The third letter was written to the church at Pergamos, or Pergamum. Today, the site of this ancient city can be found in Turkey, deep in the heart of an Islamic country. Back in the first century, however, the influence of Islam was still 500 years from being conceived. Back then, it was a pagan country.
The church at Pergamos that Y’shua (Jesus) told the apostle John to write to concerning the things that were to take place, was in the heartland of paganism. A little research will tell you that not only was it the place where Emperor worship began and had its headquarters, but also that when the city of Babylon fell, around a century before the coming of the Christ, Pergamos became the city in which the high priest of the Babylonian mysteries resided. It was at Pergamos that worship of the sun-god (Baal) and the moon-goddess (Ashtoreth) was most prevalent. And, it should be no suprise that endless other false gods were also worshipped there, including Zeus, the so-called king of the gods.
In fact, until 1901 when German engineer, Carl Humann, moved it in its entirety to what is now called the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, there stood at Pergamos, a huge structure known as the Altar of Zeus. It may interest you to know that alongside this monstrous alter to Zeus, the museum also contains a full reconstruction of what is known as the Ishtar Gate from the city of Babylon itself. It is well documented that Hitler became obsessed with these two monuments during in time in power, and sought ways of enhancing supernatural powers from them.
In setting the stage for this letter and its contents it is also very important to explain that when the priests of the ancient Babylonian mysteries fled Babylon and set up in Pergamos, they took not only their paraphernalia with them, but also a title. Whoever was in charge of these mysteries was called Pontiff, which means ‘high priest‘. When the last king of Pergamos, Pontiff Attalus III, died in 133 BC, he bequeathed his full title Pontifex Maximus to the pagan Roman emperors. Later, when Emperor Constantine supposedly converted to Christianity, he decided to keep hold of the title, despite its pagan origins. If you like a detailed account of how paganism and Christianity morphed into Catholicism, I recommend that you spend some time watching The Fuel Project’s excellent series entitled ‘Know You Enemy’, particularly Part 20 – The Pergamos Detour. You can watch it for free on YouTube here.
I hope that this brief introduction will help expand your understanding of the contents of the letter written to the church at Pergamos.
Pergamos represents (at least) four aspects of Christianity. Firstly, it was clearly a church from the first century AD which was situated in ancient city that had a diabolical past. Secondly, it is also representative of a particular period in overall church history than spanned between (approximately) AD 300 and AD 600. This is often referred to as the State Church Age. I will endeavour to offer an explanation to that title shortly. Thirdly, it represents a type of church that can be found active in these last days. And, fourthly, it describes a kind of believer that can be found in today’s churches.
As with both Ephesus and Smyrna, this letter is addressed to the angel of the church in Pergamos. Please don’t allow yourself to be decieved with thinking that where it says ‘angel’ that Y’shua really meant ‘pastor’. The opening salutation shows that not to be the case. Besides, from what I know of God, whenever He writes angel, He means angel.
“These are the words of Him who has the sharp double-edged sword.” [Revelation 3:12 NIV]
Only an angel would understand this remark. Whilst we might lay claim to some concept of it, an angel who had stood in the presence of God would have seen it firsthand. Letters from this period frequently start with an explanation of who is writing. Today, we have a tendency to only do that at the end of the letter. Y’shua wanted the angel to know exactly who was talking, and so revealed His true identity in a way that only a being who could see into the heavenly or spiritual realm could grasp.
He then moves on to talking to the congregation:
“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.” [verse 13]
This is the good part of the letter; the things that they have going in their favour. In the first two churches of The Seven, I have described this part as Y’shua responding to their prayers. He has a balance scale before Him and when we have things in our favour they go in one side of the balance – the good side.
Here, Y’shua acknowledges that he knows just how grim things are on the ground. The city where Satan himself lives and has his throne. It is important for all Christians to remember that Satan isn’t God. Nor is He like God. He is a fallen angel who thought he would like to be God. He is not omnipotent – that is, he can’t be in more than one place at any one time. You will often hear Christians claiming that Satan has been troubling them. In truth, it is highly unlikely to be Satan. My suspicion is that right now he is probably in Syria or Moscow or Rome, trying to influence those who respond to his empty promises. But, back then when the church of Pergamos received this letter from Y’shua, he was living at his headquarters in that city.
This city was the headquarters of every false religion that stood opposed to the Living God. And Satan was there to manage it. We know little of the details of the death of Antipas, but just imagine being part of a church in this city. Imagine witnessing one of your fellow believers being killed for what he believed. Y’shua describes him as a faithful witness, meaning that he stood firm until the end. And Y’shua commends them too for not renouncing their faithfulness to Him. This would have been a very tough place to be.
“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. Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolatians.” [verses 14-16]
But, despite their commendation for holding true to His name, Y’shua has two very significant things to place in the other side of their scale that clearly outweigh the good side.
This is a church divided by doctrines. And no wonder, when you consider where they were situated – right in Satan’s heartland. The influences of paganism were all around, and some within their number were clearly taken by the so-called teaching of Balaam.
Balaam’s place in history rests way back when the Hebrews had crossed the Red Sea and before they had entered the Promised Land. Moses had led the Hebrews into two memorable victories over two kings from the Amorites and from Bashan. When they made camp in the valley of Moab, the Moabite king, Balak, sent for Balaam to come and place a curse on God’s people. Balaam, despite not being a Hebrew, knew how to come before God, and knew how to harness the power of God’s spoken word in order to deliver either blessing or curse. How he knew this, we don’t know but it is clear from the account found in the book of Numbers, that he knew how to move in supernatural power, and he charged for his services. Please take the time to read the account as it will furnish you with a good foundation for understanding not only Hebrew history, but also what deception can often look like in today’s church. You can find it in Numbers chapters 22-24, and the subsequent result in chapter 25.
Just as God expected the Hebrews to keep themselves separate from the peoples of Canaan, so too does He expect those who follow Him, not to be unfaithful to Him with other gods. Balaam didn’t teach the Hebrews to intermarry and to sacrifice to idols. But he taught Balak that if they did these things, God’s curse would be upon them. Y’shua was telling the church at Pergamos that there were some amongst them who were allowing themselves to be led astray and who were dabbling with false religions.
Y’shua was not only reprimanding this church for absorbing Balaam’s teaching; He also tells them that some of them were holding to the teaching of the Nicolatians.
Now, there is some small confusion over who the Nicolatians were exactly. One theory is that they originated from a small sect that broke away from the early church. It is possible that the Nicholas who formed this breakaway sect was the same one we see chosen to assist the apostles in Acts chapter six. It is possible that his promotion caused him to think more highly of himself than he ought, because the practices and teachings of the Nicolatians were based upon high office bringing the right to satisfy the desires of the flesh. Amongst them, sexually immorality and other unrestrained indulgences were common.
In using the examples of both Old Testament Balaam and the Nicolatians of the New Covenant era, Y’shua was warning not only this church at Pergamos, but believers everywhere that deception easily finds its way in where hearts are not devoted exclusively to God.
Y’shua’s warning that follows His condemnation of them is stark:
“Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.” [verse 16]
Without them repenting and closing down deceptive teachings, Y’shua warns that He will come to them and root out those who follow false doctrines and fight them with His words. Please note, that with His word alone God created everything. That is a battle that no man will want to fight.
Note also that repentance can redress the balance of His scales. It is essential that we keep very short accounts with God. You will never want to get such a warning from Y’shua, so don’t leave repenting of any sin for too long.
The final part of the letter to the church at Pergamos, like the other six letters, is actually a message to all Spirit led believers in all churches, past, present, and future.
I am not going to go into the meanings of these rewards for overcoming here, but will deal with that in a separate paper. But, understand this:
Y’shua, during His ministry on earth used a similar phrase to the one used at the end of each letter.
“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.” [verse 17]
Here, Y’shua is talking to those who can understand the Spirit of God. These are people that the Holy Spirit has revealed Himself to and opened their ears that they might understand some of these mysteries. The ending of each of the seven letters is to ‘the churches’, plural. The rewards for overcoming; for remaining faithful, are varied and open to all.
As I said earlier, Pergamos doesn’t only represent a 1st century church. It also represent a period in overall church history. This is often referred to as the State Church Age, because the main body of the church merged with the state. You could call this main body, the visible church. The true, or invisible church, is those who remained faithful to God’s word. Believe me, it was never God’s intention for His followers to integrate the church with the state.
In AD 313 the Emperor Constantine issued what is known as the Edict of Tolerance. This edict stated that Christians must no longer be persecuted, but instead accepted. He claimed conversion to Christianity, but failed to renounce his title of Pontifex Maximus. He merged paganism and Christianity by telling the masses that they should continue to worship their existing pagan idols but, under his new religion, the names of the gods had changed to the names of famous dead Christians. The state became the mechanism that controlled the church itself. It started to appoint bishops of the state’s choice and not God’s. Revenues raised by churches to do good became the property of the state. You can see where all this was leading, can’t you?
For the previous two centuries, the true church had survived fierce persecutions by worshipping the true God in secret and still managing to spread the good news. But now, under this new accord, Christianity was legitimised by Rome. Emphasis upon faith and works befitting repentance, were replaced with ritual based legalism, and the invisible church carried on, in secret, away from the public spectacle.
Today, we can see Pergamos as a type of church where the organisation is merged with the state, corrupting its core values of a life led by the Spirit of God. The Anglican Communion is just one example of a Pergamos ‘type’ of church, with Archbishops appointed by government. Across the globe, this type of church has thrived because it allowed wrong teaching to infiltrate its core beliefs, just as Y’shua warned the Pergamos church of the first century against.
And, if you look around today’s visible church, regardless of what type they might be, you will find a kind of believer within each one that fits the description of Pergamos. Today, deception is widespread. So much so, and so convincing is it, that we accept as truth that which is not. The Pergamos kind of believer will always flirt with these false doctrines, looking for supernatural mysteries that might entice their fleshy desires. It is for this reason that the true church must stay true. True to the teachings only of Y’shua and His Holy Spirit. If what you are being taught does not completely direct you to a deeper revelation of who Y’shua truly is, then that teaching must be questioned.
Now, just as then, the message from Y’shua is exactly the same – tolerating deceptions will lead to His judgement. Now, more than ever, we need to be vigilant against allowing anything in to our churches that would steer us away from a deeper revelation of Y’shua or a closer walk with God.