Study Notes

Revelation 2:12-17

2:12 Pergamum

Remember that the names of the churches supernaturally have to do with the situations they were in. Ephesus, who had left its first love, meant "Darling". Smyrna, who was under deadly persecution, was named for Myrrh, the spice of embalming.

Now we see Pergamum. "Per" is a suffix meaning "mixed, or objectionable," as in "perverted," and "gamos," meaning marriage, as in "polygamy - married to many, monogamy - married to one." So Pergamum means "mixed marriage" or "objectionable marriage." We will see as we read the letter that Jesus dictates to Pergamum that this is the situation they are in - the church in compromise, married to the world.

Sharp Two-Edged Sword

Remember chapter one said that out of Jesus' mouth came a sharp two-edged sword. This was not unique to the book of Revelation or even the New Testament. Jesus said of the Father in Isaiah 49:

Isa. 49:2 And He has made My mouth like a sharp sword...

That sword is of course,

Eph. 6:17 the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Hebrews 4 describes it in even greater detail, saying,

Hebr. 4:12 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

It is two-edged, for it both pierces and it judges. At the beginning of the letter, He says that He has the sword. Near the end of the letter, He threatens to use the sword - to make war against them with it if they don't repent of their sins of compromise. Again, the two-fold ministry of the Sword of the Spirit: He uses it to pierce our hearts towards repentance. If we won't allow it, then He uses it to judge.

Now don't think, "Well, it's just words - what could words do?" Remember, that word that proceeds from the mouth of God was all it took to create the universe. The Word of God is the more powerful than you could ever comprehend - more than a nuclear bomb, a supernova, or a black hole. We will read near the end of this book that the sword of the Word of God will "smite the nations" (19:15), and at the battle of Armageddon,

Rev. 19:21 ...the rest were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat upon the horse...

May we always be people who are pierced by the Sword of His Word, rather than people who are judged by it.

2:13 Satan's Throne

When Jesus mentions satan's throne, He may simply be referring to the worship of Esculapius that was so predominant in Pergamum. Esculapius was a god whose idol was in the form of a serpent.

There was also a massive altar to Zeus on the hill that overlooked Pergamum. It was a huge chair - over 50 feet high. In the 1880's, an archaeologist discovered and removed the throne of Zeus from Pergamum, and today it is in a museum in East Berlin. That giant throne could also be what Jesus is mentioning.

But I believe more that Jesus says what He means and means what He says. Here in verse 13, he repeats,

Rev. 2:13 'I know where you dwell, where Satan's throne is ... among you, where Satan dwells.

I believe that Jesus is not talking about Zeus worship or Esculapius worship, but that He is actually talking about the devil himself. After all, the devil is referred to as...

2Cor. 4:4 ...the god of this world (who) has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

He is the god of this world. He is also called,

Eph. 2:2 ...the prince of the power of the air...

Since he is the god, the prince, the ruler of this world (Jn 12, 14, 16), it stands to reason that his throne is in this world.

Now we know that because they are created beings, satan and his cohorts are not omnipresent as God is. And we infer from the Scriptures that demonic forces are actually territorial. For example, when Gabriel appeared to Daniel he said,

Dan. 10:12-13 Then he said to me, "Do not be afraid, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart on understanding {this} and on humbling yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to your words. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia was withstanding me for twenty-one days; then behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left there with the kings of Persia.

And when he left, he said,

Dan. 10:20 "...I shall now return to fight against the prince of Persia; so I am going forth, and behold, the prince of Greece is about to come."

So there was a demonic force who ruled over Persia, and another that ruled over Greece. Could satan himself have been the demonic force that ruled over Pergamum? Pergamum was the governmental seat of the province of Asia - it was where the Roman Proconsul had his headquarters. It also became the center of the official religion of the worship of Roman emperors. It stands to reason that Jesus is saying exactly what He means: in those days, the throne of satan was in Pergamum. I wonder where satan has set up shop in our day? Washington, D.C? Moscow? Can you imagine trying to be a Christian and having church in the same city where satan lived?

Hold Fast, Not Deny

Although they were frequently under attack to the point of death, the church at Pergamum had done well in regards to not denying the name and the faith of Christ. And Christianity is about faith in Christ. It's not about just believing in God. Almost everyone believes in God. But we read in James,

James 2:19 You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.

A saving faith is faith in the atoning blood and resurrection of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

The church at Pergamum had not denied this, even through the martyrdom of some in their church, like Antipas.


Antipas was a man in the church at Pergamum who was martyred for his faith in Christ. Though the facts have been clouded in history, Tertullian legend claims that he was a local dentist who was killed for not submitting to Caesar worship. They sealed him inside of a hollow brass bull and heated it white-hot.

However Antipas was martyred, Jesus calls Him "My witness, My faithful one." What a great thing for Jesus to call you! If you were to die today, what words do you think Jesus would use to describe you? Would He call you a witness or a wimp? Would He call you "My faithful one," or "My slothful one?" Each of us should be living for this blessed compliment from the Lord Jesus.

2:14-15 Teaching of Balaam

Balaam is an interesting character in the Old Testament. And in the New Testament, he is never spoken well of. 2Peter refers to "the way of Balaam," Jude speaks of "the error of Balaam," and here we read of "the teaching of Balaam".

In Numbers 22-24, we see this guy Balaam who had a strange relationship with God:

The Israelites were camped in the plains of Moab. After seeing what had been done to the Amorites, Balak sent for a prophet named Balaam to curse them.

Balaam asked the Lord about it, and God said, "Don't curse the Israelites, for they are blessed." But then Balak sent more guys and money.

Num. 22:18 ...Balaam answered and said to the servants of Balak, "Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not do anything, either small or great, contrary to the command of the LORD my God."

God had already said no, but he went and asked Him again - first mistake. So the Lord angrily allowed Balaam to compromise and go, but only to speak what He told him to. When he finally gets there (after the famous incident of Balaam's donkey), again he says,

Num. 22:38 "Am I able to speak anything at all? The word that God puts in my mouth, that I shall speak."

And every time he opened his mouth, he couldn't curse the Israelites, but pronounced blessing upon them instead.

Num. 24:10-11 Then Balak's anger burned against Balaam, and he struck his hands together; and Balak said to Balaam, "I called you to curse my enemies, but behold, you have persisted in blessing them these three times! Therefore, flee to your place now. I said I would honor you greatly, but behold, the LORD has held you back from honor."

But then Balaam came up with an idea. He couldn't curse God's people if God wouldn't let him, but he could help Balak bring God's curse upon them. He told Balak, "Look, if you have your prettiest women camp out by the Israelite camp, then they'll fall in love, intermarry, fall into idolatry, and then the Lord will curse them."

Amazing, isn't it, that someone who can have spiritual gifts and say spiritual things, can be sucked into sin so easily by compromise and greed? So the teaching of Balaam - intermarrying with the world and its ways - in the church at Pergamum, people had begun to do the same thing that Balaam had caused the Israelites to fall into: idolatry and immorality.


The other thing that Jesus had against them was that they had some among them who held to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. As we talked about during study of the letter to Ephesus, "Nicolaitans" comes from the Greek word "NEE-kos," meaning "victory, conquer," and "Lah-OS," meaning "people." Nik-ol-ah-EE-tace - "to conquer the people."

The Nicolaitans were teachers and apostles who were ruling the people instead of serving the people. Jesus hates this - for He called His ministers to be servants of all, telling them to make themselves the lowest in the church, not the highest. Some in the Pergamum church had bought into the deception of having a clergy that was high and lifted up. They were placing mediators between themselves and God, much like the liturgical church continues to practice today.

So Pergamum hadn't denied the name or faith of Christ, but had fallen into false teachings and dangerous compromisings.

2:16 Repent or War

Jesus tells them to repent. "Change your way of thinking regarding these things - turn and go the other way." Then there's the "or else." "Or else I will make war against them with the sword of my mouth." That sword of judgment - the killing sword that will someday smite the nations.

2:17 Hidden Manna

Now we have the part of the letter where Jesus promises salvation to the overcomer. The first description is the "hidden manna." Difficult to find the explanation in the Bible - maybe that's why it's called "hidden!"

What is manna? In Exodus 16, the people of Israel were in their wilderness wandering, and complained that there was no food.

Exod. 16:4 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you..."

So, they awoke to the morning dew, and

Exod. 16:14-15 When the layer of dew evaporated, behold, on the surface of the wilderness there was a fine flake-like thing, fine as the frost on the ground. When the sons of Israel saw it, they said to one another, "What is it?" For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, "It is the bread which the LORD has given you to eat."

So the Israelites named the bread from heaven "manna," meaning "what is it?" Jesus said,

John 6:48-51 "I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread also which I shall give for the life of the world is My flesh."

So He Himself is the hidden manna - eating of Him means life eternal.

White Stone & a New Name

The white stone has a couple of historical meanings:

1) Juries in a court of law would proclaim someone's guilt or innocence using either a white stone or a black stone (the black one meant, 'guilty,' the white one meant 'innocent'). So in giving you a white stone, Jesus could be saying, "you're innocent, I have made you not guilty."

2) There was also another historical white stone - a piece of pure white marble was given to the winners of major sporting competitions, like the early olympics. Having this white stone would enable the winner to countless freebies and special treatments. In giving you a white stone, Jesus could be saying, "you've won - now enter into a life of free, eternal abundance."

And probably the readers of this letter were aware of those two contexts. But because so much of Revelation is interpreted using the rest of the Bible, why shouldn't we do the same here?

Okay, we know three things: It is a stone. It is white. It has your new name on it.

What is the stone Biblically? Jesus Christ is called:

Gen. 49:24 ...the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel,

Dozens of times He is called, "The Rock". (Deut. 32; 2Sam 22, 23; Psalms; etc.) And Isaiah wrote,

Isa. 8:13-14 "It is the LORD of hosts whom you should regard as holy. And He shall be your fear, and He shall be your dread. Then He shall become a sanctuary; But to both the houses of Israel, a stone to strike and a rock to stumble over, and a snare and a trap for the inhabitants of Jerusalem.

Isa. 28:16 Therefore thus says the Lord GOD, Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone, A costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed. He who believes in it will not be disturbed.

Jesus is called the Stone, and we've already studied what "white" signifies - either covered in sin, or completely free from sin. And of course, Jesus was both:

2Cor. 5:21 He made Him who knew no sin {to be} sin on our behalf...

But what about this new name carved on it? If Jesus Himself is the white stone, then where is the Biblical precedence for our name being written on Him? Look at Isaiah 49:

Isa. 49:14-16 But Zion said, "The LORD has forsaken me, And the Lord has forgotten me." "Can a woman forget her nursing child, and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands..."

Two promises to the overcomer - being a partaker and a partner of Jesus Christ for eternity.

Go to next study

Go to previous study