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.
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Just a note to say thank you. I have just joined today and am so excited about what is to come. To just think of all that I have to look forward to and the wonderful teachings i that are to come. This chance to be able to learn so much more of all that came from the people who became Gods Chosen that led to the fulfilling of a multitude of prophecy’s. If not for Israel there would be no Christian faith and the bond between the two is undeniable and beautiful. Thank you once more for this opportunity.
I am having a hard time reconciling this with your previous posting on the Nicolaitanes. v 14 says “But I have a FEW things against you…” and it goes on “because thou hast them that hold the doctrine of Balaam…Balak..to eat things sacrificed unto idols…” v 15 “so hast thou ALSO them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes..” If the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes was “we will eat”, then the verses would read “I have a FEW things against you..because thou hold the doctrine..to eat things sacrificed unto idols..so hast thou ALSO them that hold the doctrine of “we will eat”. Both of them seem to be same thing not a “few”. I am wondering if the reference to Balaam & Balak from Numbers 22-25 have to do with Balaam being a spiritist or medium and dealing with divinations and enchantments. And/or that Balaam wanted Balak to curse Israel and/or that Balaam died fighting against Israel by the side of his Midianite allies; Balaam’s people being Ammonites and that Balak was the king of the Moabites? Or even that Balaam wanted a kingdom for himself? Any one or all of the above would NOT have been looked upon favorably by G-d. Obviously, the brazen attitude of “we will eat” possibly “[unclean] things sacrificed to idols” would be bad and forbidden but I think there is something else here besides “eating” and it does say “I have a ‘few’ things against you”.
I c. Thanks, Susan. Let’s keep thinking together on this one.
I always remember reading a book by Richard Wurmbrand years ago in which he claimed a Swedish newspaper had claimed the Pergamum altar had been taken to the USSR after the war and he suggested it was being used in satanic worship by the senior communists. It seems it stayed in Berlin the whole time.
Thank you Dr. Eli, For showing the light on this part rev 2:2-6 because it is very interesting, I thought Satan and Zeus are only one.
I did an in-depth (for me) study of the seven churches mentioned in Revelation for a women’s bible study group a year ago, and am happy to see that I didn’t miss the mark in my understanding of it by too much according to your presentation of it. I have always been most thankful of the many times the LORD says “Therefore repent” even after listing all the terrible things we, as humans, do in our sins against Him. Old and New Testament are so filled with His merciful ways! Thank you for your teachings. I am enjoying them so much. Shalom!
I find the use of the double-edge sword interesting. The symbol itself seems to be neutralized (both positive & negative uses). A great way to search the heart :) One question —why does the text say “my faith” vs “your faith”? (“and you did not deny my faith” / “You did not renounce your faith in me). I am not sure how to read that.
Thank You Lord for this! This just made me feel not so alone in my thoughts today. I needed this. Shalom <3 <3 <3
Exodus 26:31 Exodus 36:35
Hebrews 4:12 Hebrews 10:20
Vers 2:12 can be seen as the center of one of the main streams of revelation in Scripture. The aim of Satan to sit on the throne and the ultimate fulfilment of Divine judgements on the old serpent, as pronounced in Gen. 3:15: “ The seed of the woman shall bruise the serpents’s head”. The seed of the woman revealed as the powerful overcoming tho-edged sword, The Word of God, Jesus Christ (Hebrew 4:12; Rev.1:16; Rev. 3:12; Rev.19:13-16). I think there is a meaningful connection between the flaming sword of the cherubim at the East of The Garden of Eden to keep and guard the way to the tree of life, the cherubs skillfully worked with cherubim the veil to keep and guard the way to the Holy of Holies (the veil the flesh of the living Word Hebrew 10:20), the judgmental sword out in the mouth of the King the Kings (Rev. 19:13-16) to free the way to the New Jerusalem.