe the Torah commandments. Peter’s vision of the unclean animals is later defined by him as referring to ‘men’. He puts together the three times he spoke with the Lord that he never ate unclean food with the announcement that three men were standing at the door wanting to talk with him. They were gentiles sent from the Centurion Cornelius.
Later the Council in Jerusalem made a determination that they required only four things from a Gentile Believer…..that included not eating things strangled, not eating blood (or maybe something else), not eating anything offered to idols, and finally, not to be involved in sexual impurity (fornication). BUT, they also went on to say that the gentiles would hear the Torah being taught in the synagogues. I ask myself if the Jerusalem Council set forth minimum standards and expected them to learn and grow as they heard the Torah being read and taught in the synagogues. For me, this is a plausible conclusion.
Later, Paul taught that love should be the overriding principle when dealing with that issue. Since fellowship with each other was dependent on eating meals together, I believe Paul was saying that we should not put a stumbling block in front of less mature believers. In fact, don’t make it a decisive or derisive issue. Make love for one another and the unity of the group your priority.
We are all on a journey….this is where I am today…..THANK YOU so very much for your comments. I had never heard of Rechabites so you have sparked my interest in that subject and group of people. : – )
Good morning Sista, I’m not understanding your commitment to the Christian faith yet are you like the Galatians? Paul taught that they were freed from the law and were not to put themselves back under the law. Peter received a word from Christ that all foods were ‘now’ acceptable and Paul taught that we are free to eat all meat because we know that there are no other gods to receive any sacrifices from anyone. We only needed to abstain if we were with someone a little (weaker) younger in the faith who had not yet learned of its freedom In Christ; because it may throw them for a loop, we were to set aside our freedom for that moment in deference to that brother and abstain from that meat for that meal with them. Our Messianic Brothers have not learned ‘the ways of the gentiles’, they have learned ‘The Way’ of Jesus. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, not male and female for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Gal. 3:28
Dear Renee Pearman….Shalom : – ) Thank you for your comments. I spent a whole afternoon a few days ago writing a reply to you, but with a new computer that I’m just getting used to the keyboard, etc., I would accidently end up deleting my several attempts at writing to you. I think it has to do with my settings but not familiar enough with Windows 8 to figure that out.
At any rate, I hope you will forgive me for not writing a direct reply to you this time, but I refer you to the reply I just posted to Sonia Suely. Although it doesn’t speak directly to the three main thoughts in your comments, I think it will give you a perspective I’m coming from at this time in my life.
THANK YOU for your comments, it caused me to re-read the Book of Galatians and also the chapters in Acts to consider my perspective at this time. It’s always good to review and see if there is a correction needed.
The Book of Galatians is a very difficult book to understand because we probably don’t understand the culture and people it is addressing. Since scripture can not contradict itself, we have to look at other books in the Bible to help us understand what Paul must be teaching there, and extra biblical sources to understand the cultural setting at that time.
In Gal. 3:28 I think Paul was emphasizing the ONENESS of the body of Christ, but oneness doesn’t mean ‘identical’ which could defer to the idea that gentiles are different so therefore are not required to observe certain ‘laws’. But considering other scriptures (see my reply to Sonia Suely) I think that emphasis is to encourage love among the brethren; unity not division. Jesus taught that He did not come to do away with the ‘law’….Torah, but that the summation or intent of the ‘law’ was to love your neighbor as yourself.
Well, I’m still learning and still open to consider other’s opinions.
Thank you again for taking time to reply…..as Dr. Eli says, “….let’s go on this journey together….”
This study has some good points, but since I have taught this section many times over the years, several additional things are fresh in my mind and some corrections.
1) The name of the city in the Greek NT is Pergamos, not Pergamum. Why is this important? Because as usual in such books as Revelation, this is very symbolic, “per” meaning the superlative of “gamos = married,” in other words, Pergamos is “thoroughly married” to paganism. Starting out as an Ekklesia = Messianic Kehilah (no “church” in the Bible, as “church” comes from kuriakon = pagan temple in NT times), Pergamos had degenerated into a Kehilah “thoroughly married to paganism.” The order of these Ekklesiai gives some credence to a historical progression……….
2) To try to interpret “Nicolaitans” as done below is pure guesswork. “Nicolaitans” is again interpreted by the meaning of the parts of the word: Nico coming from Nikao = to conquer or overcome, dominate and Laitans coming from Laos = the people of God. “Nicolaitans” were the earliest form of the Clergy dominating the Laity, creating a division in the Body of Messiah, which thing God hated! Rev 2:6 But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. Ephesus was commended by not allowing any Clergy to develop, while in Pergamos it had become established practice, probably showing a time period between. Rev 2:15 So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine (maintain the teaching and practice) of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. The historical result was and is the Clergy of the Roman Catholic Church who control the lives and salvation of their people, wrongly of course, but very heavy through the Middle Ages!! And nearly all churches follow this same clergy/laity separation in The Body, as well as many Messianic Kehilot!! There is good reason why Asia Pacific Messianic Fellowship does NOT have any Clergy!! All are Volunteers, no one paid, no titles, everyone on first-name basis in the Kehilah, as we are Brethren. Mat 23:8 But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.
3) Another word, Ethnos = people in general, a nation, or ethnic groups while Laos = the people of God.
4) I happen to have been Ordained in the Christian Church before I woke up and became Messianic about 25-30 years ago, but never in my 58 years as an overseas Missionary have I ever used any title, having observed at an early age the falseness of clergy and took to heart Matt 23 as well as Psalm 111:9: He sent redemption unto his people: he hath commanded his covenant for ever: holy and reverend is his name. Even the great preacher Spurgeon was against the title “Reverend so-and-so” as he relates in his commentary on the Psalms. Who are we to be revered?
Dear yilmar, I appreciate your post and thoughtful reflection and I am always happy to receive correction.
1) Pergamum is the proper name of the city in “English” which is the language of the articles on the blog. However it’s nominative Greek form is Pergamos, but if I use that too many people would not be sure what I am talking about. Just as Moses is not really Moses but Hebrew Mosheh, but that is not how most people who speak English know him. 🙂 As far as your assertion that the name of the city should be properly understood as “thoroughly married to Paganism” – you did not get that from the lexical meaning of Greek roots but from your own theological analysis and particular perspective. That is hardly objective. The city was called by this name long before John’s message. If you wish to say that this is what John (in particular) hints at in his writings, that would be fare. But that is not a provable fact of language, merely interpretive opinion.
2) Your perspective on Nicolaitans is no different then my explanation, a mere guess guided by theological bias. I admit that my interpretation is an inference taken from Hebrew and a slew of circumstantial texts that go along in my post. You interpret it “clergy dominating laity” but John’s letter is not a work of Protestant reformation. Let’s be fare and historical. There is not laity/clergy conflict in John’s day because there is officially no church yet. Don’t interpret the language of Acts in light of later history. The primary structures that became known as churches did not have hierarchy at that point. Assembly leaders did not go to seminaries then. “Clergy dominating laity” is a good theological interpretation, but it is grossly anachronistic and simply cannot be considered historically accurate. So sorry… you did not convince me. If I have to chose an educated guess, I will respectfully stick with mine. 🙂
There doesn’t need to be a “either/or” when looking at the name “Nicolaitans”. There might be several layers of meaning – both from Hebrew and from Greek.
Hebrew might point to the substance of their teaching (the origin) and Greek – to the clever evaluation – what it is that they are actually doing by insisting on their “freedom” to eat sacrificial meat.