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Your New Name. Revelation 2:12-17.
February 25, 2018

One of the motivations for many athletes currently competing in the Olympics in South Korea is to make a name for themselves. With public recognition the hope is to land a lucrative sponsorship. Making a name for yourself however is not always positive. One of the most famous cases was with the Canadian Olympan is Ben Johnson. Johnson was stripped of his Olympic gold medal and world record in the 100 meters at the 1988 Seoul Games after testing positive for steroids. Ben Johnson is now trading on his disgraced past, endorsing a sports drink called Cheetah in a TV commercial. In the add, Johnson is asked: "Ben, when you run, do you Cheetah?" "Absolutely," Johnson says. "I Cheetah all the time." (

To bear the name “Christian” in Pergamum was a deadly affair. On a certain day in the year every Roman citizen had to come to the Temple of Caesar (slide 1).  and had to burn a pinch of incense there, and say: “Caesar is Lord.” When he had done that, he was given a certificate to guarantee that he had done so. After a man had burned his pinch of incense and had acknowledged Caesar as Lord, he could go away and worship any god he liked, so long as the worship did not affect public decency and order.  This of course was a great problem for the Christians, who believed that only Jesus is Lord. It lead to great pressure to compromise.


For we here today the pressure is great as well. Society tells us that we must live in harmony with other faiths and any exclusive claim to absolute truth is arrogant. People are allowed to have private beliefs and as in Pergamum we can go away and worship any god we like, so long as the worship did not affect public decency and order. Just as these three churches of Revelation seem to be at different points on the spectrum, so today there are churches at different points of the spectrum. As Jesus addresses the church at Pergamum, the believers there seem to be flirting with evil. They are not openly embracing immorality and idolatry but are not closing the door to it either (Hamilton, J. M., Jr. (2012). Preaching the Word: Revelation—The Spirit Speaks to the Churches. (R. K. Hughes, Ed.) (p. 86). Wheaton, IL: Crossway.)


The message to the Church at Pergamum and the message to us is that Jesus knows our situation and gives us guidance in the 1) Comment & Commendation about the Church (Rev. 2:12-13), 2) Complaint & Call to Repentance for the Church (Rev. 2:14-16), 3) The Command to hear and the Conquering of the Church. (Revelation 2:17).


1)         Comment & Commendation about the Church (Rev. 2:12-13)

Revelation 2:12-13 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. (ESV)


This message tothe angel”, like the other letters to the Churches of Asia Minor, were to the “messengers” of the Churches. The word lit. means “messenger.” Since non-human angelic beings are never specified as leading Churchs, these “messengers” must refer to the key elders representing each of those churches.


To understand the particular pressure that the church in this region faced, we need to briefly look at the city itself. Pergamum, also known as Pergamos (modern Bergama), was the capital city of the province of Asia. It’s name means high toweror thoroughly married. It was located about 55 miles northeast of Ephesus (slide 2).  The road north from Smyrna follows the coastline some forty miles and then turns inland in a northeasterly direction up the valley of the Caicus River. About ten miles inland from the Aegean Sea stands the impressive capital city of Pergamum. (Mounce, R. H. (1997). The Book of Revelation (p. 77). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.)


The Kingdom of Pergamum became a Roman province in 130 B.C.  It was at Pergamos that parchment was first used as a writing material and here that the Attalid kings built a magnificent library of 200,000 volumes (slide 3). The word parchment, made from the hides of sheep, derived its name from Pergamos. It was remarkable for its learning, refinement, and science, especially medicine. It was a rival of Ephesus in the temples to Athena slide 4),  Zeus (slide 5), Dionysus (slide 6) and temple of Asklepios (slide 7), the god of healing. The caduceus (slide 8), the twisted serpent symbol that represents the medical profession, comes from Greek mythology and represents the god Asclepius. In a temple dedicated to him, there was a school of medicine where nonpoisonous snakes crawled all over the floor. The ill would lay on the floor so the snakes could crawl on them. This satanic medical practice was the renoun of the city.

  • Think of what many Canadians pride themselves on: Canadian medical services. If you look carefully behind some medical drives in this country, you can clearly see the satanic influence. From the pride of much plastic surgery, sex change operations, abortion to euthanasia, far from seeing ourselves created male and female in the image of God, people tend to focus first on can we, instead of should we.


The message to Pergamum and the message to us is from Him who has: The sharp two- edged sword. The judicial power of Christ’s sword is not only intended to judge apostates in the church (cf. 2:16), but also stands as a polemical image against the satanic center of Roman justice in Pergamum, which misuses its power to persecute Christians (Roman governors had the ultimate “right of the sword” [ius gladii, i.e., capital punishment]). Christ’s throne is sovereign over Satan’s, and Satan’s representatives who wrongly use the God-ordained power of the sword (Rom. 13:1–4) will themselves be judged by the heavenly law court (Dan. 2:37–38; 5:18–21). This very judgment, the destruction of the pagan nations, is portrayed in Rev. 19:15, 21 in the same image of the sword. In this light, oppressed Christians could be encouraged that their cause would be vindicated on the last day (Beale, G. K. (1999). The book of Revelation: a commentary on the Greek text (p. 247). Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press.). But since this church is tolerating error, it needs to have the measuring rule of God’s Word brought into action(Hindson, E. E., & Kroll, W. M. (Eds.). (1994). KJV Bible Commentary (p. 2661). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.).


Please turn back to Hebrews 4(p.1003)


The imagery depicted here is important. This is a royal contrast from the Roman worship. Specifically we see it starting in Heb. 4:12 with the word of God. Bear in Mind that from John 1, Christ is described as the Logos or word.


Hebrews 4:12-16 12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. 14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (ESV)

  • The word of God is a sword; it is a weapon both offensive and defensive, it is, in the hand of God, able to slay both sin and sinners. It is a sharp sword. No heart is so hard but it is able to cut it; It is a sword with two edges; it turns and cuts every way. There is an edge to make a wound, and an edge to open a festered wound in order to its healing. Finally, it has a penetrating power to convince and convert some (2:13, 17) to convict and condemn others (2:14-16).


Verse 13 begins the commendation to the Church, because: He who yields the two-edged sword “knows”. He knows the situation of this Church and he knows you. He knows your problems with your spouse, kids, boss, co-workers, family and your life situation. (cf. Ps. 139:1-12) He knows the situation here in Pergamum where Satan’s throne is.  In an impious mimicry of God’s heavenly throne (4:2), Satan set up an earthly throne. Various gods were worshiped in Pergamos, such as Zeus and Asclepius; and emperor-worship was also prevalent. Pergamum was the first city in Asia (a.d. 29) with a temple for the worship of Augustus (Octavius Caesar).  Satan is the author of evil, that he is always active to blind unbelievers and to destroy the church, and that from time to time (as here in Pergamum) he will make a particular area of Christ’s work the focus of his evil attention and activity (Brooks, R. (1986). The Lamb Is All the Glory (p. 36). Darlington, England: Evangelical Press.)


In spite of having Satan’s throne, we see God’s strength through the Church at Pergamum with the contrast of “Yet”. Despite the satanic prevalence in this place, they “hold fast to (Christ’s) name, and (they) did not deny (His) faith”. The Christians have held fast the name of Christ. His name stands for his personality. The name Κύριος Καίσαρος (Lord Caesar) over against the name Κύριος Χριστός (Lord Christ) was the big test of the day. To acknowledge the Lord Caesar was to escape persecution. To hold fast the Lord Christ meant persecution but loyalty. For doing the latter the Christians were commended. They were also commended for not denying the faith of Christ (Summers, R. (1951). Worthy is the Lamb: an interpretation of Revelation. (p. 115). Nashville: Broadman Press.)


They did:not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells”. Do you see the reference to whom faith belongs?. It is His faith. He is the author and finisher of faith.

  • How many times have you heard some generic concept of faith, or faith being a personal matter? It is indeed exclusively personal, in that it belongs to Christ.



“Antipas was my faithful witness”/martyr. The name Antipas is found in a third-century inscription of Pergamum, and he is mentioned by Tertullian. The legend appears in later hagiographers (Simon Metaphrastes, the Bollandists) that he was slowly roasted to death in a brazen bowl during the reign of Domitian (Mounce, R. H. (1997). The Book of Revelation (p. 80). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.)

  • He may have been martyred for his refusal to say “Lord Caesar” instead of “Lord Christ,” as the citizens of Roman lands were required to do.


The concluding phrase of v 13 (“where Satan dwells”) is a contrast with the first clause of the verse (“I know where you dwell”) in order to accentuate the idea that light and darkness cannot dwell together in peaceful coexistence. Therefore, a true witnessing church will be a persecuted church (Beale, G. K. (1999). The book of Revelation: a commentary on the Greek text (p. 247). Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press.).


Illustration: Joseph Ton, a Baptist pastor persecuted by the Communist regime in Romania, wrote a book titled A Theology of Martyrdom. In it, he made a point about Jesus’ praise for Antipas as “my faithful witness.” Ton urges that just as the Lord makes Christians stewards of things such as money, time, and talents, he also makes us stewards of our witness in the face of death. A Christian who suffers for Jesus is given a precious resource with which he or she may reach multitudes for the gospel. For making the most of their persecution, the saints in Pergamum earned Christ’s fervent praise (Phillips, R. D. (2017). Revelation. (R. D. Phillips, P. G. Ryken, & D. M. Doriani, Eds.) (pp. 112–113). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.)


2)                  Complaint & Call to Repentance of the Church (Rev. 2:14-16)

Revelation 2:14-16 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. (ESV)


Please turn to Numbers 22 (p.130)


Although the saints in Pergamum were orthodox in their doctrine and faithful in their proclamation of the faith they were failing in their lifestyle. The story of Balaam in Numbers 22 explains why Christ would denounce those who would hold to the teaching of Balaam:


Numbers 22:1-6Then the people of Israel set out and camped in the plains of Moab beyond the Jordan at Jericho. And Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites. And Moab was in great dread of the people, because they were many. Moab was overcome with fear of the people of Israel. And Moab said to the elders of Midian, “This horde will now lick up all that is around us, as the ox licks up the grass of the field.” So Balak the son of Zippor, who was king of Moab at that time, sent messengers to Balaam the son of Beor at Pethor, which is near the River in the land of the people of Amaw, to call him, saying, “Behold, a people has come out of Egypt. They cover the face of the earth, and they are dwelling opposite me. Come now, curse this people for me, since they are too mighty for me. Perhaps I shall be able to defeat them and drive them from the land, for I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed.” (ESV)



Now over to Chapter 25


Balaam taught Balak (king of Moab) how to draw Israel away from their position of obedience to God:


Numbers 25:1-9While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel. And the Lord said to Moses, “Take all the chiefs of the people and hang them in the sun before the Lord, that the fierce anger of the Lord may turn away from Israel.” And Moses said to the judges of Israel, “Each of you kill those of his men who have yoked themselves to Baal of Peor.” And behold, one of the people of Israel came and brought a Midianite woman to his family, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of the whole congregation of the people of Israel, while they were weeping in the entrance of the tent of meeting. When Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose and left the congregation and took a spear in his hand and went after the man of Israel into the chamber and pierced both of them, the man of Israel and the woman through her belly. Thus the plague on the people of Israel was stopped. Nevertheless, those who died by the plague were twenty-four thousand. (ESV)

  • Numbers 31:16 gives a summary of Balaam’s action:

Numbers 31:16 Behold, these, on Balaam’s advice, caused the people of Israel to act treacherously against the Lord in the incident of Peor, and so the plague came among the congregation of the Lord (ESV)

  • Balaam’s counsel to Balak was to employ Moabite women to seduce the men of Israel which culminated in disaster for God’s people. A sinister philosophy of sensuality and antinomianism (The opposition to all law) was being propagated and tolerated at Pergamos.
  • Such is also the warning to us: The doctrine of Balaam,” was to persuade God’s people that it was all right for them also to compromise Godly standards, even “to commit fornication” (Revelation 2:14) with their idol-worshipping enemies.


In Revelation 2:15, we see the link to the teaching of Balaam and that of the Nicolaitans. They are distinct, but they have the same disastrous results.  Nicolas means “one who conquers the people.”  The word is formed from two Greek words, niko, conqueror or overcomer, and laos, the people. The Nicolaitans were a sect (sometimes associated with Nicolaus, one of the seven original deacons in the church in Jerusalem according to Acts 6:5) that apparently taught that Christians could engage in immoral behavior with impunity. Irenaeus writes that Nicolas, who was made a deacon in Acts 6, was a false believer who later became apostate; but because of his credentials he was able to lead the church astray. And, like Balaam, he led the people into immorality and wickedness. Clement of Alexander said: “They abandoned themselves to pleasure like goats, leading a life of self-indulgence.” Their teaching perverted grace and replaced liberty with license.


Balaam showed the Midianite women how to lead the Israelites into sin by getting them to eat meat sacrificed to Baal-peor and engage in fornication associated with the worship of Baal-peor. Some of the Christians at Pergamos held to the doctrine of Balaam. They, like the Nicolaitans, adhered to a liberal interpretation of grace. They participated in the practices of the pagans with whom they lived—subverted by that culture, they succumbed to worldliness. The lesson from Balaam and that of the Nicolaitans speaks to where idolatry is today. Both describe an antinomian group that had accommodated itself to the religious and social requirements of the pagan society in which they lived. (Mounce, R. H. (1997). The Book of Revelation (p. 81). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.)

  • If there is one aspect of compromise that is demanded today that characterizes modern life it is one of sexuality. It is reflected in marketing, media and even common speech. It seems to be central to our culture. God is Jealous: he wants our thoughts, actions and affections.Like the temptations to those in Pergamum, there is pressure to compromise and moderate our holiness. The most common slur against such is being puritanical. But it was the puritans who prized sole devotion to God and purity in worship and lifestyle.


In verse 16 we see Christ’s call to Repentance. The church’s tolerance of the false teaching resulted in the extreme danger of bringing God’s wrath down upon them. While the Ephesians had forgotten how to love, the Pergamum church had neglected to tell the truth. However, the solution is the same: repent, change the dangerous direction the church has been going, and get right with God. To fail to take a strong stance against the heretics would constitute sin and invite divine judgment. (Osborne, G. R. (2016). Revelation: Verse by Verse (p. 57). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.)


If they failed to repent, Christ says that He:will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth”. The church at Pergamum is indicted for harboring a group of compromisers, and the image of the sword is in this context primarily a symbol of threat to the church for not disciplining that group. The problem is the opposite of that in Ephesus. An overemphasis on internal doctrinal purity can lead to a lack of concern for the outside world, whereas a deemphasis can lead to overidentification with the world. The Christians in Pergamum staunchly withstood external pressures to compromise from pagan governmental and religious authorities but had permitted an apparently subtle form of compromise to develop internally (Beale, G. K. (1999). The book of Revelation: a commentary on the Greek text (p. 248). Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press.)



Illustration: Erwin Lutzer describes this situation as worldliness. He said that: “Worldliness is not only doing what is forbidden but also wishing it were possible to do it. One of its distinctives is mental slavery to illegitimate pleasure. Worldliness twists values by rearranging their price tags. Erwin W. Lutzer (1941– )


 Quote: As the missionary David Brainerd (1718–1747) wrote: “Farewell, vain world; My soul bids you adieu; My Savior taught me To abandon you. Your charms may gratify A sensual mind, But cannot please A soul for God designed”.


3)      The Command to hear and the Conquering of the Church (Revelation 2:17).

Revelation 2:17 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.’ (ESV)


Please turn to John 6 (p.892)         


John calls us all to listen up to this lesson. This is from the Spirit to the churches. The one who conquers, will conquer over these difficulties through faith in Christ. To this person, He promises some of the hidden manna. What is it? In the Old Testament, it was not hidden. For 12,500 mornings the Lord rained this bread from heaven for His people. It was later preserved (cf. Ex 16:33; Heb 9:4). This bread points to and was fulfilled by Christ Himself. He is the manna that gives and sustains life. But He is hidden from those who do not believe. Why don’t they believe? Naturally they cannot. Belief, like Christ Himself, is a gift of God:


John 6:44-51 44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me46 not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (ESV)

  • No human being in the world, on their own, has the moral and spiritual ability to come to Christ unless God the Father draws them, that is, gives them the desire and inclination to come and the ability to place trust in Christ. Like the sustaining life from the physical manna, those who believe in Christ have their spiritual hunger satisfied. He becomes this spiritually satisfying “bread” by sacrificing his own physical body in his death on the cross (Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 2035). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.)
  • Quote: As Erwin Lutzer said: “If we are not nourished by the Bread from heaven, we will satiate ourselves with crumbs from the world”.


Revelation 2:17 concludes the message to Pergamum and us that, for the one who overcomes through faith Christ “will give him a white stone with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it”. For Christians in Pergamum, to “overcome” means to continue steadfast in the face of opposition (2:13), but especially to stand against teachings of compromise with the world and to do their best to purge such teachings from their ranks (2:14–16).( Keener, C. S. (1999). Revelation (p. 125). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.)


When an athlete won in the games, he was often given, as part of his prize, a white stone which was an admission pass to the winner’s celebration afterwards. This may picture the moment when the overcomer will receive their admission to the eternal victory celebration in heaven (cf. Rev. 19:9). This white stone is absolution from the guilt of sin, alluding to the ancient custom of giving a white stone to those acquitted on trial and a black stone to those condemned. The white stone speaks of the custom of casting such a stone into a voter’s urn with the name of a candidate, indicating the approval of the one who cast it. Special divine approval will be the portion of the godly nucleus in Pergamos and all true believers. We receive this approval through adoption. As such, those who are adopted into a new family, receive a new name (cf. Isa. 56:5).  In short, the manna and white stone are both eschatological symbols related to the messianic feast at the eschaton but also teaching the spiritual food and new name that God gives to the believer in the present as well (Osborne, G. R. (2002). Revelation (p. 149). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.) A new name, identifies the obedient believer in terms of his or her distinctive character(Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (p. 1738). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.).


Those who enjoy eternal life are those who recognize that the way of Balaam and that of the Nicolatians is death and futility, they acknowledge that this is offensive to the creator of the universe and desire him above all else. Those who do so are no longer under the grip of selfish destruction and can be assured of the adoption into the heavenly family. Compromise on the eternal is death, but for those who overcome, we have God’s assurance and grace. They have a new name reflecting their new life.


(Format Note: Outline & some base commentary from MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1999). Revelation 1–11 (p. 81ff). Chicago: Moody Press. )


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