Pergamos - Pergamum

Pergamum or Pergamos was the capital city of the province of Asia mentioned in Revelation as one of the seven churches of Asia. It was a celebrated city of Mysia in the Caicus valley, 15 miles from the Aegean Sea about 60 miles north of Smyrna. The river Selinus flowed through it and the river Caicus ran just south of it. Founded by Philelaerus, the lieutenant of King Lysimachus during his wars with Seleucus, it is now modern Berghama.

Pergamum was the famous site of the temple to Aesculapius, the Greek God of healing supposed to be the founder of medical science and immortalized in the sky as the constellation Ophiuchus. The city became the seat of Babylonian sun worship, a noble center of idolatry and demon controlled religions with splendid temples to Nature. People from all over the Roman empire came to seek healing in this pagan temple and the shrine area was inhabited by thousands of harmless snakes. On the hills of Acropolis stood resplendent buildings, statuary, palaces and the great library as well as the temples and an altar of "Zeus the Savior." Medicine and science was worshipped here and the symbol of their worship was the serpent. The snake was carried down into our own day with a staff entwined with serpents called the caduceus, still using the snake as a symbol for the medical arts; Aesculapius is depicted holding the caduceus in his hand.

Pergamum for a while paid the Gauls tribute in the third century BC, but she retained her general independence. Attulus I defeated the Gauls in two decisive victories and refused her tribute. She remained free for almost a century after that and was perhaps the most highly civilized state in the world. Pergamum shone with the great altar and costly buildings raised by the Attilid kings out of a treasury fattened by the labor of slaves in state forests, fields, mines, and factories. Under the auspices of the Pergamum princes, Greek art flourished anew.

Noted for its great wealth and culture, Pergamos boasted of an immense library of 200,000 volumes. In the second century BC, the king of Egypt learned that King Eumenes II of Pergamum was amassing a library that surpassed the wonderous library of Alexandria. Eumenes had been importing large quantities of papyrus for the books copied and the rivalry caused The Egyptian King to put an embargo on the export of papyrus to Pergamum. Eumenes had his craftsman work to find a substitute and parchment was invented. This rivalry and jealousy over Pergamum and Egypt over the library was settled when Caliph Omar destroyed the Alexandrian library. The tragedy caused Antony to despoil the famous library at Pergamum in the 2nd century BC and remove it to Egypt as a present to Cleopatra to reimburse Alexandria for the volumes destroyed.

Roman culture envied the learned Greeks and schools of the Hellenistic type found in Pergamos, Rhodes and Athens and encouraged schools in Rome to pattern themselves after them. In the power of the Roman Republic, Pergamum found a natural and useful ally. Rome supported Pergamum in her dispute with the Galatians and the Orientalized Seleuci Empire. Royally situated in a commanding position, Pergamum remained the capital until the last of the Pergamenian kings, Attalus III, acquiescing to his sense of unavoidable destiny, made the Roman Republic the heir to his kingdom in 133 BC. Pergamum then became the Roman province of Asia. One of the most extraordinary events in history was Attalus leaving his kingdom to the Roman people. History records it as a mystery but Bible prophecy was about to be fulfilled. In effect, King Attalus had handed over his country to be looted and allowed Roman influence to corrupt the intellectual tradition.

Pergamum became the chief town of the new province of Asia, and the site of the first temple of the Caesar cult, dedicated to the goddess Roma and the emperor Augustus in 29 BC. Pergamum, since 29 BC, had been active in the promotion of the imperial religion and became the provincial center of the Roman state religion. With this emphasis it was but natural that the Christians of Pergamum should undergo persecution for refusing to worship the emperor. Elder Pliny judged it the most brilliant city in Asia. There still exist sculptures representing the artistic achievement of Pergamum in western Asia-Minor.

And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things saith he which has the sharp sword with two edges; I know your works, and where you dwell, even where Satan's seat is: and you hold fast my name, and have not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwells. But I have a few things against you, because you have there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. So have you also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcomes will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knows saving he that receives it. Revelation 2:12-17.

Constantine made Christianity the state religion and by doing so acted in the same capacity as Attulus III by giving away the kingdom to the Romans. It was the Roman church however that the blame resides. Constantine was a useful ally, he had stopped the persecutions and did what He could to bring peace to the church by holding an ecumenical council to decide some tough issues that needed to be dealt with. It was not his fault. The persecutions had strengthened the church but the Roman church had already compromised by this time by bringing the Nicolatian errors of the separation of clergy and laity. By destroying the unity and humility of the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, the pride of lording it over the people stifled the prophetic influence and plunged the church into the dark ages. They compromised further by allowing pagan Roman idolatry to influence their worship in what can only be called syncretism.

The church was no longer a separate sanctified people and the Roman influence became a stumbling block. The effect of the rule of Constantine meant that the state supported the church and the emperor became its benefactor. When the Empire crumbled and the throne was vacant, the wordly authority was taken over by the papacy who turned the throne into "satan's seat." The bishop of Rome was now Pontifex Maximus with all the pretention and false authority over the church that the old imperial office held.

Successive generations of the Roman church show this admixture of pagan influence and the gospel of Christ existing side by side. In this atmosphere however is the spirit of God that consists of a gospel that will not return void. The church has always had its true worshippers and those that held fast to the name of Jesus because the true church of Jesus Christ consists of those that have partaken of salvation. The church is the bearer of the truth of this salvation but salvation itself comes from Jesus and does not proceed from the church no matter what the church tells us. Salvation is sronger than man's attempt to divert the source and there will always be those that have not denied the true faith.

The Balaam influence here is in compromising with the world and allowing idolatry and sexual immorality to be tolerated. Also in that they had tried to curse the people of God that came to reform the church. Balaam had disobeyed the word of the Lord and had gone his own way. The sword drawn against Balaam by God parallels the reformation period of the church. Rather than being cursed, God blessed this Antipas (read anti-pope) spirit even in martyrdom and put Rome in a situation where the reforming influence, enlightenment and Great Awakening had virtually passed them over. Through the counter-reformation, they had somewhat strengthened what remained but Pergamos is told to repent or Jesus will come upon them quickly. We may understand quickly to mean suddenly. The end-time thinking that we understand precludes us from being taken by surprise but just as it was in the days of Noah, many will going on with business as usual and the wedding feast will be an unknown. As soon as Balaam starts blessing the people of God by speaking only what the Lord gives them, they will be blessed themselves. It is not up to the ignorant to start knowing, it is up to the knowing to take the gospel of the kingdom to the ignorant. There is a lot of animosity against the Roman church by those who do not have the spiritual maturity and love to accept them as brothers and sisters in Christ. There are many who are truly justified in the Catholic church and will be among the overcomers long before any who protest against them. No matter what the sins of Pergamos are, they are still one of the seven lights of Asia.

The Lord is described to Pergamos as having a two-edged sword. That sword is the word of God and by cutting both ways, has the power to convict and correct as well as to convert, distinguishing between soul and spirit. It is such that it proceeds out of His mouth laying stress upon the verbal word of prophecy but not limited to the written word and directed to the nations. They are not told to get out of the church but rather to repent of the false doctrine so the sword here is especially for those who will not repent. To flee from the wrath to come, we need to "bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance," as John the Baptist would say. These fruits are the works that Jesus is already praising them for, now it is up to those that have need of repentance to make that turn about, not merely sorrow and contrition but a changed life and renewed mind.

The manna from Heaven is the bread of life fulfilled in Jesus. It is hidden only to those that are lost. There was a ancient judicial custom of dropping a black stone in an urn when voting for a conviction and a white one for aquital. Whether the white stone and the new name is to be given in this life or the next is not sufficiently explained but we do know that it is a reward for the overcomers. Saint John writes in His epistles that we have overcome the wicked one because because "greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world."
[04, 118, 294, 298, 338, 339, 343, 359, 365, 08, 15, 377, 379, 403, Revelation 2, 19, Matthew 3:7-8, Numbers 22, I John 2]

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