20 July 2012

Revelation 2:12-17

"Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. To everyone who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give a white stone, and on the white stone is written a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it." (v. 17)


The third of the seven messages from Jesus, relayed through John, is to the church at Pergamum, about 50 miles north of Smyrna. Even today, standing amongst its ruins and imposing position, one can understand why Pliny called it "by far the most distinguished city in Asia." Pergamum means 'citadel', it flourished under Hellenistic culture, and the Romans added more gravitas when, in 29 BC Augustus gave permission to Pergamum as the first city in Asia to build a temple dedicated to the worship of a living ruler - himself!

Little wonder then that, of all the seven cities, it is Pergamum where the church clashed most with the Roman imperial cult or emperor-worship. The city was dominated by a huge altar to Zeus which overlooked the city from its acropolis high on the hill, and it is this that is referred to as "Satan's throne" (v. 13). In these circumstances, and faced with the prospect of dying for their faith, it is praiseworthy that the small church in Pergamum in general held fast and were not denying their faith (also verse 13). However, the message to them says that some have been guilty of following Balaam; this was less about specific teaching, and much more about Balaam as an example of corrupt practice and compromise with false ideologies. The Nicolaitans in verse 15 get another mention here; as in Ephesus (see Wednesday's Word in Time), they advocated ways of compromising church behaviour with pagan practices.

It is the indifference of the church in Pergamum to these compromising ways that seems to be of greatest concern. To encourage the church in such a difficult context, and support all who hold fast to the faith, Jesus promises "manna", wholesome and heavenly food as opposed to what the Balaamites can offer in this earthly life. The exact meaning of "the white stone" (v. 17) is not known, but it is clear that it symbolises the triumph of those who stayed faithful to Christ's teaching.

To Ponder

  • You might more easily identify with subtle 'compromise' rather than direct 'persecution' in your faith journey. What are the kind of things that compromise our faith?
  • How can we be more aware of when we are tempted to compromise our faith; and how can we be helped to hold fast to what we know is the Truth?

Bible notes author

Michael King

Michael King is a Methodist local preacher. From 2000-2011, he was leader of the Methodist Church's World Church Relationships team, and was the vice-president of the Methodist Conference in 2012/2013.