Pergamum was a major city in the ancient Roman Empire.
“Among its notable features were its beauty and wealth, its library of nearly 200,000 volumes (second only to the library of Alexandria); its famous sculpture; its temples to Dionysus, Athena, Asclepius, and Demeter, along with the three temples to the emperor cult; its great altar to Soter Zeus; and its many palaces. The two main religions seem to have been the worship of Dionysus, the god of the royal kings symbolized by the bull, and Asclepius, the savior god of healing, represented by the snake.” (Ramsay, Seven Churches, 284, quoted in Expositors Bible Commentary)
Our passage today offers a stiff warning against deviation against the purity of God’s Word. As with the other church letters, this one opens with a description of Jesus, “The One who has the sharp two-edged sword.” His sword divides truth from falsehood, righteousness from unrighteousness. In the Roman Empire, Pergamum was one of the few cities allowed to have capitol punishment—executed with a sword. Thus, it is not the sword of Rome that should cause Pergamum to fear, it is Him who, on the day of judgement, will separate the wheat from the chaff.
As we read, Pergamum had true witnesses to the faith, like Antipas. However, many among them had fallen into the pressures of the culture and turned to idolatry. Idolatry in that culture was everywhere. Even the meat purchased at the market had been sacrificed to pagan gods. It’s prevalence led some in the church to buy the lie. Thus, we see the charge in verse 17, “Repent, or else…”
Pergamum was full of idolatry, paganism, and false worship. Faithful Christians in that culture faced hostility on a regular basis. Sound familiar?
How often are you tempted to compromise truth? What consequences might you face for living sold out for Jesus? Temptations and distractions are everywhere for us, but it was the same, if not worse, in Pergamum. Forget what someone might see on TV or with social media, pagan worship was so ingrained in culture it was inescapable. Pergamum was so bad, it’s referred to as Satan’s dwelling place.
Living out your faith is hard. But in this passage Jesus is essentially saying, “I know it’s hard, but that excuse will not fly. Don’t give up and don’t give in. Not an inch!” If that was the expectation for Pergamum, what is the expectation for us. Don’t give up and don’t give in. Not one inch!
By: Tyler Short — Connections Ministry Associate