The Church In Pergamos
July 30th, 1961 @ 10:50 AM
THE CHURCH AT PERGAMOS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-30-61 10:50 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the eleven o’clock morning message entitled To the Christians in Pergamos. In our preaching through the Bible, we have come to the second chapter of the Revelation. And the sermon this morning is the letter of our Lord to the third of the seven Asian churches. And the text is found in Revelation 2:12-17:
And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things saith He which hath the sharp sword with two edges;
I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s seat is: and thou holdest fast My name, and hast not denied My faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth.
But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.
So hast thou also them there that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.
Repent; turn, or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches: To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth but he that receiveth it.
The modern name of this town is Bergama, a Turkish corruption of the ancient city named Pergamos. It is a wretched village today, but in this hour when John lived and in the centuries preceding it and for years thereafter, it was one of the beautiful and illustrious Greek cities of the world. It was founded back in legendary days supposedly by a son of Hercules on a high lofty acropolis about three miles from the Caicus River, in the great broad fertile plain below, about fifteen miles inland from the Aegean Sea. In the time of Xenophon, it was a fortified town upon the top of that hill.
The name Pergamos is related to the German word “berg” which means fortified town. It came into preeminence and beauty and fame in the days of the Attalid kings. That was a part of the empire into which the glory of Alexander the Great broke up. And those kings enlarged the dominion and enlarged the boundaries of the kingdom until it included most of the territory of what you call today Asia Minor. In 133 BC, Attalus III bequeathed his kingdom to the Roman Empire. And the Romans took the kingdom and made out of it the Roman province of Asia and kept the capital at Pergamos.
In the years of the Attalid kings, they beautified it. They built marvelous temples in it. Rich men adorned it with colonnaded streets. It was truly one of the impressive Greek cities of the ancient world. And among other things, the Attalid kings built there one of the famous libraries of all time. It had about two hundred thousand volumes in it. And that was an immense number in the days when every book had to be written by hand. The very word “parchment” is Pergamos. And it came from this city and this library that developed and discovered the use of skins for writing materials. Before this day, all of the ancient writing material was made out of papyri. The papyrus plant is a bulrush that grows along the Nile River. And when you mash it, the pulp can be cross woven and made paper. Your word “paper” comes from the word papyri, papyrus. And Ptolemy in Egypt had a monopoly on papyri, the writing material of the ancient world. It was a nationalized industry and it belonged to the king.
Well, Eumenes, who was the king of the Attalid Empire whose capital was at Pergamos, Eumenes cast longing eyes upon Aristophanes who was the great and learned librarian at Alexandria. And he tried to entice Aristophanes to come up to Pergamos to be his librarian. And it made Ptolemy furious. He put Aristophanes back of iron bars to keep him and made an interdiction against the export of any papyri to Eumenes up in Pergamos. So they had nothing to write on in the great library there. And that occasioned the development of the use of skins, like if you were graduated from school; you doubtless were given a sheepskin. Your diploma is called a sheepskin, a parchment, vellum. That was discovered and developed in Pergamos. And the city gave its name to that way of writing. It was with all a glorious capital city.
And when John wrote this letter from the word of our Lord, it had been a capital city for more than three hundred years. The letter begins in a grim tone: “I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s seat is: and thou holdest fast My name, and hast not denied My faith, even in those days wherein Antipas My faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth” [Revelation 2:13]. You have an idea from that word that these Christians are in a maelstrom. They are in a fiery furnace. They dwell where Satan’s seat is! Now that word translated seat, the Greek word is thronos. In the nineteenth chapter of Matthew, thronos there refers to the seat of a judge. In the first chapter of Luke, thronos there refers to the throne of a king. So whatever this refers to, it’s a place of Satanic power and authority, and there do these Christians dwell.
Now there are several things that this word “Satan’s seat” might have referred to [Revelation 2:13]. First: it could have referred to the idolatrous temples that filled this capital city of Pergamos. They had beautiful temples there to the four great Greek gods: to Zeus, in Latin called Jupiter; to Dionysius, in Latin called Bacchus; to Athena, in Latin called Minerva; and to the god of healing, Aesculapius. Now, Aesculapius, Aesculapius was known over the world as the Pergamean god. He was the most famous of all of the gods of healing, and his great central shrine was in this city. His emblem was a serpent. And the sufferers and the invalids came there from the ends of the Roman Empire to be healed. In the courts of the temple, they had harmless snakes. And at night, the sufferers would sleep on the courts of the temple. And if one was touched by a passing slithering serpent, it was the sign of the healing touch of the god. They had a medical school there, superstitiously so, medical wards and all kinds of things that were supposed to minister to the divine healing of these people who were ill.
It was a great religious center and you could imagine how the people felt against people, against others, against anybody who spoke against the gods, and against the medical school, and against the medical wards, and against all of the things that were connected with the idolatrous temple worship. It could have been that that our Lord was referring to when He said: “You are dwelling where Satan’s seat is, where is his throne of power and authority” [Revelation 2:13].
That phrase “you dwell where Satan’s seat is” there in Pergamos, might have referred to the altar of Zeus. One of the wonders of the ancient world was this world-famous altar to Zeus. About oh, halfway up to the top of the Acropolis, there was a great jutting ledge of rock. And on that rock, they had built one of the magnificent architectural sculptured pieces of all history. The altar was about ninety feet square. One author said it was forty feet high, and another said it was thirty feet high. But in any event, around the base of that altar was a frieze that was one of the most magnificent pieces of sculpture in the world. The German government sent an excavation some years ago to Pergamos, and they found a part of that frieze, and it’s in the Berlin museum today. But that great and magnificent altar, with the smoke pouring up from it is sacrifices day and night, dominated the city. And as you looked upon it, it could have looked something like a throne, like a seat. And it might have been that to which our Lord refers when He said to the Christians: “You dwell where Satan’s throne is, where Satan’s seat is” [Revelation 2:13].
A third possibility lies in this: Pergamos, like Smyrna, was a city that headed up the district of Caesar-worship. And I notice in reading this passage here that when He says, “You dwell where Satan’s seat is, and you have not denied My faith, even in those days wherein Antipas, My faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth” [Revelation 2:13], that word “thou hast not denied My faith” ērnēsō is in the aoristic tense. In the Greek language an aorist refers to an incident, a thing that happened in the past that is done and complete. So evidently here in Pergamos, there was a great outburst of persecution against God’s Christian people. And in that persecution, Antipas was slain. Antipas, they say, is the first Christian martyr who was slain by the Roman government. And in tribute to this faithful martyr, the Lord gives him a name by which He calls Himself. In Revelation 1:5: “And from Jesus Christ, a ho martus ho pistos, translated here: And from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness.”
And over here in Revelation 2:13 our Lord applies those same and identical epithets and appellations to Antipas. Antipas, ho martus ho pistos, translated here: My faithful martyr; in 1:5, translated witness; in 2:, translated martyr. For you see, the Greek name for witness was martus. And so many times were those early Christians called upon to lay down their lives for the faith that the word witness, martus, came to be martyr, witness. For the man to stand up and be counted for him to be numbered among the children of God, meant to sacrifice his life. Antipas, a ho martus ho pistos, My faithful witness, My faithful martyr [Revelation 2:13].
So it may have been because of Caesar-worship, emperor-worship. You see every other part of the empire was put together by conquest, unwillingly. But Attalus had bequeathed his kingdom to the Romans. And the citizens of Pergamos followed their king in their devotion to the Roman Empire. Upon that Acropolis they had three different temples erected to three different Roman emperors. And because of the terrible pressure upon the Christians, it may have been in that that the Lord refers to: “You dwell where Satan’s seat is” [Revelation 2:13].
It is also interesting to follow that Greek word “dwell.” Thou dwellest where Satan’s throne is. There are two Greek words for dwell, one is paroikeō, and the other is katoikeō. The Greek word for stranger, for sojourner, is paroikos, somebody just traveling through. And paroikeō is to dwell temporarily, to be a sojourner, to be a stranger. In one of the Apocryphal sayings of Jesus, Jesus is quoted as saying: “Life is a bridge. The wise man will pass over it but not build his house upon it.” And everywhere almost in the New Testament where that word dwell is used, it’s that paroikeō. That is, we live as strangers. Our home is in heaven [Philippians 3:20].
But unusually so, the Lord uses katoikeō here, which means to dwell permanently, and the significance of that word is obvious. The Lord is saying that you Christians there in Pergamos, dwelling where Satan’s seat is, you are not to escape. You are not to be fearful. You are not to run away. You are to stay there. Just like you who live today in this pressing world of compromise and evil. You cannot run away. You are not to run away. You can’t despair, you’re not to despair. However the pressure of life and circumstances may hem you on every side, you are to stay, and you are to live the Christian life where you are, even where Satan’s seat is. There are many, many of our people, many of our women, many of our men who live in difficult situations and who work under trying circumstances. The Lord says there you are to stay, and there you are to bear your Christian witness. You’re dwelling, katoikeō, dwelling, staying where Satan’s seat is, even at the cost of martyrdom, a faithful witness [Revelation 2:13].
Then the tone of the letter changes. “But I have a few things against thee” [Revelation 2:14]. One, you have there those in the church that teach the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. You have Christians there in the church who teach the doctrine of Balaam [Revelation 2:14]. Now, Balaam was a sage, a seer, back in the Book of Numbers. And he tried to curse the children of God, but the Lord would not let him [Numbers 23-24]. So he accomplished the same thing by seduction. He introduced to Israel strange Moabitish women, and they did the rest [Numbers 25:1-3]. Now, the Lord says, “You have there in the church those who teach fornication” [Revelation 2:14].
To us, that’s an astonishing thing! But you wait a minute. I quote from Demosthenes, the incomparable, great orator of the Greek world. “We have prostitutes for the sake of pleasure. We have concubines for the sake of daily cohabitation. We have wives for the purpose of having children legitimately and of having a faithful guardian of our household affairs.” Demosthenes was doing nothing other than reflecting the accepted pattern of ancient Greek life.
Now, I have copied this from Cicero. The incomparable Roman orator said, now, I quote: “If there is anyone who thinks that young men should be absolutely forbidden to love a prostitute, he is extremely severe. He is at variance, not only with the license of what our age allows, but also with the customs and concessions of our ancestors. When, indeed was this not done? When did anyone ever find fault with it? When was such promiscuousness concessions denied? When was it that which is now lawful was not lawful?” End Quote. Doesn’t that sound like Cicero in his rhetoric and his rhetorical questions? He was doing nothing other than reflecting the accepted pattern of life in the Roman day.
There were those in the church who said, “You ought to conform to custom and to society. Don’t pull yourself out to be peculiar and apart and different.” This thing of promiscuity is a part of the pattern of all life. It has been in the centuries before. It is today. And as Cicero said, “When was it that this which is now lawful was not lawful?” It just always was. So they had those teachers there in the church at Pergamos who said, “We ought to be a part of the social framework to which we belong. We ought not to be different, peculiar, pull yourself apart and out, and be a sore thumb and wallflower. You ought to be like the world. That is a pattern of worldly life, and you ought to be a part of it.” That’s what they taught in the church at Pergamos.
Well, that’s what they teach in the churches today. It’s no different. Not only about prostitution, they may have changed it, I don’t mean to say that publicly they teach prostitution in the churches today, but there are other social customs that the Christian people accept as a part of the social pattern of our modern life! Just like this was a part of the social pattern of their ancient life! And it’s the same principle whether it is lived today or whether it’s lived then. It’s no different at all. You just got a different thing to talk about.
A second thing they taught: they taught to eat things sacrificed unto idols [Revelation 2:14]. Well, there’s another thing that back there was an agony to the Christians. It was the greatest personal problem that those ancient Christians faced, eating things sacrificed unto idols. Well, this was it. You know, I just got through speaking of that tremendous world-famous altar to Zeus, and the smoke of those sacrifices dominated the city.
Now a sacrifice was a communal meal. When one made a sacrifice, he took his animal to the altar and the priest slew it. A small part of the animal may have been burned, sometimes was. Sometimes just a few hairs from the forelock was burned. Then after the sacrifice, after the animal was slain, a portion was always given to the priest, then the rest of it was given to the worshipper. And what he did with it, he always had a feast. And he would invite his family and invite his friends to the feast. And they would eat the animal that was sacrificed to idols. And the feast was held either in the man’s house; many times it was held in the temple of the god.
So you received an invitation to the feast. Why, you are not going to be peculiar! Everybody’s doing it. And shall you not also comply? Shall you not compromise also? That is a part of the pattern of life! And are you going to be discrete and peculiar and cut off the social relationship between you and your friends who invite you? So we all go around conforming. It is no different!
Don’t ever think back there it was something, and today it is something else. It is the same! You have the Christians back there in the churches teaching that you ought not to do other than to conform to the social patterns of life and what they do you ought to do. But our Lord said, “Not so! Not so!” And He said, “Turn or else I will come and will fight against”—now look—”against them and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth” [Revelation 2:16]. Not the whole church, but those who lived in the world and were a part of it. Our Lord said, “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord . . . I will be to you a Father, and you shall be to Me a son and a daughter” [2 Corinthians 6:17-18].
Well, those Christians faced that great personal problem of: “Shall I to eat bread consecrated to God and drink the cup consecrated to God, shall I also eat bread and drink cups that are consecrated to an idol?” And had the Christians compromised, you’d of never heard of Christianity. It would have been lost. It would have been drowned in the swarming seas of paganism that surrounded it on every side. But the Christian refused to bow. He refused to compromise. “Ho martus ho pistos, Antipas, My faithful witness, My faithful martyr” [Revelation 2:13].
Now, somebody came up to me today and said, “Preacher, what about this doctrine of the Nicolaitans?” I cannot speak of it all in one stanza. And I am going to prepare a message on the doctrine of the Nicolaitans. The Lord says twice: “Which I hate.” In Revelation [2:6], He spoke to Ephesus: “But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, and which I also hate!” Then here in the second chapter and the fifteenth verse: “Thou hast also them there in Pergamos that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, and which thing I hate” [Revelation 2:15]. Isn’t that remarkable? Isn’t that remarkable? You’d think that back there Christians had iron in their blood! You kind of get that persuasion about them. You’d think they had steel in their backs. I get that impression as I read about them. There were things that they hated! Just like there were things that they loved. There were things that they would die for!
My goodness! I wonder if they would recognize us today? We are like reeds before the wind, blow any direction, there we are; blow any direction, and there we bow. And the world bids us, come, and thither we fly on the wings of the wind. And God says, “Come,” and our hearts are stone, and our ears are deaf. Just am remarking that I get the impression that back there Christian people had iron in them. They had strength. They had moral courage. They had unbelievable commitment and devotion. “Antipas, ho martus ho pistos, My faithful witness” [Revelation 2:13]. Now, may I conclude?
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.
The hidden manna. In the seventy-eighth Psalm, the manna that came down from heaven is called “angel’s food, corn of heaven” [Psalm 78:24-25]. In the Book of Exodus, it’s called the “bread of heaven.” And they took an omer of it, and put it in a golden bowl, and laid it up before the Lord in the ark of the covenant and there it was hidden, back of the veil, the hidden manna [Exodus 16:32-35]. And the Lord says to the child of faith: “If you will not eat of the cup and of the plate that is sacrificed to idols, I will give you to eat of the hidden manna of God” [Revelation 2:17]. What the Lord promises these Christians of Pergamos is: “If you will be true and faithful and uncompromised, I will give you above and beyond what you would ever cut yourself off from. I will restore it to you a thousandfold, I will give you food from heaven, the hidden manna. Do not eat it, do not drink it according to the social patterns of the day, but do it unto God. And I will give you manna from heaven” [Revelation 2:17].
“And I will give him a white stone and a new name written which no man knoweth but he that receiveth it” [Revelation 2:17]. Oh, when you get into these commentaries on that white stone, what things they say. The white stone; one will say that the white stone represents our acquittal from sin by the love and mercy of God, for in those days there was an urn and when a man was tried, those who voted for acquittal put in a white stone. Those who voted for condemnation, put in a black stone. So when the Lord says, “I will give to you that are faithful a white stone” [Genesis 2:17], they say that means God will acquit us and forgive us of all of our sins. Well, that’s all right. That is all right. Nothing wrong with that.
Then another one will say that represents the calculations of God for a white stone, white stones were used in calculations and in multiplication. And that white stone represents that God has numbered us among His people. Well, that is all right. There is nothing wrong with it.
Then another commentary will say that white stone represents the victor and the gladness and happiness of the day. For example, we will say a high red-letter day; Pliny would say a great wonderful white-stone day. And that white stone represents the joy and gladness of the victorious Christian. Well, that is all right. There is nothing wrong with that.
Then another will say that white stone represents the little thing, the little white stone that was given to the Roman citizen, and in it he got a free dole of food and a free entrance into the circus and the gladiatorial games and all of the entertainment of the Roman world. And so God gives us that white stone, and we have all of the treasures and blessings of heaven given to us. Well, that is all right, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Then another will say that white stone represents an amulet. In those days, and to my amazement and in our day, those people wore amulets, you know, a little medallion, a little medal, a little charm around their necks or on their bracelets or somewhere. And that little amulet was supposed to keep them from harm and from danger and from disease and all the other things that plague humanity. And the Lord says, “You be true and faithful unto Me, and I will give you that white amulet with that mystic name written on it, that mystic writing that nobody knows but you. And I will keep you from harm and disease and danger and death.” Well, that is all right. There is nothing wrong with that.
But I will tell you what I think it means whether anybody else thinks so or not. “I will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it” [Revelation 2:17]. You get the idea from this English version that the white stone would be like an ordinary pebble that’s white just like you pick up out of the river and you got a white stone. No, it does not mean that at all.
It refers to a crystal gem, a clear, brilliant, scintillating beautiful stone, a gem. And that means a diamond, a beautiful crystal clear, flashing, glorious, iridescent diamond. And that refers to the beautiful iridescent diamond called the Urim, who was on the breastplate of the priest, the high and holy priest, on which was carved the mystic name of God, and on the other gems was carved the names of the tribes of the people of God [Exodus 28:12]. And as you know, if you’ve been coming to church on Sunday night and listening to the preacher as he has gone through the Books of Samuel and now Kings; the ephod, the breastplate, that crystal diamond was the means of communication between God and His people. David inquired of Urim and Thummim what God’s will, and the Lord answered in the light and the brilliance and the glory and the iridescence of that flashing jewel [1 Samuel 22:10, 23:12].
So when God says to the child of faith: “I will give him the flashing gem on which is written the mystic name of God, and upon which is written the name of those that are kept in the province and in the shepherdly care of the great Almighty, and he will have wisdom to know where to turn, and he will have direction to know what to do, and he’ll have an answer from glory for all of the decisions of his life, and I will be with him,” says God. “I will give him that jewel of all jewels. And they shall be Mine,” saith the Lord, “in the day that I make up My jewels [Malachi 3:17]. I will give to him that flashing gem, this beautiful white stone that represents the presence and the guiding, shepherdly, keeping care and love of God; it is for him.” It is for you. It is for us. Oh, the rich treasures of the blessedness of the message of Jesus to His churches! “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches” [Revelation 2:17].
Our time is gone. We must make our appeal. In the Spirit of Jesus, as the Lord shall make the invitation to your heart, come. Giving your life in faith and in trust to Jesus, or putting your life with us in the fellowship of the church, while we sing the song, would you come? Would you make it this morning? In the great throng in the balcony, there is a stairway at the front, at the back, on both sides, and there is time and aplenty for you to come. On the lower floor, into the aisle wherever you are seated and down to the front, “Here I am, pastor, and here I come.” Would you make it today? For any reason, for any cause that God would bid you come, would you make it now? While we stand and while we sing.
THE CHURCH AT PERGAMOS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. Modern town of Bergama, Turkish corruption of the name of Pergamos
1. Wretched village today, but when John lived it was one of the illustrious cities of the world
B. Legend says it was founded by a son of Hercules
C. In time of Xenophon, it was a fortified town on top of the hill
1. Name Pergamos related to German berg which means “fortified town”
D. Came into preeminence and fame in the days of the Attalid kings
1. Beautified it, built marvelous temples in it, built famous library
2. Became capital of the Roman province of Asia
3. Developed use of skins for writing materialsII. The letter
A. Begins in a grim tone (Revelation 2:13)
1. They dwell where Satan’s seat is
2. Thronos – “throne”
B. What “Satan’s seat” might have referred to
a. Idolatrous temples filled the city
b. Aesculapius – Pergamean god of healing; had a medical school
2. Altar of Zeus
3. Emperor worship – evidently a great outburst of persecution against Christians
a. Antipas, first Christian martyr slain by Roman government(Revelation 1:5, 2:13)
C. Two Greek words for “dwell”
1. Paroikeo – “to dwell temporarily, to be a sojourner”
2. Katoikeo – “to dwell permanently”
D. Then the tone changes – “a few things against thee” (Revelation 2:14)
1. Those in the church teaching doctrine of Balaam(Numbers 23-24)
a. To commit fornication
i. Demosthenes, “We have prostitutes for the sake ofâ€¦”
ii. Cicero, “If there is anyone who thinksâ€¦”
b. To eat things sacrificed unto idols
i. Feasts after sacrifices pressured Christians to conform
E. God calls us to be separate (Revelation 2:16, 1 Corinthians 6:17-18)
1. Doctrine of the Nicolaitans(Revelation 2:6)
F. The promises to the faithful and uncompromised
1. Hidden manna (Revelation 2:17, Psalm 78:24-25, Exodus 16:32-35)
2. The white stone(Revelation 2:17)
a. Different ideas of what the white stone represents
b. Actually refers to a beautiful diamond called the Urim
i. The stone on the breastplate of the high priest