Letters to the Churches: Pergamum
There’s a trick that has been played by Christians since the very beginning, but it’s one in which they only fool themselves. The trick of which I speak is called “rationalization.” It happened first in the Garden: “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate” (Genesis 3:6). No matter that God said, “You shall not eat [of it]” (2:17), Eve had her own designs of which to attend. And so Christians have made a stock and trade of this wicked commodity, justifying their sins for some “noble” purpose—like getting along in the world without sacrifice.
In all of these cities, the imperial cult was in high regard, if for no other reason than to get into Rome’s good graces. Swearing by the genius of Caesar, calling him, “Lord,” or placing a pinch of incense before his altar were all gestures of patriotism and a social obligation (NIGTC, 249). And many Christians thought, “What harm is it? We know that Jesus is Lord. We do not believe in their deities. We simply go along to get along. And you’d better do the same if you wish to live a life without harassment—or worse!”
That’s what was happening in Pergamum. Note that to this church, Christ introduces himself as the one “who has the sharp two-edged sword” (1:16), a reminder that he is judge of his churches. Some in the church are commended for their faithfulness in a city under such Satanic dominion; one of their own, “Antipas,” even sealed his testimony with blood. But despite these godly ones, others in the church were doing exactly what we described above: Compromising with the world. They ate food sacrificed to idols and probably in the pagan temple where they shared the table with demons (1 Corinthians 10:14-22), and perhaps practiced sexual immorality. Both of these sins are reminiscent of Balaam’s teaching (Numbers 25; 31:16; 2 Peter 2:15) and the cursed Nicolaitans—an antinomian group of false teachers.
Like the Ephesians, they are called upon to repent lest Christ himself war against them! Did you hear that? But let us not overlook the blessings for the one who conquers so beautifully depicted by our Lord: Hidden manna and a white stone with a new name thereon which no one knows but the one who receives it. We know that manna was the food the Israelites ate in the wilderness and so symbolizes eternal sustenance. As for the stone, I will only say that it is the personal and intimate relationship with God symbolized by the gift that matters.