12 “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: ‘The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword.
13 “‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. 14 But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. 15 So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth. 17 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.’” – Revelation 2:12-17 ESV
To the church in Smyrna Jesus referred to Himself as “the first and last, who died and came to life.” Now, He introduces Himself to the church in Pergamum as “him who has the sharp two-edged sword.” Not exactly a welcoming image. If you recall, this description was also included in what John wrote in the opening chapter after having been transported to the throne room of heaven. There he saw and heard “one like a son of man” (Revelation 1:13 ESV). And John wrote that “In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword” (Revelation 1:16 ESV). That imagery of the sword coming out of Jesus’ mouth is intended to represent divine judgment. We see this same imagery used in conjunction with Jesus near the end of the book of Revelation.
11 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. – Revelation 19:11-15 ESV
Jesus is not only the Prophet, Priest and King, He is the righteous Judge of all mankind. But what is important is that this sword proceeds from the mouth of the Savior. It is symbolic of the Word of God. That Word is powerful and able to convict and comfort, condemn and commend. The author of the book of Hebrews writes:
For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. – Hebrews 4:12 NLT
Paul told Timothy that the Word of God was of great value.
All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. – 2 Timothy 3:16 NLT
And Jesus introduces Himself to the church in Pergamum as one who has the sharp, two-edged sword. He wields God’s Word, offering life in the form of forgiveness for sin and freedom from the condemnation of death – to all those who will receive it. But to those who refuse its offer of salvation, the Word condemns and rejects, relegating all those who turn down God’s gracious gift of eternal life to the very real outcome of an eternity lived apart from God.
Jesus is going to warn some within the church in Pergamum that, unless they repent, He is going to deal with them in no-uncertain terms.
“I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.” – Revelation 2:16 ESV
Jesus is well aware of what the church there in Pergamum is up against. He refers to the city as the place where Satan’s throne is located and where Satan dwells. Not exactly a description the local tourist board would welcome. Pergamum was an idolatrous city with temples, altars and sacred groves dedicated to such gods as Athena, Asklepios, Dionysus, and Zeus. The temple of Asklepios was a magnificent structure featuring an idol to its god in the form of a serpent. This city was antithetical to all that the church of Jesus Christ stood for. And yet, Jesus commends them for staying faithful in the midst of all the pressure from the surrounding false religions. In fact, Jesus points out that one of their own, Antipas, whom Jesus refers to as his faithful witness, was martyred, and yet his brothers and sisters in Christ did not deny their faith. They held fast.
But Jesus was not happy with everyone in the church. He accused some within the fellowship of following the teaching of Balaam. This is a reference to an Old Testament character of the same name, who tried to destroy the people of God by tempting them to compromise. Balaam was a prophet who was offered money by the king of Moab, if he would curse the people of Israel. But God would not allow Balaam to do what King Balak had asked. Instead, Balaam ended up blessing Israel. But he provided King Balak with a workaround, suggesting that if the women of Moab could tempt the men of Israel to sleep with them, they would end up worshiping their false god. And that’s exactly what happened.
1 While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. 2 These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. 3 So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel. – Numbers 25:1-3 ESV
Jesus is accusing some within the church in Pergamum of counseling spiritual compromise. They were encouraging their fellow church members to eat meat sacrificed to idols and to participate in the immoral religious activities associated with the false gods of Pergamum. Whether the Christians were intermarrying with pagans in unclear, but there was definitely moral and spiritual compromise taking place that had weakened the testimony of the church. On top of that, there were others in the church who held to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Unlike the Ephesians, who hated the teaching of the Nicolaitans, the Pergamum church was embracing their false doctrines. And Jesus warns that these people must repent or face the consequences of His divine wrath and judgment. Whether Jesus’ warning of vengeance involved literal death or their physical removal from the fellowship is not clear. It is possible that these individuals were never really believers in the first place and that Jesus is predicting their actual deaths as a result of their damaging influence on the body of Christ. The apostle Paul had some very strong words to say about those who mislead the flock of Jesus Christ with false teaching.
Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you. – Galatians 1:8 NLT
The Greek word Paul used that is translated as “curse” is anathema, and it can literally mean “to put to death.” Interestingly enough, the people of Israel, under the leadership of Moses, eventually paid back Balaam for his part in the moral and spiritual compromise of the nation. Numbers 31:8 tells us that they killed Balaam with the sword.
As He did with the first two churches, Jesus calls out, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 2:17 ESV). He wants anyone and everyone, in every church in every age, to listen to what He has to say. This message is not just for the 1st-Century church in Pergamum. It contains a timeless warning about spiritual compromise and the danger of embracing the culture of the day in an attempt to fit in and avoid persecution. That danger is alive and well in our own day. Tolerance is the word of the day, demanding that we lay aside our God-given mandate to be salt and light in the midst of a decaying and sin-darkened world.
Jesus calls us to conquer, not compromise. He demands that we stand up for our faith, not back down to the pressures of the fallen culture around us. And He offers the one who conquers three things: Hidden manna, a white stone, and a new name. What is He talking about? What is the significance of these three rather obscure items? The hidden manna is divine spiritual nourishment that the world cannot see or experience. Jesus had long ago claimed, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again” (John 6:35 NLT). He offered Himself as the source of eternal life. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and this bread, which I will offer so the world may live, is my flesh” (John 6:51 NLT).
The white stone is a bit more difficult to understand. There has been a tremendous amount of speculation over the centuries as to what this white stone actually symbolizes. There are many options, but the one that seems to make the most sense involves what was called a tessoron.
A tesseron was, “. . . given to those who were invited to partake, within the precincts of the temple [at Pergamum], of the sacred feast, which naturally consisted only of meats offered to the idol. That stone bore the secret name of the deity represented by the idol and the name was known only to the recipient.” – Frederick A. Tatford, The Patmos Letters
In keeping with the idea of manna, this explanation seems to suggest access to something unavailable to the larger audience. It was unique and provided access to something special. In this case, the white stone allows the believer access into the marriage feast described later in the book of Revelation.
Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb… – Revelation 19:9 NLT
Whatever the stone means, it conveys the idea of favor and acceptance. And the new name to which Jesus refers would seem to indicate His own. It should remind us of Paul’s wonderful description of Jesus’ glorification after He had successfully completed all that God had commissioned Him to do on this earth.
9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:8-11 NLT
It would seem that the “new” name received by Jesus was His well-deserved designation as Lord. And every believer, Jesus infers, will have that name written on the stone they receive, inviting them to feast with Him in His Kingdom, on the authority vested in Him as King of kings and Lord of lords. As Paul pointed out in his letter to the Romans, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9 NLT). The only ones who will receive the stone with Jesus named as Lord are the ones who confessed Him as their Lord.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.