Archive for February 4th, 2009

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
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*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.

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The following article was submitted by CRN.Info Reader, Steve W. Thank you, Steve!

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I went to a new church the other day. At first, I was having a great time. The pastor spoke for one hour about his favourite topic, which was why 99.999 per cent of the churches out there are apostate.

At first, I was thrilled to hear such a stirring and uplifting message. Pastor Joe gave at least a dozen different examples as to how the modern church differentiates from the early New Testament church. “We’ve replaced this with that and that with this,” Pastor Joe said. “God is angry. He hates these apostate churches.”

He went on about how women should have their heads covered in church and he deplored how modern church youth groups will actually do evil Satanic things like go on trips to waterslide parks.

“The early Christians certainly never took time out from preaching the word in order to go water parks or amusement parks,” he said.

Amen, brother Joe, I thought. All these Satanic forms of entertainment were put there by the devil with the exclusive goal of tearing our eyes from Christ.

But now I come to the sad part of the story.

After the service was over, I walked up to Pastor Joe and kissed him on the cheek.

Pastor Joe did not kiss me back. Instead he looked stunned, and a little angry.

“Why did you do that?” he asked.

I was a little taken aback, but I explained to him that I was merely greeting him with a holy kiss, as the early New Testament church did and as we are instructed to do in Romans 16:16.

Pastor Joe had none of it. He told me not to do that again.

I left that church with great heaviness in my heart. I really thought they were one of the few churches on the straight and narrow, but now I can plainly see that they are just another apostate church that is on the broad road to hell.

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