Revelation – The letter to the compromising church in Pergamum – (2) Divine Knowledge

In Part 2 of The letter to the church in Pergamum, we’ll look at the Divine Knowledge. The things Jesus knows about the church. Usually, this is good news for the receiving church. However, that’s not always the case. Jesus told the church in Pergamum that He has I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. That sounds bad. But is it?

Revelation – The letter to the compromising church in Pergamum – (2) Divine Knowledge is article #14 in the series: Seven Letters to Seven Churches. Click button to view titles for entire series
divine knowledge for the church in Pergamum

Divine Knowledge in the seven letters:

Jesus’ first message to each church is: “I know your works.” The churches’ works are sometimes commendable, sometimes requiring censure. 

Before we resume with the letter to the church in Pergamum, here’s the breakdown for this particular letter.

Tothe angel of the church in Pergamum
Fromhim who has the sharp, double-edged sword.
Divine KnowledgeI 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.
But -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.
So -Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.
HearHe who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
To those who overcomeTo 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.

Divine Knowledge of the church in Pergamum

Divine Knowledge of the church in Pergamum

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.

As mentioned – there’s a double-edge to this one.  There are two good things that Jesus said about this church.  you remain true to my name  and You did not renounce your faith in me.  However, both of those are encased in the middle of two statements about Satan.  where Satan has his throne and where Satan lives.  How will this play out?  Can the middle break through the statements on Satan?  Or are the folks in this church doomed?

Let’s begin with the good things, since that’s generally what this section on Divine Knowledge is about.

I know where you live

You might remember the opening of the previous two letters.  

Ephesus: I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance.
Smyrna: I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich!
and now
Pergamum: I know where you live—where Satan has his throne.

After this letter, the remainder will all go back to the format of I know your deeds.  Since the statement to Smyrna had a lot to do with the likely outcome for this church, we should expect the same thing for the church in Pergamum.  Given that it “lives” where Satan has his throne, the location sounds rather ominous.  Especially since, as we saw, the Divine Knowledge – the good news – also ends with where Satan lives.

It’s an important thing to note for this church.  It’s also an important thing for every Christian to take note of.  Where do we live and how strong is Satan’s presence in our area?  I feel like this can be especially tough for Christians who stay pretty much isolated to the church and with Christian friends.

For example, I read something yesterday from N.T. Wright, an Anglican Bishop.  He was writing about looking at the Covid-19 virus as a time of exile.  Personally, I was glad to see that, having recently written Is Covid-19 a modern-day Exile?.  I wish more Christians would take that point of view, rather than going the political route and looking to the government to “rescue” them.  Here’s part of what he said in an article titled Should Churches Reopen? The Answer Lies in Thinking of This As a Time of Exile.  I highly recommend reading the whole thing.

I find myself caught between these two viewpoints, both of which seem to me right. I totally understand that we need to be responsible and scrupulously careful. I am appalled by reports of would-be devout but misguided people ignoring safety regulations because they believe that as Christians they are automatically protected against disease, or that (as I heard someone say on television) “you’ll be safe inside church because the devil can’t get in there.” (I wanted to say: Trust me, lady, I’m a bishop: the devil knows his way in there as well as anybody else.)

It really is possible to get a false sense of security about the devil.  Some that I’ve written about with the virus, my response has been to just look around and see that this virus really has affected Christians – and churches.  The numbers and real like tell us that God is not sparing us.  And if this is a time of exile for us, the Bible tells us that it’s to be expected that this virus will hit us as well.

But I really like what Wright wrote – Trust me, lady, I’m a bishop: the devil knows his way in there as well as anybody else.  One thing we should have learned from the Bible is that the devil knows Scripture very well.  More than well enough to twist it.  And well enough to trip us up.  So why we think we’re protected when the Bible is full of instances where we’re tested and even told troubles will come upon us – I just don’t get it.

But this false sense of security and protection happens.  And I think it’s probably more likely when we spend most of our lives inside the church and with a close circle of only Christian friends.  We don’t know what’s happening “outside”.  Then, when Satan des come “inside”, we aren’t ready for it.  We aren’t used to having to be careful, so we aren’t.  That’s true for both this virus and for our spiritual lives.

So the point for bringing up I know where you live has to do with exactly that.  What else lives where we do?  Yes, deeds are important.  They show something of our faith, especially when combined with what’s in our hearts.  But when Jesus warns about what else is happening where we live – we really should pay attention.  Then when He repeats it, we should pay extra attention to it. 

So that’s something else to keep in mind as we proceed.  This church now has two things to watch out for.  The double-edged sword and Satan.  And we’re just getting started.

Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness,

Since the divine knowledge is supposed to be the good news for each church, let’s start with the parts that most seem like good news.  Then we’ll return to Satan afterwards.

Yes, we’re going to look at both staying true and not renouncing together.  They are, after all, saying the same thing.  I wonder though, do we really get the intensity of what Jesus said?   Here’s what the Greek word we read as “remain true” meant.

2902κρατέω [krateo /krat·eh·o/] v. From 2904; TDNT 3:910; TDNTA 466; GK 3195; 47 occurrences; AV translates as “hold” 12 times, “take” nine times, “lay hold on” eight times, “hold fast” five times, “take by” four times, “lay hold upon” twice, “lay hand on” twice, and translated miscellaneously five times. 1 to have power, be powerful. 1a to be chief, be master of, to rule. 2 to get possession of. 2a to become master of, to obtain. 2b to take hold of. 2c to take hold of, take, seize. 2c1 to lay hands on one in order to get him into one’s power. 3 to hold. 3a to hold in the hand. 3b to hold fast, i.e. not discard or let go. 3b1 to keep carefully and faithfully. 3c to continue to hold, to retain. 3c1 of death continuing to hold one. 3c2 to hold in check, restrain.  [1]Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.

We see things like hold and lay hold on.  But just how strongly were they holding?  This is one time when the NIV maybe gives a better idea than the Authorized Version as to what’s going on here.

In the 1984 NIV, the word was translated 13 times as either “arrest” or “arrested”.  That’s pretty strong.  More so than”hold”.

And then, to reinforce what He said, Jesus essentially repeats the remaining true theme when He immediately adds You did not renounce your faith in me.  Renounce means pretty much what we expect. 

So first, Jesus says at least some in the church in Pergamum held so tightly to His name that it was like holding their belief in a secure place.  I remember someone who worked as a missionary in China told me that when things are difficult, just grab hold of Jesus’ hand (figuratively) and just don’t let go!  Remain true with that kind of hold.  

And then Jesus reinforces it by saying they didn’t deny Him, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city.  No one knows for sure who Antipas was.  Therefore, there’s also no telling who exactly killed him.  All we know is that Antipas was martyred for His faith.  It could have been the Romans.  Or any of the various pagans in the city.

Often times, it feels like some details are left out of the Bible for a reason.  In this case, so we can’t draw any false or wrong conclusions about the circumstances surrounding Antipas’ death.  Who did it isn’t the most important thing.  That he dies a martyr for his faith in Jesus is what matters.  As does the fact that at least some in the Pergamum church didn’t lose their faith because his death caused too much fear for their own lives.

Is this Divine Knowledge good or bad?

That was the good part of Pergamum’s Divine Knowledge.  But what do we do with this part?

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.

When Jesus says Satan lives there and has his throne there, is that good or bad?

To answer that question, I have to go back to the double-edged sword description.  I believe it’s both good and bad – depending on who we’re talking about.

The good side of I know where you live—where Satan has his throne … —where Satan lives

For those who remained true / didn’t lose their faith, I believe it was good.  Very good, even.  Given the prevalence of emperor worship and the high sense of competition in the city, peer pressure to join in with friends must have been enormous.  Not to mention the pressure of the Roman hatred for the Christians who were calling their Emperor god an idol.  Or the death that came to some of them – like Antipas.

Some scholars debate over whether the references to Satan were about the Romans, Balaam or the Nicolaitans.  I feel like that’s an argument for the sake of arguing.  Here’s why.  Consider the passage below.

Whoever Is Not Against Us Is for Us

9:38-40 pp — Lk 9:49, 50

Mk 9:38 “Teacher,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”

Mk 9:39 “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40 for whoever is not against us is for us. 41 I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.”

No, it’s not about the Romans or the pagans.  But look at what Jesus said about being for or against “us”.

whoever is not against us is for us

From a strictly logical point of view, there is one way to rearrange that sentence and still have it always be true.

Whoever is not for us is against us.

Now, look at what’s happening in Pergamum.  The Romans are certainly not for the Christians.  Neither are those who follow Balaam.  Nor are the Nicolaitans.  Therefore, as we know, all of them are against the Christians.  Now add the fact that this is a spiritual battle between the forces of good and evil.  Between God and Satan.

Does Satan really care if someone joins any of the three groups in Pergamum who are against the Christians?  Romans, Balaam worshippers, Nicolaitans – he doesn’t care.  When we get right down to it, Satan is ultimate the author of all of them.  To get lost in discussions of which of the three was the cause of any one event is to lose track of the real war.  To sow discontent within Christian scholars and to Christians in general as we argue over who was right.  I’m sure Satan is delighted when this happens.

The bad side of I know where you live—where Satan has his throne … —where Satan lives

Which leads us nicely into what’s wrong with being where Satan lives and has his throne.

Talk about temptation!  There are things like the arguments we just looked at.

And that will lead us to the next section of the letter to the church in Pergamum. The “But …” portion of the letter.

Footnotes

Footnotes
1Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.

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