Digging into the detail of this magnificent piece of literature, could become overwhelming. Amongst the dragons, devils, names and numbers, struggling to make sense of the seals, trumpets and bowls full of disaster and disease, the author chants the refrain:
“Are your ears awake? Listen. Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches. (Revelation 2:7, The Message)
He who has an ear, let him hear and heed what the Spirit says to the churches, in older translations. Are we hearing the voice? This is the purpose of our study. We might study Revelation many times in our life – I hope so – but for now, God is ready to speak, to intervene into your understanding and circumstances and lift you up to walk with Him. Praise Jesus for opening up the way into the Kingdom.
Pray with me: Lord Jesus, thank you for the Cross. Thank you for the magnificence and glory to which we are invited in You. Thank you for the honour of experiencing the Presence of our Father and thank you for your Breath, the Holy Spirit, who blows and breathes Your word into our hearts and minds to deeper understanding and fuller faith to drive out all fear and bondage. We submit to Your correction to be a worthy lampstand of Your light in this world. We will overcome by the Blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony.
Pergamum(os) – the compromising church
The third church addressed by John carries the name Pergamum = Latin or Pergamos = Greek. It was the greatest city in Asia Minor and the capital of the region for over 400 years. It had the most impressive library outside Alexandria (Egypt) and the inhabitants were used to visitors from all over the ancient world.
It is said that the word parchment is derived from the name of this city. Parchment is made of animal skins and legend has it that the King of Pergamum headhunted the librarian of Alexandria to extend his city’s library to be the very best in the world. The king of Egypt reacted by arresting the librarian and immediately blocked the export of papyrus to Pergamum. With nothing to write on, the scribes of Asia Minor, treated animal skin with tension and lime and thus used the more long lasting material for writing on, known as parchment. Other sources, however, state that parchment was used as far back as the fifth century BC, but the trade in parchment was dominated by Pergamum.
The image of Christ holds the two-edged sword in His hand. The Roman governors carried a short, tongue-shaped sword and held the power over life and death in Roman law enforcement. Christ is the ultimate judge over life and death. His Word is the judge – always fair and compassionate.
A dwelling place could have two meanings: a place where one resides permanently or a place where one is just passing through. The word used here is the one for passing through. Satan’s throne could refer to the Temple of Zeus in Pergamum with a huge sculpture of Zeus sitting on his throne, which depicts the Battle of the Giants, important in the mythology of the Roman gods. Also in Pergamum was the temple of Asclepios, the god of medicine with a serpent as symbol, built like a hospital. People with ailments often sacrificed in this temple in the hope of healing. Pergamum was also known for loyal Caesar-worship, making it truly Satan’s throne.
The word martyr originally meant witness. As so many of Christ’s witnesses were killed in the early church, the word came to depict only those who give their life for the Gospel. The church in Pergamum stayed faithful throughout a season of severe persecution and was given the honourary title of Christ, who was Himself a martyr of His message.
The church is warned, however, not to be permissive and compromise the purity and holiness of the truth. Balaam is the symbol of a stumbling block and the Nicolaitans seduce the church into a relaxing of moral purity and idolatry. Jesus speaks clearly and strongly against this. A Christian is to be different, distinct = hagios. In the world, Paul says:
To the weak I became [as the] weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means [in any and every way] save some [by leading them to faith in Jesus Christ]. (1 Corinthians 9:22, Amplified)
Paul did all this without compromising his moral purity. He stuck to his principles without acting high and mighty above everyone as religious hypocrisy so often portrays.
The road to purification is by the Word. The Holy Spirit convicts of sin and the invitation to salvation is open. God will come quickly means God is active in His church to convict and purify to open the way for blessing and growth. The hidden manna to the Jewish mind meant all the messianic blessings of the covenant. It is a feast of heavenly food. Jesus is the Bread of Life according to John 6:31-35. He gives Himself as our heavenly portion with all the blessings from God’s riches in Him.
In ancient times, stones were used as symbolic of precious gifts and the Jews associate it with manna from heaven. White and black stones were used to signal the verdicts of the juries in the legal process – white for life and black for death. In Roman society a Tessera stone, carried on the person, was a proof of privileges for winning at the games and for the benefits retired gladiators were to receive. In the Roman army a happy day was a white day, which is to be enjoyed as a day off while the army is locked in a siege and was decided by drawing beans. A pebble was often carried as a lucky charm with a sacred name of a god who could be summoned for help and was doubly effective when no one knew the name written on the stone carried in the pocket of a garment. John truly collected all the superstition and false hopes of the secular society in which the church served, to declare Christ as the answer to every question and search for hope ever.
The promise to the faithful and repentant is a new name. New could mean: neos – more of the same depicting quantity as in a new pencil but many others already exist or: –
kainos – unique, has never been, depicting quality as in one of a kind.
Revelation often talks about new in the sense of one of a kind:
new Jerusalem (3:12), new song (5:9) new heavens and new earth (21:1,5)
A person with a new name always acquired new status in God – Abram to Abraham, Jacob to Israel, Simon to Peter and Saul to Paul as examples.
The nations will see your righteousness and vindication [by God], and all kings [will see] your glory; and you will be called by a new name which the mouth of the Lord will designate.
Christ promises us new status, glory and favour to the faithful to distinguish us as unique and special.
Thyatira – the corrupt church
John writes the longest letter to the least important of the cities. Thyatira was situated in a valley connecting Pergamum and Sardis. As a city its location made it difficult to defend. It was a shrine to fortune telling in the region. Lydia, seller of purple (Acts 16:14) lived here. The city was well known for the trade guilds (societies of commerce with secrets and agreements) operating under the symbol of a patron deity. The guilds held banquets, more often than not drunken parties. The meat served at these meals was an issue for Christians. The meat was offered to the patron god. If Christians chose not to participate, the practical implication would be the cutting off of Christians from all social gatherings.
The image of Christ pictured is threatening like the description in Daniel 10:6. Anger and wrath are symbolized by bronze feet, which means immovable power. Son of God is His title of authority as the Most High.
The church is highly praised for love, service and faith. They have grown in labour to the Lord, a lovely compliment for a community.
The criticism against the church comes with a symbol of idolatry from the Old Testament. Jezebel was the wife of Ahab, one of the kings of Israel. When he married his Phoenician bride he built a temple for Baal worship in Samaria and brought idolatry into Israel. (1 Kings 16:29-31). At that time, ancient nations believed their gods to be territorial and even the Israelites, backslidden as they were, believed Baal should stay in Phoenicia. It was only during the exile in Assyria and Babylon that God’s people recognized His omni-presence away from the promised land. Jezebel’s name is used symbolically for false prophecy and idolatry leading people astray, hence her depiction as the harlot queen. She is a symbol of compromise.
Condemnation to this church is in the form of a sick bed. A bed-ridden church cannot function and will be rendered ineffective until repentance can heal and restore.
Worship to false gods was often symbolized by adultery as in the book of Hosea. He had to marry a prostitute, who often betrayed his love. He constantly had to win her back and stay true to his faithful love for her, to portray God’s unfailing love for us even when we backslide into unfaithfulness and sin. Adultery to false prophecy and deception will be revealed by Jesus because nothing is hidden from His sight. He searches the hearts and minds and His Spirit opens our eyes to lies, even religious lies.
And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:13)
Depths of Satan describe the despair of the people who have been led into deception. God sees this and always rescues the remnant (2:25). The stand against false doctrine is often persecution within the church community. We need to hold fast and study His word. One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is the discernment of spirits. (1 Corinthians 12:10) God promises wisdom without reproach to all who ask. (James 1)
The church is challenged and urged to repent. Repentance is always the remedy to clear the way for reward. A repentant church will share in the victory of Christ, as He was promised in Psalm 2:8,9 to receive the heritage of the nations. The morning star is one of the names of Jesus. He is the ultimate reward – the dawning of a new day, the first resurrection and the conqueror of Lucifer. Lucifer was called the morning star before his fall from heaven. Christ is the true Morning Star. We, the church, are the wise and shall shine like stars. (Daniel 12:3)
And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:19 -21)