“And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges; I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth. But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, 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 hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh 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 knoweth saving he that receiveth it.”
Pergamos (Pergamum) was the most religious city in its day. Its inhabitants were known as the “chief temple-keepers of Asia”. The city was home to numerous idols (the “gods”). Emperor worship was a cult at home in Pergamum. Zeus, (the god of the sun), and Asklepios (the serpent god) were worshiped in Pergamum. Zeus’ symbol was also that of a serpent. It was in Pergamum that there was a throne-like alter to Zeus. It has been said that this throne was symbolic of the “Satan’s throne” reference in Revelation 2:13. Pergamum was also home to the temple of Aescuapius, the god of healing. Thousands of snakes inhabited this temple. People from all over came to the temple for healing. They would stay the night laying on the ground while the healing touch of snakes crawled over them. To this day, a staff entwined with serpents (the caduceus) is still used as a symbol of those in the medical field.
Jesus commended the church in Pergamum because it, “holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith”, even through the persecution that claimed the life of Antipas. However, Jesus pointed out that there were some amongst the church that encouraged idolatry (doctrine of Balaam) and tried to set into place a religious hierarchy to rule over the believers (doctrine of the Nicolaitians).
Jesus states that “thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.” The doctrine of Balaam was one of compromise. The Israelites were enticed to make an alliance with the Moabites through intermarriage. This compromise with the Moabites led to idol worship and fornication. The Christians in Pergamos were living in a city that was corrupted with idol worship. There were those within the church that were trying to corrupt believers with the ways of idolatry. In spite of their environment, many Christians held steadfast. As Christians when we do not adhere to God’s Word and separate ourselves from the world, we become polluted by the world. When we begin to compromise on the Word of God we begin on a dangerous path to apostasy.
“So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, which thing I hate.” The doctrine of the Nicolaitanes was to “lord over the laity”. There were those within the church of Pergamos who tried to set up different classes of Christians in order to wield religious power over them. Jesus calls all believers to be kings and priests. We are not to adopt an ecclesiastical hierarchy such as the Roman Catholic Church, where believers must go through a church ruler or priest in order to receive from God. Jesus said if we wanted to become great, we must become least and the servant of all.
If we believe that the Bible is God’s Word, we know that compromise will water down that word. Many churches today are compromising God’s Word by blending it with worldly perspectives and materialism. These things can be stumbling blocks. Ecclesiastical hierarchies are used by many churches today to wield religious power over the body of Christ. by which they will rule over the church. Jesus has this to say to the compromising church: “Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. To him that overcometh 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 knoweth saving he that receiveth it.”