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Pergamum (313-529 A.D.)

Dec 10, 2015

This city was called by various names: Pergamum, Pergamon, and Pergamos. It is not to be confused with modern Pergamon, which is on Cyprus.

The Smyrna church era ended in 313 with Constantine’s Edict of Milan, putting an end to Rome’s persecutions. This began a new Christian era in the history of the Roman Empire. Constantine became a Christian just before conquering Rome in 312.

Constantine

Constantine’s father, Constantius, was a Roman Caesar and a military general who had little interest in Christianity, and up to that point in time, Constantine had followed in his father’s footsteps. Nonetheless, both father and son were favorable to Christians, no doubt being influenced by Helena, Constantine’s mother, who was a strong Christian. For this reason, the churches were not persecuted in the western portion of the empire where they ruled. Another reason for their toleration is given by James Carroll, who tells us in his book, Constantine’s Sword, p. 168,

Under Diocletian, Christians were liable to be put to death almost everywhere in the empire, with the exception of the northwestern provinces over which Constantius ruled. This was … because, as the general of an army made up in large part of tribal recruits who maintained loyalty to their own gods and cults, Constantius had learned the value of religious tolerance.

When Diocletian abdicated in 305 on account of mental illness, Constantius divorced Helena and married Maximian’s daughter, Theodora, in order to be better connected to the Roman government. But the next year Constantius was taken ill and died in York. His son, Constantine, took his place at the age of about eighteen.

Meanwhile, Diocletian had also forced Maximian (his subordinate co-Caesar) to follow his example and resign his position. But Maximian soon reasserted his claim to rule. Constantine then treated Maximian as an unlawful usurper and began making plans to overthrow him.

Maximian quickly sued for peace, traveling to Triers to confer with Constantine. The young Constantine recognized Maximian as the senior Caesar (“Augustus”) and their unity was sealed by marriage. Constantine married Fausta, one of Maximian’s daughters.

However soon Maximian’s son Maxentius felt overlooked, so he staked his claim as emperor of the West. Maximian supported his son’s position at the expense of Constantine, and this brought about the conflict. Maximian was killed in the battle at Marseilles, and Constantine’s troops then marched toward Rome, which was fortified by Maxentius. In Italy, Constantine’s troops were far from home and demoralized.

“But the night before the battle at the Milvian Bridge, on the Tiber, Constantine saw a cross in the sky, above the legend, In Hoc Signo Vinces (“In This Sign, Conquer”). With the news of this vision, a signal of favor from the Christian God, Constantine’s troops rallied, went firmly into battle the next day, and won. Constantine himself threw Maxentius off the bridge into the Tiber, where he drowned. On the strength of that vision, and its fulfillment, the emperor became a Christian, so did his army, and, ultimately, so did the empire.”

Constantine then ruled the full western part of the Roman Empire. Though he still shared power for a few years with the caesars of the East, his Edict of Milan in 313 officially ended the persecutions and changed the course of both Roman and Church history.

Constantine has often been maligned unjustly as a pagan pretending to be a Christian, whose motives were evil. As a new believer, there is no doubt that he was yet carnal, for all of his training was about using military force to accomplish his goals. There is no chance that he understood about being begotten by the Spirit. Rather, he became a religious person, devoted to Christianity in the only way he knew how.

The good thing was that he ended the severe persecutions, and for this the Christians of his time were very grateful. The unintended consequence was that Constantine’s increasing favor upon the church began to give political power to bishops who were often as carnally minded as they were religious. As time passed, the acceptance of creeds replaced faith in Christ Himself. Constantine’s desire to unify the empire was understandable as a secular emperor, but the church quickly adopted the same goal and utilized the same carnal, unloving methods to achieve a forced unity.

As a result, the third prophetic church in Revelation 2 began to arise, as the persecuted church (Smyrna) was replaced by Pergamum, or Pergamos.

The Meaning of Pergamos

Some say that Pergamos comes from the Greek word pyrgos, “tower, fortified place, height, elevation.” Others say it comes from a compound word, peri, “around, with respect to,” and gamos, “marriage.” The Greek term gamos is used in Revelation 19:9,

9 And he said to me, “Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage [gamos] supper of the Lamb’.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.”

It seems to me that both derivations of the name Pergamos have an element of truth. The word pyrgos has come down to us in the term burg or burgh, which is an elevated place, physically or politically. A burgomaster is a principle magistrate or mayor of some European cities today. This derivation speaks of political power, which certainly describes the rise in power of the church from 313-529 A.D.

If we combine the ideas behind both pyrgos and gamos, we may view Pergamos as a prophecy “with respect to marriage to power.” At any rate, this more clearly describes the church during this era of church history.

The Two Swords

Revelation 2:12 says,

12 And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: The One who has the sharp two-edged sword says this:

The message comes from the same Christ as the messages to the other churches, but in each case Christ goes by a different title to emphasize the peculiar problem and solution in each church. In this case, Christ is “the One who has the sharp two-edged sword.” Why does He refer to Himself in this way?

Hebrews 4:12 says,

12 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

The word of God itself is pictured as a sword. Paul calls it “the sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:17) in order to contrast it with physical swords. The two covenants each have their own sword. Under the Old Covenant, the Promised Land was conquered by the power of physical sword, because the people were not ready for the New Covenant at their first Pentecost at Mount Sinai. By refusing to hear the word of God (Exodus 20:19), they were left only with physical swords to conquer the Canaanites.

Under the New Covenant, however, the 120 disciples in the upper room received the word of God at Pentecost in Acts 2. By this sword, which is sharper than any physical two-edged sword, they were instructed to conquer the world—not by threatening them with death, but by preaching the word. Believers were then baptized into a spiritual death-and-resurrection experience, according to the Great Commission that Jesus gave them before His departure. Matthew 28:18-20 says,

18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Christ’s introduction to His message to Pergamum implies that during this church era, the church would be using physical swords and carnal ways to fulfill the Great Commission. Thus, Constantine’s vision of the sword, along with the word In Hoc Signo Vinces (“In This Sign, Conquer”), is the main characteristic that arose during the Pergamum era from 313-529 A.D.

If his vision was genuine, he should have interpreted it according to the New Covenant sword, rather than as an Old Covenant sword. But at the time, his focus was upon the coming battle, which involved physical swords. There was virtually no chance that he would change course. At best, as a new believer, he was yet carnally minded with no spiritual man to explain the difference between the two covenants.

So Christ, in His message to this church, reminded them that He held the New Covenant sword, which is much sharper than physical swords.  The problem was that the cross which Constantine saw was turned into a physical sword. Physical swords may separate one’s head from the body, but the word of God is sharp enough to separate soul from spirit, as well as the thoughts and intents of the heart.

The root problem is that the church did not truly understand the difference between the two covenants and their two swords. They did not distinguish between soul and spirit, and so they mistook soulish (“natural”) inclinations for that which was spiritual. In so doing, they became a soulish church that functioned on the power of the carnal, natural mind of the “old man” of Adam. They turned the church into a religion by the spirit of denominationalism, and membership became more important than a heart transformation. Relationship with Christ was subordinated to religion.


This is part 19 of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Revelation." To view all parts, click the link below.

Studies in the Book of Revelation


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