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Revelation 2:12–17

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it” (v. 17).

Pergamum, the next city Jesus addresses in Revelation, served as a center for the worship of Asclepius, the god of healing whose symbol was a serpent. A large altar to Zeus that included images of serpents also stood there. Pergamum was one of the first cities to side with Rome against other eastern powers, and it became a key site of emperor worship once the Romans took over. Other forms of paganism were plentiful in Pergamum as well. For any or all of these reasons, Jesus locates “Satan’s throne” in Pergamum (Rev. 2:13).

In this city where false worship was prevalent, the Christians in Pergamum were tempted to compromise the faith. Yet, Jesus commends the church there for standing fast against external pressure, with one Antipas even dying for Christ (vv. 12–13). However, as Revelation 2:14–15 reveals, at least some in the church at Pergamum were succumbing to the temptations of subtler forms of idolatry. They followed the “teaching of Balaam,” eating food offered to idols and engaging in sexual immorality. Here we have a reference to Numbers 25 and 31:16, where Balaam enticed the ancient Israelites to commit idolatry and sexual sin with the Midianites. Something similar was going on in the first-century church of Pergamum. Perhaps many believers were bowing to the pressure of the trade guilds and participating in the sacrificial meals offered to the gods in order to keep their jobs (see 1 Cor. 10:1–21). Maybe some Christians in Pergamum were visiting prostitutes. Or sexual immorality in Revelation 2:14–15 could refer to idolatry, as it does in many Old Testament texts, including the book of Hosea. Whatever the problem, at least some of the Pergamian Christians were not entirely faithful to Christ.

Jesus warns the Pergamian Christians that He will judge them unless they repent (v. 16). However, those who conquer by exercising repentant faith will receive “hidden manna” (v. 17). Christ promises to sustain His people just as He sustained Israel with manna in the wilderness (Ex. 16). The Pergamian Christians are also promised a white stone with a name engraved on it (Rev. 2:17). White stones were highly valued for many reasons in the ancient world, so Jesus is promising something of great value to faithful Christians. On this stone is a “new name,” perhaps a reference to a new status conferred by Jesus just as a new status went with a new name for people such as Abraham (Gen. 17:1–8). Those who persevere are forever acknowledged as children of God.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

We can be vocal in our defense of the Christian faith and yet find ourselves conforming to the idols of this world. Often, the greatest dangers to the Christian are the most subtle, so we must be on guard lest we begin to prize the things of this world more than Christ Jesus.

Are there any idols in your life that you need to recognize and repent of this day?

For Further Study
  • Genesis 32:22–32
  • Isaiah 62
  • John 6:48–51
  • Revelation 3:12

Worship Has a Context

To the Church in Thyatira I

Keep Reading Covenant Theology

From the October 2020 Issue
Oct 2020 Issue