Summary of passage: Jesus praises the church in Pergamum for its fidelity to him even in the face of persecution and the death of Antipas. He condemns them, however, for some following the teaching of Balaam and Nicolaitans and tells them to repent. Jesus says those who overcome will receive manna and a white stone with a new name written on it.
3) They remained true to his name and did not renounce their faith even under persecution and the death of Antipas. (See explanation of Antipas in End Notes).
4a) Balaam was the false prophet hired by Balak to curse the Israelites which God would not allow him to do. It is believed it was Balaam’s idea to subvert the Israelites by using women and sex and causing them to sin and idol worship. (We studied this extensively last year).
b) Part personal question. My answer: “The sword of his mouth” i.e. the Word of God. Knowing God’s word has shown me what God says is right and wrong not what society says is right and wrong. It is the ultimate moral code, the one we will be judged upon, infallible and pure. It has corrected my thinking in terms of gay marriage, sex before marriage, capital punishment, etc.
5) Part personal question. My answer: Those who are victorious will gain heaven as their reward. It encourages me to keep working for Him even when I am so utterly discouraged I want to quit. There is a plan for me; I just have to believe it.
Conclusions: Thoroughly enjoyed this lesson. It kept to the passage and the personal questions were applicable. There is so much here packed into 5 verses. Awesome!
End Notes: Antipas was the first martyr of Western Asia. Precious little is known of him. Some say he is the same Antipas as Saint Antipas (who may not have even existed either). You can read HERE and HERE on him.
Antipas means “against all”. The name Antipas is a shortened form of Antipater, one of Alexander’s successful generals (c. 397-319 B.C). Many men and even women (Antipatris) in the Greek world were named after him. Great in-depth article on Antipas and Pergamum HERE
Pergamum was the Roman capital for the Asiatic region under Rome’s control. It had been the capital for more than 300 years. It was a city noted for learning and knowledge, boasting one of the biggest libraries in the ancient world. The city of Pergamum was a headquarters for several pagan cults and emperor worship began here (having three temples to the emperors and numerous other temples to Roman gods and goddesses) and spread, possibly the meaning behind “where Satan has his throne.”
Pergamum built the first temple to Caesar Augustus 50 years prior to John’s writing. It had a huge temple to the Roman God, Asclepius, the God of healing, and people from all over the Empire would travel here in hopes of being healed.
Map of Pergamum: http://www.biblestudy.org/maps/the-seven-churches-of-revelation.jpg
In Revelation 1:16, John introduces the double-edged sword coming from Jesus’ mouth and repeats the idea here. This would become a popular image as the writer of Hebrews uses this as well (Hebrews 4:12). It stands for the Word. Jesus is holding the Word here as His weapon.
The people did not deny Jesus’ faith. Key point. His faith, not our faith.
Notice Antipas and Jesus are both called “faithful witness.” (Revelation 1:5) The word witness here used to be translated martyr and here the NIV is right. The original Greek word (martus) meant witness. Only in the first century AD did the word begin to take on the meaning of martyr in the English sense.
Nothing is known about Antipas except what is recorded here. History forgot him. But Jesus didn’t.
Balaam (his story is in Numbers 22-24 and again in chapter 31) encouraged sexual immorality and idolatry. In the ancient world, there was no concept of sexual immorality except with the Jews. The Romans married but were not faithful. If they wanted to sleep around, they did. And they saw nothing wrong with that. These are people who had sex in temples remember. It was their culture. It wasn’t until the spread of Christianity that God’s way became the standard.
Here we see the Nicolaitans again (Revelation 2:6). Again, not much is known of the Nicolaitans. Some scholars say they were followers of Nicholas who was ordained by the apostles and who believed in revelry, adultery, and indulgence to the extreme. Other scholars say they were more gnostics who believed a physical body was intrinsically evil and denied the fact a pure, omnipotent God would take such a form. Hence, some claimed Jesus was a phantom or that God left Jesus before he was crucified. The Greek root words of Nicolaitan means “to conquer the people.”
God’s people here allowed these practices to continue. They were complicit in the sin, doing nothing to stop it. Hence, Jesus’ rebuke.
5 of the 7 churches are commanded to repent or face judgment using the Word.
Hidden manna is God’s perfect provision–Jesus (John 6:41, 51).
In the Roman world, a white stone was known as tessera and it was a form of currency if you will. It was used as tickets to banquets, signs of honor and friendship, and even as a sign of acquittal in court. Stones were also used in voting methods. Citizens or those eligible to vote were given two stones: a white one and a black one. A white one meant “yes” and a black one meant “no.” Citizens would drop only one stone when they voted. This method was mainly for enacting laws.
Interesting historical note: these stones were used to vote for the Nicene Creed.
Another interesting historical note: this is where the colors also became associated with good and evil in the secular world (besides the use in the Bible).
Further interest: This system of using black and white balls was carried over to the modern world for electing new members to clubs, fraternities, and guilds. This is also where the term “blackballing” comes from albeit the meaning of the word has changed in modern times. Cool short summaries HERE and HERE.
People’s names were carved on these stones, or more accurately, pebbles in the Greek.
Here, the white stone serves as the ticket to heaven, the “new name” probably the believer’s new name engraved on it.