Pergamum

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

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

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.

Revelation 2:12-17

This is second of seven articles on the seven cities mentioned in Revelation 2 and 3.
Part I: Ephesus
Part II: Smyrna

The Asian kingdom of Pergamon existed for nearly one hundred and fifty years, with its seat of power in Pergamum, until it was willed by its King Attalus III to Rome upon his death in 129. Today, the ruins of Pergamum are found on a large rocky hill overlooking the Caicus River, about 20 miles from the Agean Sea. Its architecture is amazing to behold, even today, and one can only imagine how majestic it must have been 2000 years ago. (For you Lord of the Rings fans, think of Minas Tirith…)  It was the seat of political power in Asia Minor (Ephesus was the commercial center), and it was also home to the frumetaria, a Roman garrison that protected food shipments through the major trade route from the Agean into Asia Minor.

Where Satan has His Throne

Temple of TrajanWhen we read John’s letter to the church in Pergamum, we must wonder why John twice refers to this city as a place where Satan rules. When we examine the city in its first century context, the possibilities abound.

One possibility lies in with the series of kings Attalus I – III and Eumenes I-III, alternating. The people of Pergamum may have been some of the first to deify their kings upon death, constructing Heroon (places of hero worship) upon their tombs. Many scholars believe that the Caesars were greatly impressed by this practice in Pergamum, and that it led first to the deification of the Caesars in the outlying provinces, and then to the deification upon death of Caesars in all of the Empire – including Rome, and finally, with Domitian, to the deification of Caesar while still living. At Pergamum, upon the highest height of the Acropolis (the place where the greatest god was worshipped), are the ruins of a once great temple to Trajan Caesar (Emperor from 98 – 117 AD). With the atrocities conducted against early believers who refused to bow to Caesar, and Pergamon as the originator of Caesar worship, this is one possibility why this might be “Satan’s Throne”.

Another possibility lies in the agora (marketplace) on the Acropolis of Pergamum. It is here that the practice of burning incense to Caesar in order to be able to buy and sell in the market may have first begun. This practice later spread to Ephesus and became so pervasive that one could not buy or sell, get fire or water, or acquire meat without declaring Caesar was god, and to refuse could mean death to the believer. It is very likely that this is the practice referred to in Revelation 13:16-17, with the “beast” representing Nero or Domitian (most likely):

He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name. (Revelation 13:16-17)

The Theater at the Pergamum AcropolisBecause Pergamum was the seat of power in Asia Minor, and because of the evil practices in the worship of this power, this is another possibility of Satan’s throne.

Dionysus Worship

A third possibility may have been in the Theater, which was a place of primary importance in Pergamum. The purpose of the theater was to make the city’s views into the peoples’ views. (Does this sound familiar?) The 10,000-seat theater on the Acropolis in Pergamum, the largest of several in the city, was dedicated (as all Hellenistic theaters were) to the god Dionysus, the god of wine and orgy.

Right next to the theater was the temple of Dionysus, and just before each performance, the people would go and partake of all the free wine they wanted (donations accepted, of course), before watching the day’s performance.  The plays in the ampitheater were often performed in the nude, and sometimes “interactively”.*  After the performance, many of the people would go next to the theater to participate in the binging and purging, where people would drink as much wine and eat as much raw meat as they could, before throwing up into the lowered center of the room and then partaking more drink and food. This would put them into an ecstatic state where they could have “visions” from Dionysus, after which they would leave the vile place and partake of the Dionysus temple prostitutes.

And So…

Regardless of whether it was hero worship, power or gross epicureanism, Pergamum received these words from Jesus, through John:

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.

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

While we covered the Nicolaitans in Ephesus, the mention of Balaam is an interesting one.

In Numbers 22-24, Balaam was called on to curse Israel so that Balak (a Moabite king) could defeat them with his military might. However, Balaam could only bless the people of Israel (with the story of his ass in there, as well). So how did Balaam entice the Israelites to sin, as John refers to here? In Numbers 25, we find the people of Israel involved in sexual immorality and idol worship with the Moabites – what Balak could not do militarily, he did culturally. This is a warning to us, today, as well.

The Mayo Clinic

White StonesDr. Tim Brown refers to the asclepieion of Pergamum as the “Mayo Clinic of the Ancient World”. It was here that the famous Greek physician, Galen**, practiced his arts in the gardens of the god Asclepius. Roman citizens from all over the empire would come to the asclepieion of Pergamum for healing, where they would stay through their illness and then, sometimes, even years after they were healed. Once healed, the grateful parishioner would carve out a large white stone, detailing how Asclepius healed him or her, and would include his name upon the stone.

And so it is that John writes

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.

He is telling the church in Pergamum that they won’t need a frumetaria to protect their food or to debase themselves (like the Nicolaitans) to receive food, and that if they can overcome, they will receive their own white stones – not from Asclepius, but from Jesus.

One other potential meaning to the reference to “white stones” was a contemporary practice in the latter first century, where trusted friends would take a small piece of tile and break it in two.  Each would write his name on one half, and then exchange the halves.  Then, whenever they, or their descendants, met in the future, they could match the halves, which would guarantee extended hospitality, because it identified the person as a true friend.  This, too, could be the reference of a white stone with a new name written upon it…

So What?

In America, today, we have far more to eat than we need. We drink far more than we should. We also engage in cheap sex and worship of the culture in ways less blatant, but no less sinful, than those in Pergamum. While we in the church have withstood the physical persecution of the ages and now reside in physical safety, we forget the lesson of Balaam, and fall victim to the idol worship and immorality which has crept up on us.

I may not bow down to an idol of wood and stone, but do I bow to one made of pigskin? I may not sleep with prostitutes, but I certainly don’t turn away that fourth helping of lasagna. I may not sell my soul for the right to buy and sell, but do I sell it to climb the corporate ladder to get the money I use to buy and sell?

Living in the world and being enough of a part of the culture that I can be salt and light – interacting regularly with “sinners” – is difficult to do. It is even more difficult to do so without sinning right along with them – but that is where I am (and all of us are) called – to be out there in the world, but not a product of it.

Grace & Peace,

Chris
________________________

*As an interesting side-note, all theater performances began with a rhetor announcing to the crowd “May all that is done in word and deed, be done in the name of our lord, Dionysus” – which Paul would later borrow for good in Colossians 3:17; “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

**Galen, it should be noted, despised the Jewish account of creation and the Judeo-Christian world view which said that God created the world from nothing (whereas the Greek gods took evil matter, and by their work created something good). In his mind (and in the Greek/gnostic world view), physical matter was evil, and for God to create and call what He created “good” was blasphemy. His most famous work, Deuxus Pardiem (”On the Usefulness of the Parts of the Human Body”), was an attempt to refute this, and – interestingly enough – was quoted by Charles Darwin in his Origin of the Species.

  • Share/Bookmark
This entry was posted on Wednesday, February 4th, 2009 at 10:03 pm and is filed under Devotional, Original Articles. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
+/- Collapse/Expand All

30 Comments(+Add)

1   Paul C    http://www.themidnightcry.com
February 5th, 2009 at 10:11 am

In Numbers 25, we find the people of Israel involved in sexual immorality and idol worship with the Moabites – what Balak could not do militarily, he did culturally. This is a warning to us, today, as well.

Fascinating observation. This is perhaps why the Devil is not so much concerned with closing churches down or stopping the preaching of the gospel, as much as he is in distorting it and making it impotent.

In reading an article yesterday, the author observed that 93% of Americans believe in God. But does this belief translate into anything tangible in the lives of most? No. It is a shallow and convenient belief, but has no marks of discipleship.

I may not sleep with prostitutes, but I certainly don’t turn away that fourth helping of lasagna.

Or we may simply consume our prostitution over the web or through the movies we rent/go to. It is amazing how little we’ve changed. 2000 years ago you may go to the Coliseum to watch gladiators go at each other – today, we can sit in the comfort of our living room, surround sound, popcorn and all, consuming virtually the same thing.

In Hebrews 12, the author speaks of selling our birthright, reminding us of Esau. This is the danger we face today – instant gratification (filling our belly) in place of our true calling (sons of God).

Chris L (or anyone else) – on a slightly different note, what is your take on a Christian marrying someone who is an unbeliever?

2   Rick Frueh    http://http?//followingjudahslion.com
February 5th, 2009 at 10:31 am

Good article.

“I may not bow down to an idol of wood and stone, but do I bow to one made of pigskin?”

Or one that is red, white, and blue?

3   thomas    http://www.presonphillips.com
February 5th, 2009 at 6:33 pm

I can’t find part 1 or 2, can you link to them? I love reading this kinda stuff.

4   Chris L    http://www.fishingtheabyss.com/
February 5th, 2009 at 10:11 pm

The links to I and II are at the beginning of the article, right after the opening quote from Revelation.

5   Rick Frueh    http://http?//followingjudahslion.com
February 6th, 2009 at 4:52 am

As an interesting side-note, all theater performances began with a rhetor announcing to the crowd “May all that is done in word and deed, be done in the name of our lord, Dionysus”

Somewhat like playing the National Anthem before sporting events, or repeating the flag pledge with a hand over your heart, etc.. Even Christians have made the nation a direct creation of God and a recipient of His favor, even a conduit of His will worldwide.

And where is the proof that the American church has succombed to the political culture and moved away from the teachings of Jesus? Two major ways (among many others) recently illuminated by the election.

1. Many evangelicals voted for a pro-choice candidate due to being under the spell of rhetoric which blinded them to the enormity of the crime of abortion.

2. Many evangelicals spewed words and attitudes of hate toward Obama and were profoundly unchristian in their speech toward him.

I do not believe the church and/or individual believers can live the teachings of Jesus while involved in the cesspool called politics. We have made democracy an idol and even suggested it is what God would have us spread throughout the world. For the believer that clearly falls into the “two masters” principle.

The subtlty of having an idol without the obvious construct of such is brilliant. The Pilgrims and other religious people who came to the New World would be astounded at the sight of hundreds of professing believers, hand over their hearts, pledging allegience to a national flag. Oh yea, did I mention that is sometimes done in the church building on a Sunday morning?

Consider the possibility of an idol far greater than food or football, consider the idol of nationalism that has diluted the gospel and rebuilt the high places that backslidden Israel would set up from time to time. Visit Washington and see the gigantic monuments constructed to honor men (Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, etc.). History repeats itself only updated by technology.

6   Nathanael    http://borrowedbreath.com/
February 6th, 2009 at 10:39 am

Rick,
I may have asked you this before, but have you read “The Myth of a Christian Nation” by Greg Boyd?
I think you’d enjoy it.

One of the main things that stuck with me from the book is the idea that the kingdoms of this earth are based on the “power over” mentality. But the kingdom of God is a “power under” system which is a complete dichotomy of the kingdoms of this world.

Jesus had a few things to say about the kingdoms and rulers of this world. And the church in America (many times) falls into the snare of “power over” authority.

Lord help us!

7   Pastorboy    http://crninfo.wordpress.com
February 6th, 2009 at 11:19 am

Chris
I would love to see a series on Original Sin.

8   Rick Frueh    http://http?//followingjudahslion.com
February 6th, 2009 at 11:57 am

I have not read the book, however I have briefly corresponded with him. I am a declared anationalist and I firmly believe it dilutes our message and walk and is out of the will of God.

And some Christians almost hate me when I refuse to be “patriotic” or involved with moral politics (oximoron alert!).

9   Rick Frueh    http://http?//followingjudahslion.com
February 6th, 2009 at 12:26 pm

Adam sinned = The Original Sin

10   Pastorboy    http://crninfo.wordpress.com
February 6th, 2009 at 12:46 pm

9
As ususal Rick….Pithy.

11   Neil    
February 6th, 2009 at 12:48 pm

Adam sinned = The Original Sin

Or maybe even:
Satan sinned = The Original Sin

12   Neil    
February 6th, 2009 at 12:50 pm

I like to strive for a position somewhere between a Dobsonian “power over” – culture-war mentality and a Fruehian “have nothing to do with politics” mentality.

13   Rick Frueh    http://http?//followingjudahslion.com
February 6th, 2009 at 12:56 pm

“I like to strive for a position somewhere between a Dobsonian “power over” – culture-war mentality and a Fruehian “have nothing to do with politics” mentality.”

In the original Greek – ???????????.

Compromise. :)

14   Chris L    http://www.fishingtheabyss.com/
February 6th, 2009 at 12:59 pm

Chris L (or anyone else) – on a slightly different note, what is your take on a Christian marrying someone who is an unbeliever?

I recommend against it, and primarily reference Paul’s advice on not being unequally yoked with unbelievers. In this case (unlike working with an unbelieving boss, charity, etc.), this is the exact kind of thing Paul is talking about.

But what if they already have? Again, I would look to Paul:

To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.

But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?

15   Rick Frueh    http://http?//followingjudahslion.com
February 6th, 2009 at 1:10 pm

The marrying of an unbeliever is another victim of the culture. Almost without exception when a girl in my congregation who finds a man to marry, and when they meet me in my office, the man confesses that he is a Christian knowing that is what is required for the marriage. And many times if the girl’s parents are faithful and active members of the church they expect the marriage to take place with the church’s blessing and usually take the most charitable view of their future son-in-law who many times becomes their ex son-in-law.

Politics have found its way into the church. (I know that comes as a shock to most of you!) :)

16   Pastorboy    http://crninfo.wordpress.com
February 6th, 2009 at 1:29 pm

#15
I use that situation as an evangelistic tool.

In my first of six counseling sessions, which is a get to know you session, I diagnose that very thing. I witness to them, sharing the Gospel and their need. If I determine or if they confess that to me, I will not marry them, explaining that there are 22 other Pastors in the town that will, but it would be better if they will stay with me and consider the teachings of Christ in terms of marriage.

God hates divorce.

Christian marriage is a picture of Christ and the church. We as Pastors need to do everything in our power to make that picture looks good to the world. We cannot do that in marrying an unbeliever to a believer.

17   Paul C    http://www.themidnightcry.com
February 6th, 2009 at 2:13 pm

Chris L – I appreciate that stance and I agree wholeheartedly. If they are already married then there’s nothing to be done (I remember one man in my church in Kenya who had 2 wives – it’s too late). But if they are courting (a Christian with an unbeliever) then I too take the stance that it is not adviseable at all.

Rick – suppose the young man does not confess his belief at all in Christ. He retains his pagan religion for example, but sees no reason for them not to be married as they love one another?

18   Rick Frueh    http://http?//followingjudahslion.com
February 6th, 2009 at 10:44 pm

“Rick – suppose the young man does not confess his belief at all in Christ. He retains his pagan religion for example, but sees no reason for them not to be married as they love one another?”

I do not marry them.

19   Neil    
February 7th, 2009 at 10:48 am

Rick – suppose the young man does not confess his belief at all in Christ. He retains his pagan religion for example, but sees no reason for them not to be married as they love one another?

Nor would I.

20   Bo Diaz    
February 7th, 2009 at 10:55 am

Christian marriage is a picture of Christ and the church. We as Pastors need to do everything in our power to make that picture looks good to the world.

So you’d be especially opposed to self-proclaimed Christian leaders who were divorced taking a public role?

21   M.G.    
February 7th, 2009 at 11:02 am

It’s interesting to me that some Christians who take the hardest lines on various issues of biblical interpretation are also the first to say “surely Jesus didn’t mean that divorce is *only* permitted in cases of sexual immorality… what if it’s a case of abuse or neglect?”

What if it is, don’t we take Jesus at His word?

22   Neil    
February 7th, 2009 at 11:02 am
“I like to strive for a position somewhere between a Dobsonian “power over” – culture-war mentality and a Fruehian “have nothing to do with politics” mentality.” – Neil

In the original Greek – ???????????.

Compromise. :) – Rick

No.

23   Neil    
February 7th, 2009 at 11:04 am

We have various and seperate issues on the proverbial table…

– should a believer marry a non-believer?

- what are the grounds for divorce?

-what role is there for someone who has been divorced?

- and the unmentioned – remarriage of the divorced?

24   Bo Diaz    
February 7th, 2009 at 11:13 am

-what role is there for someone who has been divorced?

Oh the ADMs answered that one a long time ago.

There are no roles the divorced can’t take part in. In fact, if someone is divorced then they can even assume the role of usurping the power of elders as Steve Camp and Ingrid Schleuter has.

And good little puppets like Pastor Boy won’t say a thing.

Who takes the Bible seriously again?

25   iggy    http://wordofmouthministries.blogspot.com/
February 7th, 2009 at 11:33 am

Bo,

So you’d be especially opposed to self-proclaimed Christian leaders who were divorced taking a public role?

He just won’t get this… he won’t even state that SoL is a ministry or not…

iggy

26   iggy    http://wordofmouthministries.blogspot.com/
February 7th, 2009 at 11:37 am

Bo,

And good little puppets like Pastor Boy won’t say a thing.

Who takes the Bible seriously again?

And in no way will he even grasp what you are getting at… the strings are just too tangled around him… either he has no ability to think for himself… or has never been freed to do so… or has no real desire to do so.

it is just easier for some to let other do all the real hard things like think for you.

iggy

27   Rick Frueh    http://http?//followingjudahslion.com
February 7th, 2009 at 11:57 am

“Who takes the Bible seriously again?”

Let’s just limit it to who takes just the three Sermon on the Mount chapters seriously?

Answer – No one.

28   iggy    http://wordofmouthministries.blogspot.com/
February 7th, 2009 at 12:09 pm

Let’s just limit it to who takes just the three Sermon on the Mount chapters seriously?

Answer – No one.

Oh, except for the emerging church… :smile:

29   Bo Diaz    
February 7th, 2009 at 3:57 pm

Anyone else struck by Ingrid’s priorities in her recent “hall of shame” awards? She writes:

It appears that the unsaved and unregenerate sometimes have a sense of moral decency apparently missing in those claiming to be Christians

She also writes here:

Mark Driscoll should be shunned by decent people everywhere. There are Mormons and certainly Muslims who have more of a sense of decency and propriety in sexual matters than he does.

It appears Ingrid has a lot in common with Mormons, Muslims, and the “unsaved and unregenerate” than she does with actual Christians. She also has something else in common with them.

A complete and utter failure to care if any of them know about Jesus.

At least that’s all I can assume since she’s doing her best to undermine ministries like Mars Hill Church, and Great Lakes Church who are bringing Jesus to people in their communities. Just read through the comments on the news article she posted and you’ll see several testimonies from individuals who are now following Jesus.

So congrats Ingrid, and continue sallying forth with your horde of Mormons, Muslims, and the unsaved and unregenerate against the work of the church to “baptize and make disciples in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”.

30   Rick Frueh    http://http?//followingjudahslion.com
February 7th, 2009 at 4:56 pm

I wonder how her view squares with the doctrine of “total depravity”? I know, don’t confuse me with facts. :cool: