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The Church of Pergamos, Part 1



And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write, These things says He who has the sharp two-edged sword: I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. (Revelation 2:12–13)


Pergamos is the northernmost of the seven churches of Asia. It is located on the Caicus River about 16 miles inland from the Aegean Sea. It is now called Bergama.

The city is famous because parchment was invented and processed in this city. Parchment was as important to writing and printing in its time as was the Guttenberg press in its time. At the time of the Revelation, the letters of the Apostles were written on parchment. But perhaps more important than that, the Scriptures, the Bible of the time, were written on parchment. The Apostle Paul place high value on these parchments, both in his ministry and his personal life. In 2 Timothy 4:13 He writes to Timothy, “Bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas when you come—and the books, especially the parchments.” Adam Clarke suggests “as to the parchments, they were probably the Jewish Scriptures and a copy of the Septuagint”.

At one time, Pergamos contained a large library of about 200,000 volumes. Eventually, this library was captured by the Roman General Antony and given to Cleopatra. The city was originally founded in 420 b.c. by Greek colonists. The Attalic Dynasty came into being as an independent Greek dynasty of kings in 283 b.c. Under their rule, Pergamos became a powerful city and the king Attalus I expanded his kingdom to include most of western Asia Minor. The last king of Pergamos, Attalus III, gave his kingdom to the Roman government when he died in 133 b.c. This formed the Roman province that was simply called Asia. This consisted of only the regions controlled by the Attalic kings and not all of Asia Minor. Pergamos was made the provincial capital.

There were four temples erected in Pergamos to the pagan gods Zeus, Dionysis, Athena, and Asklepios. The temple of Askepios was visited by people from all parts of Asia seeking remedies for their sicknesses. Because of this, a school of medicine was started in connection with the temple. In addition to these temples, three temples were built for the worship of the Roman emperors. Eventually the political power was moved to the wealthy city of Smyrna and Pergamos continued as the religious center of the province.

It is not clear when the church was started in Pergamos. In all probability the church was started as a result of Christian missionaries from churches started by the Apostle Paul. The city was the seat of a Christian bishop throughout the time of the Byzantine Empire until the city was taken by Turks in 1336 a.d. Antipas is mentioned by Christ as His faithful martyr. Although there is no other biblical reference to this man, he is believed to be Saint Antipas who was martyred in 92 a.d. during the Domitian persecution. His crime was burning a pagan altar. It is believed that Antipas was ordained bishop of Pergamos by the Apostle John.


Outline of the letter to Pergamos


In verse 12 the Glorified Christ reveals Himself as the One with the two-edged sword.

The characteristics of this church are seen in verses 13–15. These characteristics are the existence of Satan’s throne, the doctrine of Balaam and the doctrines of the Nicolaitans.

In verse 16 Christ promises to come and fight against them with the two-edged sword. The promise Christ gives to overcomers is two-fold. First to eat of the hidden manna and then the giving of a white stone.


A Two-edged Sword


Christ reveals Himself to this church as having a two-edged sword. In Revelation 1:16 we see the Glorified Christ with the sharp two-edged sword proceeding from His mouth. In verse 16 of this letter, Christ says the sword is in His mouth.

This sword is consistently used by Christ to fight His battles throughout the church age. In Revelation 19 we see Him leading the white horse cavalry in battle against the beast, the false prophet and the kings of the earth as seen in verses 13–15


He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.


From this we learn that He is the Word of God. This comports or agrees with the opening of John’s gospel where he writes “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”.  Christ certainly uses His teachings in dealing with the darkness and errors of evil, but with Him it is not just talk; His power and authority are in the fact that He is God, the Second Person of the Trinity.

Throughout the OT, we see that the sword is the weapon of choice used in combat by God’s people. The lethal part of the sword is not so much its point at the end, but the edges. Swords were so effective because they had two edges and could be used continually in a back and forth motion to take down oncoming opponents.

It is interesting that the Hebrew word translated edge in our English Bibles is the word peh, meaning mouth It is translated edge 35 times in the King James Version; it is also translated mouth 340 times, commandment 37 times, and word 15 times.

We read the following in Young’s Literal Translation where it actually translates peh with mouth; other versions use the word edge. Genesis 34:26 Hamar and Shechem are slain by the mouth of the sword for defiling Dinah, Jacobs’s daughter. Exodus 17:13 Joshua weakened the Amalekites by the mouth of the sword. Numbers 21:24 Israel smote Sion king of the Amorites with the mouth of the sword. Deuteronomy 13:15 The Israelites are commanded to smite the inhabitants of any of their cities with the mouth of the sword if they turn to idolatry and forsake the Lord.

In Psalm 59:7 we read that the wicked transgressors “belch with their mouth” and “swords are in their lips; for they say Who hears?” In this Psalm, David is praying about the opposition he is receiving from King Saul. Notice that he first mentions the mouth, meaning the literal mouth or the words they speak; and then he uses swords in their lips as a metaphor for the words of their mouths. Words of the mouth are a powerful weapon. Without realizing it, David prefigures the conflict Messiah will have with the apostate leaders of Israel who will eventually crucify Him. While the Jewish leaders did not have the authority to execute Christ under Roman rule, they used their words, they belched out of their mouths, swords of hatred to force Pilate to crucify Jesus.

In Isaiah 27:1 The Living Bible reads, “In that day the Lord will take his terrible, swift sword and punish leviathan, the swiftly moving serpent, the coiling, writhing serpent, the dragon of the sea.” While leviathan, the swiftly moving serpent, can have several applications, we see a symbolic portrait of Christ destroying the work and influence of the devil and his prophets. As the Lord fights with His sword against leviathan we see Christ in Revelation 2:16 fighting those that hold the doctrines of Balaam and the Nicolaitans. The sword He uses is the Word of God. It has two edges: the Old Testament and the New Testament.

In Isaiah 49:2 Christ says, “And He has made My mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of His hand He has hidden Me, and made Me a polished shaft; in His quiver He has hidden Me.” Isaiah’s mission was not to the distant nations, but to the Jews. In this we see that God is prepared and determined to fight against those that rise up in the midst of His people to undermine their faith and obedience.

Adam Clarke comments at length:


Isaiah’s mission was to the Jews, not to the distant nations, to whom the speaker in this place addresses himself. “He hath made my mouth a sharp sword;” “to reprove the wicked, and to denounce unto them punishment,” says Jarchi [Solomon Ben Isaac Jarchi a famous Jewish rabbi born in 1104 a.d.], understanding it of Isaiah. But how much better does it suit him who is represented as having “a sharp two-edged sword going out of his mouth,” Revelation 1:16; who is himself the Word of God; which word is “quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart;” Hebrews 4:12. This mighty Agent and Instrument of God, “long laid up in store with him, and sealed up among his treasures,” is at last revealed and produced by his power, and under his protection, to execute his great and holy purposes. He is compared to a polished shaft stored in his quiver for use in his due time. The polished shaft denotes the same efficacious word which is before represented by the sharp sword. The doctrine of the Gospel pierced the hearts of its hearers, “bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” The metaphor of the sword and the arrow, applied to powerful speech, is bold, yet just.


Christ’s appearance with the sharp two-edged sword indicates that the church needs Him to intervene in a battle involving the truth.


A Word of Commendation


The Glorified Christ has a word of commendation for the works of this church. He tells them He knows where they dwell. The situation in Pergamos is more desperate than in Smyrna. Smyrna was troubled by a synagogue of Satan, which we learned to be a group of hypocrites professing to be Christians. In Pergamos, it was not a synagogue of Satan that was troubling them, it was Satan’s throne, or as V 14 tells us, even though this was a church of God, it had deteriorated to a place where Satan dwells.

Remember that Christ walks in the midst of the candlesticks and sees and hears everything that goes on in the realm of the church. By telling the church He knows where they dwell, He is telling them that He knows all the temptations to which they are exposed, all the enticements to sin that surround them, and all the rationalization and justification that is made for the ungodliness and error that had infiltrated the church.

Notice that Jesus does not condemn the church for the condition it is in. As with the tares in the parable Jesus taught in Matthew 13:24–30, an enemy had done this. Apparently the saints a Pergamos did not engage in the battle over doctrine as did the saints in Ephesus. Remember, they got to the place where they loved the battle more than they loved Christ. At Pergamos, the saints apparently “kept on keeping on” tolerating those that were bringing in error and ungodly behavior.

On the expression where Satan’s seat is, Adam Clarke provides us with an explanation.


Where Satan has his throne—where he reigns as king, and is universally obeyed. It was a maxim among the Jews, that where the law of God was not studied, there Satan dwelt; but he was obliged to leave the place where a synagogue or academy was established.


This church should have studied the Word of God more than it had done. A church and professed Christians that do not make the effort to study the Bible open themselves to all kinds of error, and such a church will eventually become a throne of Satan. We must be reading our Bibles regularly; not just reading it occasionally, but actually studying it; mark passages and make notes as you read; ask questions and use reliable commentaries to help understand passages that may be difficult; and, be faithful in attending church and Sunday school—take notes, ask questions.

Too many professed Christians are like those in Pergamos, they hold fast to the name of Christ and they profess to be saved from sin—and probably are; but, they are weak in the knowledge of God’s Word and can be led into wrong interpretations and teachings without realizing it. Without a firm grasp of the two-edged sword, they can actually fall prey to the doctrines of Balaam and the Nicolaitans.




Apparently the church had a faithful pastor named Antipas. Actually, nothing is known about the Antipas mentioned in this letter. He was probably a real person that experienced real martyrdom as we mentioned earlier.

But, there are modern-day Antipases, faithful ministers that faithfully teach their congregations and try to ground them in truth and holiness. Here we see a pastor that identified the errors and the people that were trying to undermine the faith and behavior of the people of the church. While many of the saints supported him and followed him, more and more in the church began to bow to the throne of Satan—they were not studying the Word and they were giving in to the ungodly doctrines of these others.

In our day, we do not see the physical martyrdom of pastors so much as we see spiritual martyrdoms. Men and women of God are faithfully teaching the truth of the gospel and showing people how to live holy lives. But the Balaamites and the Nicolaitans have so influenced parishioners that it is killing the influence of the God-called pastors. These false ways require no effort and let people believe what they want. Jesus warned us about these people in Matthew 7:15, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves”.

In our time there are congregations and churches that have been infected with the synagogue of Satan. As bad as that is, there are far more that have actually succumbed to Satan’s throne. The doctrines of Balaam and the Nicolaitans kill the influence of godly pastors, spiritually starve the majority of the people and rob them of a real experience of salvation.