Revelation Chapter 2 (Pergamum & Thyatira)


REVELATION 2:12-29 (Pergamum & Thyatira)

Dave: July 16, 2009

Scripture text for this study: Revelation 2:12-29

[Notes from Adam were added on October 14th, and are in blue font. They are based mostly on Steve Gregg’s book “Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary).”]

Pergamum

  • 190,000 people
  • 65 miles north of Smyrna
  • Capital city of the northern province of Asia
  • Known as a religious hub –
    • Worship of Zeus
    • Worship of Athene & Dionysus
    • Worship of Asclepios
    • Worship of Caesar

Steve Gregg notes that Pergamum (Pergamos) was the oldest city in Asia. It had the second largest library in the world (after Alexandria, Egypt), with 200,000 volumes of books (Steve Gregg, p. 68).

–What was the church praised for?
–Who was Antipas?  (See 1:5)
–What was the church rebuked for?  (See Num 31:16 for more on Balaam)

Sam Storms:

We read of Balaam in Numbers 22-24. Balak, King of Moab, had solicited Balaam to curse the children of Israel who were preparing to cross over into the promised land. But God intervened. Every time Balaam spoke, words of blessing came forth. Moved by greed for the reward Balak offered him, Balaam advised Balak that Moabite women should seduce the men of Israel by inviting them to partake in their idolatrous feasts (which invariably led to sexual immorality). Balaam knew that this would provoke the judgment of God against his people (which is precisely what happened).

What Balaam was to the children of Israel in the Old Testament, the Nicolaitans were to the church of Jesus Christ in the New. Balaam is a prototype of those who promote compromise with the world in idolatry and immorality (see also Jude 11 and 2 Peter 2:15). The Nicolaitans had dared to insinuate that freedom in Christ granted them a blank check to sin. The fault of the Pergamemes was not so much that they had followed this pernicious teaching but that they had allowed it be vocalized in the congregation. This matter of indifference to the licentiousness of the Nicolaitans was of grave concern to the risen Lord.

Steve Gregg views the teaching of the Nicolaitans as a forerunner to second-century gnosticism:

Whether those in Pergamos were teaching false doctrine for pay [as Balaam did], or simply teaching false doctrine, we do not know. What is evident is that sexual immorality and compromise with idolatry were being tolerated and even advocated by some in the church. In the second century, these same issues would be principal features of the Gnostic heretics (p. 69).

–Who are the Nicolaitans? (See note on Rev 2:6 – antinomians?)
–Why does Jesus say “I know where you dwell?”  (Encouragement that He understands our difficulties.)
–To whom does Jesus say He will come?  (to the church, but He will wage war against those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.)
–Practically speaking, what should the elders of Pergamum have done about the false teaching?
–What application is there for our churches?  And for us?

The Christians in Pergamum had sacrificed the ethical purity of their congregation on the altar of “love” and for the sake of some nebulous “peace” they feared to lose. Purity often comes at an extremely high price. But we must be prepared to pay it. Confrontation is never pleasant, but it often reaps a bountiful harvest. By all means, pursue love, but not at the expense of truth or in such a way that overt sin is left to fester and spread in the body of Christ (Source: Sam Storms).

Verses 16-17: Jesus tells the church in Pergamos what will take place in they do not repent for allowing the teaching of the Nicolaitans to remain in their midst. Steve Gregg remarks (p. 69),

Though the whole church is called upon to repent, it is only the offenders against whom Jesus threatens to fight…with the sword of My mouth (v. 16). What form this judgment will take is not specified, though it probably does not refer to the Second Coming, since this church no longer exists.

The same language Jesus uses here will be used again in Revelation 19:15. Jesus then gives several promises to those who conquer, including that He will give them a new name which no one else knows. A similar promise is given to the church in Philadelphia (3:12), where a second name is also promised (the name of God’s city, the New Jerusalem). Another promise given by Jesus here is that He will give to those who conquer a white stone. Steve Gregg remarks,

Much speculation has attended the interpretation of a white stone (v. 17). In one view, it is a token of vindication or acquittal, referring to the [first-century] practice of a judge handing an accused criminal either a black stone signifying condemnation or a white stone indicating acquittal. The message then would be that, though the Christians may stand condemned in the Roman courts, they will be justified at the bar of eternal justice. Another view is that the white stone was a token given to contestants in the Greek games as they completed their race, to be traded in later for their actual awards.

–The white stone . . . sometimes given to victors at games for entrance to banquets
–Where does Satan dwell these days?

Thyatira

–Economically strong, but culturally and politically ostracized.
–What is the church commended for?  (opposite of church in Ephesus)
–What is it rebuked for?  (tolerated heresy and immorality)

Steve Gregg (pp. 70-71) reminds us that one prominent believer from the book of Acts hailed from Thyatira:

Lydia, Paul’s first convert in Philippi, was from the city of Thyatira (Acts 16:14). The purple cloth she sold was a major product of that city… It is known that the city had many trade guilds, and it would have been difficult to make a living without participating in one of them. Yet the guilds practiced idolatrous rites at their gatherings, which Christians could not countenance. Therefore, the Christians in Thyatira may have been hard pressed to support themselves and their families without resorting to some measure of compromise with idolatry.

–Who is Jezebel?  (real person, but name was symbolic – like the symbolism of Balaam)

“Thus, what is meant is that this disreputable, so-called “prophetess” was as wicked and dangerous an influence in Thyatira as ‘Jezebel’ had been to Israel in the OT”  (Sam Storms).

–What was Jezebel doing to oppose the Lord and lead others astray?
–Didn’t Paul say it was OK to eat food sacrificed to idols as long as a brother’s conscience is not harmed?  What is the difference here?
–What will become of her and those she has influenced?
–What assurance does Jesus give to believers in Thyatira?  (He “searches the mind and the heart.”)
–Is the prophetess a believer?  And what about those who have followed her?  (Acts 5, 1 Cor 11:30-32)
–What are the deep things of Satan?
–What admonition does the Lord give to the believers?  (hold fast what you have until I come; conquer; keep my works until the end)
–What does “I will give authority over the nations” mean?  What are these nations?  (See Ps 2:7-9)

Steve Gregg addresses this question by presenting the various ways this statement in verse 26 is interpreted (p. 72):

Here the overcomer is described as the one who keeps My works until the end, with whom Christ will share His own power over the nations (v. 26). The fulfillment of this promise has been variously applied: (a) to reigning with Christ over the unsaved nations during a future millennium (20:4), (b) to participating in the reign of the saints with Christ after death in heaven (another way of understanding 20:4), or (c) to reigning over Christians of lower rank in the new earth, assuming there will be varying degrees of authority awarded to various saints (see Matt. 25:21-23; Luke 19:17, 19; I Cor. 15:41f).

The paraphrase of Psalm 2:9…appears, in context and without punctuation, to apply to the overcoming believer. In the psalm itself, it is clearly Christ who wields the rod of iron (as also in Rev. 19:15), which no doubt accounts for the translators in this case using quotation marks. Citation of the psalm points out that the authority of the exalted believer is not his own, but derived from the authority of Christ.

–Who is the Morning Star?  (See Rev 22:16)
–Do your latter works exceed your first?  Which direction are you going?

Thank you, Jesus, for giving us time to repent!

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Our study of Revelation 3 can be found here.

All of our Revelation chapter-by-chapter studies, and any other posts related to the book of Revelation, can be found here.

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5 thoughts on “Revelation Chapter 2 (Pergamum & Thyatira)

  1. Dave,

    I just took a closer look again at your post. You asked a number of good questions that haven’t been answered here. I hope we’ll all jump in and discuss them, for our own benefit and for the benefit of others who might come across this post. I’ll start with a few of them.

    [1] “What was the church [of Pergamum] praised for?”

    They held fast the name of Jesus, despite living “where Satan’s throne is.” They did not deny their faith in Jesus, even in the days when Antipas was martyred among them.

    [2] “Who was Antipas?”

    I honestly don’t know. Do you feel that “Antipas” was a code word for Jesus? (I noted your reference to Rev. 1:5, where Jesus is called “the faithful witness,” similar to Antipas being called “My faithful witness.”) Cross references aren’t inspired, though, and in this case I think the phrases are similar by coincidence. I could be wrong, but my thought is that Antipas was an influential first-century believer who was martyred there in the city of Pergamum (I’m noting the phrase “was killed among you, where Satan dwells”). Another cross reference for this verse, again not inspired, points back to a mentioning of Stephen in Acts 22:20. But I don’t believe “Antipas” was Stephen either, for the same reason; he was martyred in Jerusalem, not Asia Minor. I’d love to hear the story behind the martyrdom of Antipas if this in fact has to do with a believer in Asia Minor, and if this story has been recorded in any detail.

    [3] “Who are the Nicolaitans?”

    This is a question I’d definitely like to see us dig into more deeply. Jesus hates both their works and their teaching (verses 6 and 15). I believe I’ve read a couple of convincing arguments that the Nicolaitans advocated gnosticism, but I wish I had kept my references on hand. Check out this guy’s post, though. It came up as an automatically generated “possibly related post” and there is a pretty interesting discussion going on there:

    http://jeffrhodes.wordpress.com/2009/03/04/whats-up-with-the-nicolaitans/

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  2. Another observation: Jesus told the Church in Pergamum that if they didn’t repent (for holding to the teachings of Balaam and the Nicolaitans) He would “come” to them soon and war against them “with the sword of [His] mouth.” It seems clear that this wasn’t literal language, i.e. He was certainly prepared to judge them if they didn’t repent, but it wouldn’t be through a physical coming where He would literally have a sword coming out of His mouth. (I’m writing from the standpoint that John was addressing a historical first-century assembly of believers, whose members passed away about 1900 years ago.)

    A question comes out of this observation, then. The same description is given of Jesus in Revelation 19:15. “From His mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations…” How far is this to be understood literally? Does Jesus PHYSICALLY come in judgment in that instance, and does He literally have a sword coming out of His mouth, or does the sword symbolize something else? We can and probably should postpone this discussion until we get to chapter 19, but I thought I would go ahead and put this observation out there.

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    • Sorry, Rob . . . there are no notes other than what was posted at the time. I hope that what was presented is a help to you as you study the passage.

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