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Part 6 - PERGAMOS


Rev 2:12 "To the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword.

Rev 2:13 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.

Rev 2:14 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.

Rev 2:15 Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.

Rev 2:16 Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.

Rev 2:17 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.

Our Lord identifies himself to it as the one having "the sharp, doubled-edged sword." The Word of God coming from his lips is double-edged; it cuts two ways. It cuts down the enemies and it cuts the evil within the church. God is no respecter of persons. He cuts down evil and sin wherever it is seen. Both ways - within and without. This Church had enemies outside in the world and within the church was heresy and evil practices.

Now we take a ride 60 miles north to the interior of Asia Minor to the place called Pergamum or Pergamos. This was once the capital of Asia before it was shifted to Ephesus. Pergamos was an ancient Greek city (an Arcadian colony) built around a hill north of river Kaikos, four kilometers away from the sea. Pergamos experienced high growth during the successors of Alexander the Great. King Lysimahos deposited his treasures there and assigned Fileretos to be their guardian. After the death of Lysimahos (283 BC), Fileretos became the autonomous ruler of the city. His brother Attalos founded the Kingdom of Pergamos. The Attalian Dynasty ruled the Kingdom for approximately 150 years and, during this era, Pergamos grew into a glorious and important city, alongside the then flourishing cities of Alexandria and Antiochia. It was an important trade, industrial, scientific and art center. Pergamos fell into the Roman hands in 133 BC. The Arabs conquered and looted the city in AD 716 and Tamerlane looted it in 1401. The city lost its splendor and fell into ruins. In 1675 there were no more than 20 Christian families. During the 1821 Hellenic Revolution in which this city took part devasted the city further.

Jesus says that this is the location of the "throne of Satan." And it was. It was the capital of the Roman province of Asia, and was famed for its site on a 1000 foot hill which held its acropolis, dedicated to Zeus, Athena, Dionysus and Asclepius (around which centered a cult dedicated to medicine), and it also was the center of the Imperial cult, the worship of Augustus Caesar.

This was an intellectual city with a city library holding over 20,000 volumes, second only to the ancient library of Alexandria at that time. The word ‘parchment’ actually comes from the city’s name Pergamos. Pliny says that it was invented in the second century BC in Pergamum; hence the term `parchment' from the Latin pergamena - `of Pergamum'. Skin had been used as a writing material before in several other countries. But the refined methods of cleaning and stretching so that the parchment can be scribed on both sides of a leaf , leading eventually to the making of the manuscript rolls by the binding the leaves to form a book was new. Vellum is a parchment made from the delicate skins of young animals and the superior quality ones were made specially from unborn or still born baby animals.

Not far from the City was the center of worship of Zeus - the temple at Olympia in the state of Elis in Peloponnesus. In the center of the worship of the Acropolis in the city stood the Temple of Athena and on top of the mountain 800 feet above the plain led by a long flight of steps stood the imposing altar of Zeus over a 100 feet square land. It was another of world’s Seven Wonders of the ancient world.. It was here that the Olympic games started . The temple of Zeus housed a colossal gold and ivory statue of Zeus, made by Pheidias of Athens in the fifth century BC. The statue was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Antiochus IV made a temple for Apollo at Daphne, near Antioch using the same pattern and dimensions. Pausanius provides a description of the statue of Zeus and the temple area at Olympia. Pausanius says a woolen curtain, of eastern design, "adorned with Assyrian weaving and Phoenician purple", was dedicated to Zeus at Olympia by Antiochus IV. Some scholars believe that the curtain was taken from the temple in Jerusalem, when Antiochus plundered its treasures in BC 530. The columns were made of Pentelic marble, in the Corinthian style. This enormous structure, the largest temple in Greece, was finally completed by the Emperor Hadrian three centuries later, in the 2nd century AD. Its ruins can be still seen.

Pergamum was also the center for the worship of Serpent god Aesculapius - the god of medicine. Pergamum had the greatest physicians of that time. We still have the intertwined serpent symbol for medicine - though it is now being gradually replaced by the red cross symbol. Until a few decade ago the medical symbol was the intertwined serpent called Aschelpion.

Satan can heal - for a price.

The Seven Wonders of the World

The usual list consists of (1) the Pyramids; (2) the Hanging Gardens of Babylon; (3) the Statue of Zeus at Olympia; (4) the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus (5) the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus; (6) the Colossus of Rhodes; and (7) the Lighthouse at Alexandria. The Greek/Hellenistic ones (all but 1 & 2) date from the late 5th century BC through to the late 3rd BC, and three of these (4, 5, 6) are near to the coast of southern Turkey. Crudely, we might say that all these monuments are in the list because of their great size and enormous cost. Difficulty overcome is an additional criterion in the case of the Temple of Artemis (the swampy site) and the Colossus of Rhodes (its height), whilst artistic value singles out the Statue of Zeus at Olympia and the Mausoleum.

Made with black marble house the Altar of the Serpent which is referred to in the letter as the Throne of Satan.

On a coin of Septimus Severus, the altar at Pergamum is depicted, covered by a baldachin, or canopy, supported by four columns.

Evidently, Pergamos was the center of a satanic cult of the ancient world. Many scholars think that the "Seat of Satan" refers to the great altar of Zeus which was on the hillside overlooking the city. The seat itself was a great chair, or throne, forty feet high kept high up at the center of the structure to be seen by any one. A famous tourist book by Bedecker mentions, in a section dedicated to Berlin, that since 1944, the Altar of Pergamos was placed in one of Berlin's museums after it was excavated by German archeologists. For 100 years Satan's throne has been in East Berlin. If that has any connection with the rise of Hitler and the Nazis I leave to you to judge. But East Berlin is also where Hitler's headquarters were located. The Swedish paper "Swenska Dagbladet" reported on January 27, 1948 that after capturing Berlin, the Soviet Army removed the original Satanic altar to Moscow. However the altar did not appear in the museum for a long time. When the Architect Schusev, built Lenin's tomb, he took the Pergamos altar as the prototype for his structure. The archeologist Federicc Paulson assisted him with details. This was in 1924.

"Thou holdest fast my name", is another version which some people consider is given more in a tone of reproach than commendation. The word Pergamos means "much married". From the same root we get the words monogamy and bigamy, polygamy etc.. Just as an unfaithful wife continues to hold her husband’s name, the churches were flirting with the world and other religions while professing to be Christians. However the interpretation seems to me as far fetched. Jesus is commending the great strength of faith at least some of the Christians showed in the midst of such Satanic cults.

The church here had a tough time. We do not know much about Antipas except by orthodox tradition. According to this tradition this saint lived during the reign of emperor Dometian in 83 AD He was contemporary with the Apostles. Antipas was consecrated bishop of Pergamos by the Apostle John. When he was old , he was caught by the idolaters of Pergamos. The demons, whom they worshipped, appeared to them and told them that they could neither live in that place nor accept their sacrifices because Antipas was forcing them out. So, Antipas was brought to the governor, who tried to convince him that older things are much more honorable. Thus, the governor concluded that the religion of the Greeks was more honorable since it was older and grew with the passing of time. Antipas countered the argument using Cain's story as proof. Even though Cain was older in age than Abel, Abel was accepted by God and not Cain. When the governor and the Greeks heard this answer they burnt with anger and put the old Antipas in a red-hot brazen bull and roasted him alive . On April 11 the memory of holy hieromartyr Antipas, Bishop of Pergamos is still celebrated by the Orthodox Churches around the world. Antipas means "against all" and he stood against all odds for the faith that was once and for all handed down to him by the Apostles.

But the church in Pergamos was besetted by two problems:

1. The teaching of Baalam

2. Nicolaitanism.

The Teaching of Balaam

The Story of Balaam is explained in Numbers 22 to 25, but the doctrine of Balaam is clarified in Num. 31:15-16. Numbers 22-24 enumerates how Balak the King of Moab wanted Balaam, the Prophet to curse Israel. So he offered Balaam an extravagant reward. But the prophet even though tempted to his core remained true to his God Yahweh. He could not curse Israel. So he counseled the King Balak to make peace with Israel and invite them to join in their feasts and intermarry. This is indicated in Num 31:15-16 where God’s anger was kindled when contrary to the divine instructions Israel left all the women alive after the conquest of Moab - the very thing God wanted destroyed. These women were asked to seduce the men of Israel by King Balaam with the strategy suggested by Balaam.

Num 24:25 Then Balaam got up and returned home and Balak went his own way.

Num 25:1 While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women,
Num 25:2 who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate and bowed down before these gods.
Num 25:3 So Israel joined in worshiping the Baal of Peor. And the Lord's anger burned against them.

Num 31:14 Moses was angry with the officers of the army--the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds--who returned from the battle.
Num 31:15 "Have you allowed all the women to live?" he asked them.
Num 31:16 "They were the ones who followed Balaam's advice and were the means of turning the Israelites away from the LORD in what happened at Peor, so that a plague struck the Lord's people.
Num 31:17 Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man,
Num 31:18 but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.

Yoke along with Baal was the doctrine of Balaam. It consists of:

*eating the things sacrificed to the idols

** to commit fornication.

Concerning the food offered to idols we have Paul’s teaching in 1 Cor. 8:1-9. The point here is when it becomes a compromise it becomes deadly. Getting involved into the feasts of the temple drags you away into the things of the evil. Not only that, you may become a dead witness, it may even become a trap.

Ritual fornication was a part of most pagan cults. So was it among the Cananites and the Moabites. It was also part of the worship of the Greek and Roman cults. Today it is the center of Satan Worship and is practiced widely among the business community for furthering good will among business magnets. For those gentiles who came from such background, these two became a great temptation among the Christian brotherhood of the period. This is why the verdict of the Synod of Jerusalem put down the following conditions. The counterpart we face in our day is the practice of pornography and fornication among Christians and the acceptance of living together without marriage, that is often widespread in the churches today. That is the error of Balaam.

= Abstain from pollution of idols

from fornication

from what is strangled

and from blood.

James spoke up:

Acts 15:20 Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.

Fornication is the sex involvement of two persons in which at least one is married to a different partner. It is the symbol of unfaithfulness to life partners and is therefore the symbol of man’s unfaithfulness to God. Thus fornication is a visible form of idol worship and has always been associated with it. The punishment for this social sin in the Old Testament was death by stoning. The punishment of body fornication is the realization of the existing separation of the life partner to eternal separation by killing the fornicator. In the same way the punishment for spiritual fornication is the realization of the separation to be eternal i.e. eternal separation from Christ.

In today’s social context, living among an unchristian if not anti-christian surroundins we live in the same condition as that of the Pergamos. Are we going along with the rest of the community tolerating what is evil and immoral?

Nicolaitans

Mystery shrouds the cult of Nicolaitans. Three possible explanations can be found.

1.These may be the followers of Nicolaus of Antioch who is said to have apostalized due to his false doctrine of Gnosticism and Antinomianism; or

2.These were a group who followed Balaam in teaching that it was permissible for God's people to engage in idolatry and immorality; or

3.It is a direct reference to the of the clerical system, or the developement of a class of Priests within the church.

1. Nicolaus of Antioch.

Nicolaus of Antioch was one of the seven original deacons, appointed by the Apostles to serve at the tables. He was a Jewish proselyte (Acts 6:5). This Nicolas deviated from the doctrine mixing Gnosticism and Antinomianism with the Historic Christian doctrines. This story is told by Irenaeus , Tertullian, Hippolytus, Dorotheus of Tyre, Jerome, Augustine and Eusebius. They all say this was a sect of licentious antinomian Gnostics who lapsed into their antinomian license because of an over-strained asceticism. Hippolytus adds that Nicolaus was the forerunner of Hymenaeus and Philetus who was condemned in 2 Timothy 2:17. Eusebius adds that after the group was censured by John in the Apocalypse, the sect disappeared in a very short time.

What is Gnosticism? The Gnostics claims to have special direct revelation superior to the Apostles themselves. Secret teachings are given to them by God directly . Some of the Gnostics denied the true humanity of Christ. They taught that the title of Christ was simply a divine anointing that came out from God and rested upon the man, Jesus, at His baptism. As long as this Spirit was on this man Jesus , he was Christ. The anointing left Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, just before His crucifixion. Jesus was man, but Christ was God. There are various shades of Gnostics that we cannot really define the cult in one shade of color.

Certain branches of Gnosticism teach that between God and creatures there are various grades of beings, some spiritual and others material. Since God being good cannot be the creator of evil, these secondary beings were the cause of the evil . So they postulated a series of emanations, aeons, spirits, angels etc. that came in between God and matter. Each generation is removed from central godhead by a distance and hence in its moral perfection. The furthest among them is the embodied beings. The body is inherently sinful, and hence the Gnostics practiced asceticism, self-torture and self-denial, in an effort to attain a higher spiritual state.

Another growth of this movement was Antinomianism. Antinomianism is the teaching that a person who is saved by grace and is under grace needs not practice self-control. The sons are free. The sons can do whatever they want because there is total freedom in Christ. A Christian may give full satisfaction to his bodily desires and appetites and passions without incurring any condemnation. It is these problems that were addressed by Paul in the Church of Collosia (col. 1:1-14) . All the errors which existed in the Apostolic Age are still with us today. Gnosticism has reappeared in Christian Science, Jehovah's witnesses and in the Unitarian church. Antinomianism is characteristic of all who say that because we are under grace, we can live as we please.

2. Nicolaitans were a sect who encouraged Christians to engage in idolatry and immorality

It must have been a direct consequence of the loving caring church as a unity. So Nicolaitans introduced sex orgies as an expression of Christian love in their love feasts. Sex is hallowed by God as an expression of faithfulness and love and as an experience of Heaven and its joy as a result of intense personal unity. This is based on total commitment between a couple. Polyandry (One man- several wives) was allowed by God in the Old Testament period, ‘because of their hard heartedness’. Polygamy (One woman - several husbands) fared better in other cultures. However they were far from ideal. Even in the ideal Hindu Tantric cult of sex as a realization of Godhead, total commitment to one partner is required. Later cults degenerated it to promiscuity as we have seen in Rajneesh and other cults. Nicolaitanism was the Rajneesh cult of Christianity and was a corruption of Truth. Corruption was always the trump card of Satan. The cult of the Children of God (They have been changing their names as a camaflague. What is their current name?) is the modern day version of Nicolaitanism. In every closely knit Christian fellowship, this danger still lurks. Many a mighty preachers have fallen under this temptation.

3. Nicolaitanism is the teaching of the Clerical Supremacy.

The Greek word nikos means victory or conqueror and laos means . people or laity. So we get the meaning "conqueror of the people." This is similar to the meaning of the Hebrew word "Balaam" which means "swallower of the people." The mystical interpretation of "the teaching of Balaam" in 2:14 is said to point to the "teaching of the Nicolaitans" in 2:15, providing support for this identification. John often uses Hebrew and Greek words to name the same object as in (Apollyon and Abaddon) Revelation 9:11. Hence this is a very plausible interpretation. Like fornication, priestcraft is also a corruption of a church arrangement. Bishops, elders and deacons were ordained in the early church to serve the people at the tables (because in the early church meals were served as a routine - every day) and to take care of the administrations. They were not considered spiritual authorities over people. In a sense teachers and evangelists, even though not ordained were the actual spiritual authorities. They were not ordained, but charismatic. The priesthood is a carryover from the Jewish temple cult. With the universal priesthood concept of the Christianity the separate human intermediary between man and God was for a time abandoned. However Apostles discovered that the running of an institution required institutional authoritiess - who were to overlook the matters regarding administration and distribution. Hence the ordaining of Deacons as in Acts

Acts 6:2 So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, "It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables.

Acts 6:3 Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them

Acts 6:4 and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word."

In all early churches, the administrative matters were handled by trustees from the laity even when there was an ordained priest for liturgical and spiritual purposes. However the Priests who formed a new class separated themselves from the laity and took authority over the laity (Nico- laity) The separation took in two steps.

1. In creating a separate Priestly Class. Among an unholy people priests were to be holy unto the Lord. This is why Israel had a tribe so separated. But this is no more true for Christians. See peter 2:1-10 and Heb. 10:19-25. As Christianity entered to Greek and Roman culture, the Christian priests adopted the dress of the Jewish Priests. In so doing the laity got out of touch with the word of God and relegated everything from the study of the word, preaching, witnessing, and even praying to the Priest who were paid for that purpose.

2. In converting the worship into a ritual mystery over which laity had no control left out the laity in the assembly hall as passive participants which simple responses. It was to the advantage of the Priests to introduce as much rituals and mystery and unintelligibility to the worship as possible. This introduced the mystic and Gnostic elements into the church. As a result ordinary men and women in the church became ignorant and considered the teachings of Christians as a mystery and beyond his understanding. Again Gnostic tendencies have crept in here.

It is probably to this move that Jesus is referring to. As history has shown, this development eventually led the church into a dark period. Only the word of God could revive the church through reformation in the 18th century. We could still see the two forces within the churches. This is more true within the Catholic church and the Pentecostal Churches. Lay movements and Charismatic movements are looked upon with suspicion. Even in the independent churches, personality cults create the same problem. Counterfeit revivals of today are an example of this. Though they do not wear separate dresses and calls themselves Brothers, the cult grows around their authority and revelation peculiar to them and not on the basis of the word of God. Strangely enough these personal revelations - which are often contrary to the word of God- are given a status equal to the scriptures.

The rewards promised in verse 17 follows the concept of fidelity to Jesus as husband.

I will give you the hidden manna. Manna was the food that sustained Israel through their wilderness travel. Jesus promises enough strength to stand against the foes of the Satanic City.

I will give you a white stone with a personal name. As the husband and wife have their own secret personal names for each other, Jesus promises a close relation with those who overcome.

White stones were used in those days

1. As a token of acquittal from the court. There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

2. As a token for ration which provides food and provision for families.

3. As a lucky charm to keep them form the evil ones.

Dispensationaly this refers to a period known as the State Church Period (AD 325 to 590) when Emperor Constantine accepted Christianity as the official religion of the Sate. The reasons for such a move was both political and religious. By the time of the ascension of Constantine, the Christians had conquered the palace and the royal family working underground. His predecessor Emperor Diocletian ordered severe purge of the entire civil service, and the palace service only to discover that his own wife and children were Christians. In order to maintain the unity of the Empire according to the then existing ideas of "one nation - one religion - one god", the official religion was changed to Christianity. In order to become a religion of the state, Christianity itself had to undergo drastic dressing up by absorbing Roman techniques, symbols, ceremonies and practices. Priestcraft, mystery symbols, ceremonies associated with worship and separation common people and clergy, daily sacrifices, penance, hierarchy of gods and saints and even idol worship has to come into it so that every one could accept it. A socially acceptable religion for every one was so generated. We could see the same trend in modern New Age movements. We could see the same trend in christian churches today. Are we willing to forgo the basic tenents of Christianity and the centrality of Jesus because it may not be acceptable to the other religions. These are actually the continuation of the Gnostic traditions on which Jesus pronounces his intolerance. Jesus described this in his Kingdom Parables of Mathew 13 in the parable of the Mustard Tree. Mustard is an herb and can never become a tree, but it did. It grew so big and brought forth branches and "the birds of the air" found shelter in it. We have here the magnificent State Church of the early period.

But forget the tree and the birds and the paraphernalia. Jesus calls you to be his special bride. He promises a relationship so personal that for those who overcome these external barriers he gives his gifts - manna and the white stone and a personal name which no one else knows.