Letter to Pergamum 1
This third letter in the series is addressed to Pergamum (meaning 'citadel') - the most northerly of the seven churches. The city, now called Bergama, was built on a 1000 foot conical hill and dominated the region. Having been the capital of ancient Asia, it became the centre of Roman government and emperor worship in what is now western Turkey. It was famed for its magnificent library which was considered better than the one in Alexandria. That rivalry led to Egypt putting a trade embargo on sending papyrus to Pergamum. The result was that they developed a way to prepare animal skins so they could be written on: the city's name giving rise to the word 'parchment'.
John was going to write some stern words to the church. They were not his ideas but they were dictated by the Lord Jesus Christ. He is described as having a sharp, double-edged sword – pictorially the tongue of Christ (Revelation 1:16) whose words cut right through to the heart, the place where we make the connection between desires and decisions (Hebrews 4:12). It is also the place where nothing can be hidden from God (Hebrews 4:13) and where His Word dissects off unholy connections, and exposes where we have failed to make the right ones.
Christian faith was not legal in Pergamum. Earlier in Domitian's reign, Antipas was martyred in the city. Tradition claims he was slowly roasted to death in a bronze kettle over an open fire for refusing to worship the emperor. Satan had his grip on the place. Also, the massive temple to Zeus attracted pagan worshippers with their immoral practices. They had no room for Jesus. The proud and rich city, under the immediate eye of Rome and with a large military garrison, used whatever evil means it chose to stop the church from growing: and repeated reference to the sword was vivid to them (Revelation 2:12, 16). Would they choose to submit to the Roman sword, or the sword of God's Word? And yet Jesus who sees everything commended the believers for not surrendering their faith in Him.
It is tough to be a Christian in any place where Satan thinks he is in charge. That is why we need to pray for people in civic/business authority that the Lord's will might be done (1 Timothy 2:1-8). To endure the unjust oppression of employers takes much grace (1 Peter 2:18). And yet the believer who makes decisions in the present in the light of eternity will be able to endure as Jesus did (Hebrews 12:3). Starting as a Christian is good but continuing demonstrates if you have started: Jesus said, "No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God." (Luke 9:62). So listen to the Lord as His Word dissects our desires and decisions. Choose to agree with Him that you will choose His sword of pruning (John 15:1-4) rather than the sword of Judgement. Persevere despite opposition (James 1:2-4), and do not be frightened by those who oppose you (Philippians 1:28).
© Dr Paul Adams