Revelation 2:10-11 The Church of Smyrna were told to be faithful until death, and they would receive the crown of life. The crown is eternal life, and perseverance proves their faith as they endure suffering. Jesus has no reprimand for the faithful church at Smyrna. Those who prove the genuineness of their faith by remaining faithful to the Lord until death will receive as their reward the crown of life (James 1:12). The Scriptures teach that true Christians will persevere (Matthew 10:22; John 8:31; Colossians 1:21–23).
The phrase “He who has an ear”…closes each of the seven letters and emphasizes our responsibility to obey it. The promise to he who overcomes is that he will not be hurt by the second death. Though persecuted believers may suffer the first (physical) death, they will never experience the second death that is not annihilation but conscious, eternal suffering in hell; Revelation 20:14; 21:8).
Revelation 2:12-15 Today’s user-friendly, seeker-oriented, market-driven church doesn’t speak much against worldliness. But the Bible teaches that worldliness is a serious sin. As part of our priestly work we are not to be conformed to the world but transformed by the renewing of our minds” (Romans 12:2; James 1:27; James 4:4; 1 John 2:15–17).
The church at Pergamum was very much like today’s church failing to heed the biblical warnings against worldliness. This is the next step that follows the path of the Ephesian church losing its first love.
Once again the Writer identifies Himself in this case as the One who has the sharp two-edged sword this was already mentioned as a characteristic of Yeshua in Revelation 1:16, which refers to the Word of God (Hebrews 4:12). Paul used the metaphor in Ephesians 6:17, to describe the Word’s power in exposing the thoughts of the heart. This description pictures Jesus as judge and executioner (Revelation 19:15).
Pergamum was being warned of imminent judgment because of its worldliness by compromising with the world. This spirit of compromise came to the Church under the emperor Constantine when he issued the Edict of Milan in 313 AD, granting religious freedom to the Christians which ended 250 years of persecution. He adopted Christianity and made it the favored religion of the empire. This began the process of syncretism that weakened the church.
When Satan could not destroy the church he joined it and polluted it, this was the Lord was referring to in the parable of the wheat and tares (Matthew 13:24 ff).
Like the church of Smyrna the church at Pergamum was was founded during Paul’s ministry in Ephesus. Pergamum was about 100 miles north of Ephesus, with Smyrna located about halfway in between. Unlike Ephesus and Smyrna, Pergamum was not a port city but located about fifteen miles inland from the Aegean Sea. Nor was it on any of the major trade routes. Yet, as its ancient capital, Pergamum was considered Asia’s greatest city because it was built on a large hill towering one thousand feet above the plains surrounding it. It house a huge library that was second only to that of Alexandria.
Because the library, Pergamum was an important center of culture and learning as well as a religious center where there were four temples dedicated to Athena, Asklepios, Dionysos, and Zeus. But the primary worship was emperor worship. Pergamum built the first temple devoted to emperor worship in Asia (29 B.C.), in honor of Emperor Augustus. Christians throughout the empire were in danger on the one day per year they were required to offer sacrifices to the emperor; but in Pergamum they were in danger every day. It is likely that this was the reason Antipas (Revelation 2:13) was executed for refusing to worship the emperor.
Jesus commended them for holding fast His name even though they lived where Satan’s throne is. There are many suggestions as what is being referred to as Satan’s throne. Some suggest this is a reference to the altar of Zeus at the Pergamum acropolis. Others connect Satan’s throne with the worship of the god Asklepios who was the god of healing. People came from all over to Pergamum, seeking to be healed. Asklepios was depicted as a snake, and nonpoisonous snakes roamed freely in his temple. It was believed that if one was touched by one of these snakes (symbolically representing the god himself) he would be healed. Still others suggest that this refers to emperor worship. It was for their refusal to worship the emperor, not the pagan gods, that Christians faced execution. Satan’s throne then could be a reference to Caesar as the ” god of this world ” (2 Corinthians 4:4).
Despite the persecution and suffering they endured, the believers at Pergamum continued to hold fast the name of Jesus, and did not deny the faith. They maintained their faith even in the days of Antipas, who was killed among them. Antipas was probably one of the leaders of the Pergamum church.
According to tradition, he was roasted to death inside a brass bull during the persecution initiated by Emperor Domitian.
While many in the church today make light of doctrine, and biblical and theological error are viewed as unimportant the Lord rebuked the Church at Pergamum for this failure. They failed to obey the biblical mandate to practice church discipline (Matthew 18:15-18 ). Two heresies were being tolerated at Pergamum, one associated with the teaching of Balaam (Numbers 22-25). Balak with Balaam’s counsel put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality (Numbers 25; 31:16). The similar false teaching at Pergamum was mixing with the pagan worship (Jude 10–11) as Peter spoke 2 Peter 2:15-16. Believers are warned about the same sin (2 Corinthians 6:14-17). We are similarly warned (James 4:4; 1 Peter 2:11).
A second heresy was rooted in the teaching of the Nicolaitans. The Nicolaitans derived their name from Nicholas, one of the seven men chosen to oversee the distribution of food in Acts 6 . Whether he or his followers went astray is not known. They taught that Believers were not in any way under the law and were free to do all things including immorality and idolatry. The majority of the believers at Pergamum did not participate in the errors of either group.
They were loyal Yeshua and the faith. But by tolerating the groups and refusing to exercise church discipline, they shared in their guilt, which brought the Lord’s judgment. They were told to repent a word used in Scripture to describe a change of mind that results in a change of behavior. So serious a matter is it that if they fail to repent of failure to discipline, that He would make war with them. Sinning believers should be made to feel miserable in both fellowship and worship by being confronted with the Word of God.
The Lord concludes His letter counsel and encouragement. Once again the phrase he who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches stresses the importance of these words and our responsibility to hear and heed them. The one who heeds and overcomes will receive from Him some of the hidden manna (Exodus 16:14ff).
A jar of manna was placed inside the Ark of the Covenant. The hidden manna is a picture of Jesus who is the Bread of Life who came down from heaven (John 6:48–51). He provides spiritual strength for those who put their faith in Him. There are many opinions about the white stone symbolizes. Some associate it with the Urim and Thummim on the breastplate of the high priest which were used to determine God’s will (Exodus 28:15,30; Leviticus 8:8;Numbers 27:21;Deuteronomy 33:8). According to this view, by this white stone God promises the overcomers knowledge of His will.
Probably the white stone referred to the Roman custom of awarding white stones to the victors in athletic contests. A white stone, inscribed with the athlete’s name, served as his ticket to a special awards banquet. In this way it is related to the eternal victory celebration in heaven. There will be a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it. The new name and the stone will serve as our pass into eternity. The church at Pergamum faced the same choice every church faces. It could repent and receive the blessings of eternal life and glory of heaven or refuse and experience the same discipline that Israel has experienced.