Bible Passage: Revelation 2:12-17
12 'To the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword.
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, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city- where Satan lives.
14 Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: there are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality.
15 Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.
16 Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.
17 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.
(Rev. 2:12-17 NIV)
Key OT/NT passages on how this passage fits within the Bible story as a whole
Throughout Israel’s history, his people have faced attack from outside and within. The nations surrounding the land were often attacked by enemies, from the time of Moses (Exodus 17:8) through to the time of Nehemiah (Neh 4:12). Christians, too, have faced wave after wave of attack, just as Jesus predicted (John 15:20). A greater danger throughout scripture, though, is the threat of compromise from within. Just as Balaam led the people of Israel astray by idolatry and sexual compromise (Numbers 22-24, 25:1-2), so it was the constant return to idolatry that led to the exile (Acts 7:43). Christians, too, are told to flee idolatry (1 Cor 10:14, 1 Peter 4:3). Only by clinging to Jesus will they last through to the end.
Brief note on context/key themes of book
The book of Revelation is written by John to the suffering church (Revelation 1:9) under the Roman Emperor Domitian (81-96AD). It is an epistle (Revelation 1:4), about the gospel of Jesus Christ (Revelation 1:6), founded on the sovereignty of God (Revelation 1:7-8). Having presented us with a picture of Jesus in all his glory (Revelation chapters 1-3), it shows us a glimpse of heaven (Revelation chapters 4-5) and the way in which the lamb deals with God’s wrath. What follows is a series of overlapping picture that take us through from the present age to the return of Christ (chapters 6-7, 8-11, 12-14, 15-16, 17-18, 19 and 20). The final vision shows the New Jerusalem – Eden exceeded, and the temple fulfilled (chapters 21-22). This glimpse of heaven (‘Revelation’ literally means ‘an unveiling’) has a pastoral purpose. It is to show the suffering church that whatever is going on, God is on the throne, and is bringing everything to an end – his people, cared for by the risen Lord Jesus, will be safe.
Structure of the passage
Each of the letters begins with a description of Jesus, reflecting the picture of the risen Christ in Revelation chapter 1 – here he is described as the one who “has the sharp, double-edged sword” (compare Revelation 1:16). Each letter also ends with a reassurance to those who persevere -here, they are given hidden manna (a symbol of God’s faithfulness – Exodus 16:32-34), and a white stone (a token of entry to a feast). In between is an assessment of the church, and here it comes in two parts. What is Jesus looking for? Two things…
A church that holds to Jesus… despite the onslaught (13)
Pergamum is a place where Satan lives – it is renowned for Emperor worship – and Antipas has already been killed, probably for refusing to give worship to the Emperor (known as ‘Lord, Saviour, and God’). Despite that, the church has “remained true” to Jesus’ name (literally, it has ‘held fast’ to his name. In other words, the church has seen that the sword in Jesus’ mouth is more powerful than the sword of the Roman executioner (compare Luke 12:4).
A church that rejects the lies… despite the seduction (14-16)
Jesus is looking for a church that has rejects the lies, but the church in Pergamum has fallen down on this. In the book of Numbers, Balaam was called on to curse the people of Israel, but instead gave them a blessing (Numbers 22-24). Later, though, he changed his tactic and sent in foreigners to seduce the people of Israel into idol worship and sexual compromise (Numbers 25:1, compare Jude 1:11). In the same way at Pergamum, preaching voices are advocating more compromise in the church in the area of idol worship and sexual immorality, and no-one is disciplining them. That is probably what the Nicolaitans are also saying
Suggestions for any tricky bits?
What is the story with Balaam?
It’s hard to piece the whole story together from Numbers, but it seems that when God turned his curses to blessing, he found another way to lead the people of Israel astray with Moabite women (Numbers 25:1-2; Numbers 31:14-16). Certainly, Old and New Testament writers are clear about his evil influence (Micah 6:4-5; 2 Peter 2:15; Jude 1:11).
What is the white stone?
There are several possible meanings of the white stone, but they were sometimes used as entry cards for feasts, and it’s most likely that that’s the meaning here.
Summary of author’s main point
The church at Pergamum has held to Jesus’ name despite persecution, but tolerated false teaching, and is in danger of Christ’s judgement if it does not repent.
Aim/purpose for original audience
Hold to Jesus’ name despite persecution, and repent of false teaching, in order to endure and avoid Christ’s judgement.
Aim/purpose for us today
Hold to Jesus’ name despite persecution, and repents of any false teaching, in order to be a church that lasts and avoids judgement.
Key area of application
Jesus knows how much persecution we face from a hostile world, or a difficult boss, or a mocking family. As a church we need to pray for each other’s perseverance, and repent of compromised teaching, as we cling to Jesus and wait for our promised reward.