I must confess right off that I created the title ‘Jesus’ Letter to us Bergamites’ to pique your interest.
Revelation Chapters Two and Three record seven letters that Jesus dictated to seven existing churches in Turkey. The third letter was to the church of Pergamum, but the modern name for that city is Bergama. In addition, all seven letters address issues and conditions found in today’s church. So his letter to Pergamum AKA Bergama is equally to us.
You will find the letter in Revelation 2:12-17 and it reads as follows:
12) “To the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. 13) I know where you live — where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city — where Satan lives. 14) Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality. 15) Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16) Repent, therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. 17) He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it”.
What the name means
Each of the names of the seven churches has significance. For instance, the first letter was to Ephesus which means ‘desirable one’ and it is to a church that in many ways was a model church, but which had lost its first love. Pergamum means ‘Married’ and is a combination of two Greek words, ‘Per’ meaning ‘wholly’, and ‘Gamos’ meaning ‘wedded’. This gives us an immediate clue to the condition Jesus addresses… I will leave this hanging for the moment but it will become obvious shortly.
In this letter, the Lord Jesus draws on the symbolic portrayal of himself in Chapter One where he is described as having a sharp double-edged sword coming out of his mouth. We don’t need to leave scripture at all to determine the meaning of this. In Revelation 2 verse 16 Jesus refers to a particular section of the congregation with the words: “Repent, therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth”. Then Revelation 19:15 describes Jesus Christ as a warrior king striking down the ‘nations’ with the sword from his mouth. In Ephesians 6:15 the Apostle Paul writes about ‘the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God’. Finally, Hebrews 4:12 has, ‘For the Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword’.
So, the sharp double-edged sword coming out of Jesus’ mouth is symbolic of the Word of God, which is in essence the bible, and more specifically, the Lord’s words as conveyed by the scriptures. It is this Word of God, which defines, judges, and corrects error in doctrine and lifestyle.
Revelation 2 v13 records Jesus saying, “I know where you live, where Satan has his throne.” Later he speaks of “your city where Satan lives’. Here is where secular and religious history helps us to understand what Jesus meant by this. Pergamum was a centre of Emperor Worship, for in those times the Roman Emperor liked to be thought of as a god. In addition, the city contained temples to Dionysus, the god of wine and revelry, Athena, Demeter, and Zeus. The city was built at the foot of a great conical hill and halfway up that hill was the altar to Zeus. It looked like a giant throne and it belched the smoke of its sacrifices day and night.
However, the chief god of Pergamum was AEsuclapius, the serpentine god of healing and enlightenment, and his emblem featured on their city flag: It was a snake wrapped around a pole. This serpent god was said to have died and been resurrected and he was renowned, or I should say notorious, for his occult gifts of healing and enlightenment. Apparently, Pergamum was the world seat of Satan-worship after the cult moved there from Babylon.
Now, where have we encountered this slippery customer before? In the Garden of Eden of course, where Satan appeared to Eve as a serpent at the foot of the ‘tree of the knowledge of all things’. He promised her enlightenment and god-like status if she would only obey him.
This malign being is still active in the world of our day and he is still offering “enlightenment.” Demonic healing is his greatest enticement to believe his dark doctrines – as it was in the days of Pergamum, so it is today.
The second half of verse 13 describes how most of the members of the church of Pergamum did not lose their faith or deny the name of Jesus despite the insidious satanic infection within their body. A man named Antipas had paid with his life for resisting the cult of AEsculapius.
What’s in a Name?
Verses 14 and 15 go on to address the heretics in the congregation. Jesus equates them to Balaam and then labels them as Nicolaitans. It seems that these are just two names describing the same group. The word Balaam can be broken down into two Hebrew words meaning ‘the people’ and ‘conquer’. The word Nicolatia can similarly be broken down into two Greek words meaning exactly the same thing. Both constructs describe a group within the church who were seeking to overcome the members.
Now a little Old Testament context. Balaam was the priest whom King Balak employed to curse the Israelites who were encroaching on his territory as they journeyed towards the Promised Land. God had prohibited Balaam from doing this, but when the king put pressure on him, he disclosed another way to conquer the Israelites. Balak should conscript the most desirable young women from among his people, and instruct them to seduce the Israelite men. They were to marry them and bring their idols and pagan worship rites into the very camp of Israel. These pagan religious practices featured banquets where participants ate food dedicated to idols and engaged in illicit sexual acts. In his letter to the church, Jesus described Balaam as ‘enticing to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality’.
Fast Forward to Today
In ancient Israelite times and in the days of Pergamum, the infiltration of the satanically enabled world into the church took the form of idol worship and orgies, but in our day it is a lot more subtle. Here are some of the infiltration tactics used today to weaken the church:
- An ‘easy to believe’ Gospel, sometimes known as Hyper-Grace. God loves you too much to change you and Jesus has dealt with all your past, present, and future sin. So, just believe this and live in his blessing.
- Business strategies that appeal to a consumerist society and position the church to attract people to their offerings.
- Compromised values regarding marriage, gender, sexual behaviour, and being WOKE.
- Acceptance of relative rather than absolute truth where anyone’s opinion can carry as much authority as the Word of God.
- New Age healing practices and philosophies including occult signs and wonders.
- The deadly mantra of ‘Jesus is good but not God’.
The call to the cultic sect in the church of Pergamum is the same as it is to such members in our churches – Repent! The simplest way of understanding this command is… Stop what you are doing, turn around, and return to pure devotion to Jesus.
The Lord Jesus never brings judgement without at the same time promising reward to those who heed his voice and obey. This is what he promises:
Vs 17) “I will give some of the hidden manna”. This is a reference to the bread-like manna that appeared on the desert floor to sustain the Israelites on their journey. Jesus is the living bread from heaven. He is our sustenance and life. He also said, “I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.” White stones constituted entrance tickets to those invited to the orgies of AEsalapius. The stones likely bore his symbol of a serpent wrapped around a pole. However, God invites all who are true to the name of Jesus to the great wedding feast of the Lamb in heaven. Revelation 10:9 reads, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to attend the wedding supper of the Lamb’. This supper is prefigured by what we call The Lords Table, or Holy Communion.
You, of course, know the name inscribed on the white stone given to true believers? Yes, the name is… Jesus!