Pergamum (313-529 A.D.)
Sixty miles north of Smyrna and about fifteen miles inland from the Aegean Sea was Pergamum. This city was called by various names: Pergamum, Pergamon, and Pergamos. It is not to be confused with modern Pergamon, which is on Cyprus.
Pergamum did not become an important city until 281 B.C. when it was enlarged and became the capital of the new Kingdom of Pergamum under the Attalid dynasty. They soon allied with Rome and became one of Rome’s most loyal supporters.
At the end of the Third Macedonian War (171-168 B.C.), in which Pergamum supported Rome, the grateful Romans granted them all of their territory that they had conquered in Asia Minor from the Seleucids. This made Pergamum an important city, and it grew rapidly. Attalus III died without an heir in 133 B.C., and in order to prevent civil war, he willed his nation to Rome. Thereafter it was part of the Roman Empire and became Rome’s capital for its entire province in Asia.
At its height, the city of Pergamum had a population of about 200,000. Its most well-known temple was to Asclapius, the god of healing. The city was also known for its great library, second only to the Great Library of Alexandria in Egypt. There were said to be about 500,000 documents or books in Alexandria, and about 200,000 in Pergamum.
When Pergamum began to build up its library, using papyrus (paper) from Egypt, the demand for papyrus exceeded the ability of Egypt to produce it. The rising price of Papyrus caused the people of Pergamum to use parchment from processed animal skins, which came to be called pergamena. Parchment had been in use in Asia in earlier times, but Pergamum refined the process and became famous for it.
The official headquarters for the proconsul of Rome in Asia was at Pergamum, although by the first century he lived in Ephesus. By this time the importance of Pergamum had declined, and the influence of Ephesus had increased. Even Smyrna seemed to be of greater importance than Pergamum by this time, on account of its proximity between Ephesus and Pergamum, and also because it was the end of the Royal Road from Susa in Persia.
The Pergamum Church Era
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’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. Carroll writes on page 171,
“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 as a religion 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 (or Pergamum)
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 Rev. 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’ name 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” (Eph. 6:17) in order to contrast it with physical swords. The problem was that the cross that Constantine saw was turned into a sword. The two covenants each have their own sword. Under the Old Covenant, the Promised Land was conquered by the power of the 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 with mere 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. Matt. 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 most important mindset characterizing 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 in His message to this church, Christ reminded them that He held the New Covenant sword, which is much sharper than physical swords. 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 religious ritual and doctrine.
Revelation 2:13 says,
13 I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is; and you hold fast My name, and did not deny My faith, even in the days of Antipas, My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.
Pergamum was known for its numerous temples, three of them dedicated to the Roman emperors themselves. The most significant, however, was the temple to Zeus, the king of the Greek gods. It had a great throne called the Great Altar of Zeus, which survived the ravages of history. In the late 1800’s it was purchased from the Ottoman Empire, dismantled, and shipped to Berlin, and reconstructed from 1910-1930.
From 1934-1937, Adolf Hitler constructed the Tribune at Zeppelin Field in Nuremberg to be used for Nazi rallies. The Pergamon Altar was used as the model, and Hitler’s pulpit was in the center of the Tribune. In 1948 the Soviets took the Altar to Leningrad, but it was returned in 1958. It seems that many have wanted Satan’s throne for themselves, knowing its history and its spiritual significance.
History of Satan’s Throne
Pergamum was not always “Satan’s throne.” From a prophetic standpoint, Babylon had been his throne, but after the fall of Babylon, some of the priests of Babylon transferred the throne to Pergamum. The head of the priestly order was known as Pontifex Maximus, Latin for “high priest.” A few decades before Christ was born, Julius Caesar attained that title as the high priest in Pergamum, and when he became the Caesar of Rome, the title moved to Rome with him.
For the next 400 years the title Pontifex Maximus was passed down to all of the emperors of Rome until the time of Maximus III (383-388 A.D.). Then the emperors ceased to claim that title, and it was passed to the Roman bishops, who have used it to this day. As the time of the four beast empires gradually moved West, Satan’s throne moved west as well, finally settling in Rome—and ultimately, in the Roman church, which is the “little horn” extension of Imperial Rome.
The citizens of Pergamum were called “Temple-keepers of Asia.” Not only were there three temples dedicated to the Roman emperors, but there was also a temple to Athena and a temple/healing center called The Askalapion (dedicated to Askalapius, the serpent-god of healing).
Antipas, the Faithful Witness
Rev. 2:13 speaks of Antipas in glowing terms. He was said to be the bishop of Pergamum who was martyred there in 92 A.D., just before John was exiled to Patmos. The priests of Pergamum were upset with Christians, because they denied the very foundations of Greek religion—that there were multiple gods. The pagan priests complained to the Roman governor that the prayers of Antipas were casting out their spirits from the city and destroying the worship of their gods.
The governor then ordered Antipas to offer sacrifice to the statue of the Roman emperor and to declare that the emperor was “lord and god.” He refused, of course, and so he was sentenced to be offered as a sacrifice on the great Altar of Zeus. At the height of the Altar was a hollow bronze bull, into which they used to place victims for sacrifice. They would heat up the bull, and as it became hot, the victims would groan and scream, and their voices would be heard coming from the mouth of the bull. It seemed to the people that the sacrifice made the bull come alive. Antipas was thus martyred for his witness of Christ and the truth in 92 A.D.
Antipas as a Prophetic Type
The name Antipas is said to be derived from anti, “instead of, in place of” and pater, “father.” Hence, the name is translated, “like father.” (It does not mean “against or in opposition to father.”)
No doubt “like father” is the primary meaning of the name, and it suggests that this faithful witness was like his heavenly Father. In other words, he was one of the Amen people, a double witness on earth of his heavenly Father in his words and in his deeds.
However, the Greek word pas (as in Anti-pas) means “all.” It is used in many places, including Rom. 11:32,
32 For God has shut up all [pas] in disobedience, that He might show mercy to all [pas].
Again, 1 Tim. 4:9, 10 says,
9 It is a trustworthy statement deserving full acceptance. 10 For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all [pas] men, especially of believers.
If we consider pas to be the derivation of the last part of the name Antipas, we may again see a doubly prophetic meaning, similar to what we saw in the name Pergamum (or Pergamos).
Interpreting Antipas in this second manner, we may view him as representing “all” in a universal sense. He is both “like Father” and “like all.” In representing the universal all, his martyrdom becomes symbolic of the death of the doctrine of Universal Reconciliation that occurred in the year 400 during the Pergamum era (313-529).
Up to the year 400 A.D., the teaching of Universal Reconciliation was both common and “normal” in the church, at least in the main influential centers of Christian thought. Divergence of opinion began to rise as early as the year 203, when two influential Christians, Clement and Tertullian, took opposite positions on the nature of divine judgment. In that year, Tertullian, the Christian Roman lawyer, wrote:
“How I shall admire, how laugh, how rejoice, how exult, when I behold so many kings…groaning in the lowest abyss of darkness, so many magistrates who persecuted the name of the Lord, liquefying in fiercer flames than they ever kindled against Christians; so many sage philosophers blushing in raging fire.” (de Spectaculis, 30)
His views of a literal burning hell were later adopted by the Roman church. But at the same time (203 A.D.), Clement of Alexandria wrote:
“God does not wreak vengeance, for vengeance is to return evil for evil, and God punishes only with an eye to the good.” (Stromata VII, 26)
Again, in commenting on 1 Tim. 4:9-11, Clement wrote:
“And how is He Savior and Lord, if not the Savior and Lord of all? But He is the Savior of those who have believed…and the Lord of those who have not believed…for all things are arranged with a view to the salvation of the Universe by the Lord of the Universe, both generally and particularly…But necessary corrections, through the goodness of the great Overseeing Judge, both by the attendant angels, and through various preliminary judgments, or through the Great and Final Judgment, compel egregious sinners to repent.”
Clement writes further,
“We say that the fire purifies not the flesh but sinful souls, not an all-devouring vulgar fire, but the ‘wise fire’ as we call it, the fire that ‘pierceth the soul’ which passes through it.” (Stromata VII, 6).
Again, he says,
“Fire is conceived of as a beneficent and strong power, destroying what is base, preserving what is good; therefore this fire is called ‘wise” by the Prophets.” (Ecl. Proph. XXV, 4)
Clement wrote these things during the time of Origen, who was the first great theologian of the church in his day. But Origen did not convert people to his way of thinking, as much as he expressed more eloquently the most common premise of the church—that God would save all men in the end, and that the fiery judgment was designed to “correct” men and “compel egregious sinners to repent.”
Tertullian, however, took the opposite position, though his was a minority view (at the time). Clement of Alexandria did not derive his position from Egyptian culture that surrounded him. Egyptian religion specialized in teaching about a burning hell. Jaques le Goff wrote in his book, The Birth of Purgatory, pp. 19, 20,
“The Egyptian Hell was particularly impressive and highly refined…Confinement and imprisonment played an important role. The tortures were bloody, and punishment by fire was frequent and terrifying…. When it came to the topography of Hell, the Egyptian imagination knew no limits…. Intermediate states of phases in the other-worldly process of purification did not exist.”
On page 53, Jaques le Goff also informs us of the contrast between the Egyptian view of divine punishment and that of the early Christians, writing,
“From the Old Testament, Clement and Origen took the notion that fire is a divine instrument, and from the New Testament the idea of baptism by fire (from the Gospels) and the idea of a purificatory trial after death (from Paul).” (The Birth of Purgatory, p. 53)
The standard Christian view, held by the vast majority of Christians—especially among the seven churches of Asia, along with those of Palestine and Alexandria—was that the “lake of fire” was not a literal torture pit, but a baptism of the Holy Spirit and “fire.” This view was taught by virtually all of the great church fathers through the fourth century, including Gregory of Nazianzus and Gregory of Nyassa, two of the greatest theologians in the late fourth century. It was even taught by Jerome until the great controversy erupted in the year 400 A.D.
The controversy came about when a rich widow in Alexandria wanted to donate money to support poor widows. Knowing that Theophilus, the bishop of Alexandria, was more interested in buildings than in poor women, she gave the money secretly to Isidorus, the superintendent of the almshouse for the Alexandrian church. But one cannot spend much money without the truth being known. Theophilus went into a rage and banished Isidorus with false accusations.
Isidorus fled to the desert among Nitrian monks. Theophilus sent troops to invade the monks, burn their monasteries, and torture those who refused to deliver Isidorus into his hands. The Christians in Alexandria were horrified. Eighty of the Nitrian monks escaped and fled to Constantinople, where they appealed to the bishop, John Chrysostom.
A hearing was convened, and Theophilus was summoned. However, by subtle plotting, Theophilus was able to depose John and drive him into exile, where he soon died.
This political controversy spilled over into the doctrinal arena. Theophilus banned the writings of Isidorus, who had been writing a tribute to Origen called Love of the Beautiful. Because the book centered largely on Universal Reconciliation, Theophilus suddenly changed his view to teach eternal torment and condemned Universal Reconciliation as heresy. Up to that point, Universal Reconciliation had been taught since Thomas founded the church in Alexandria.
During the controversy, Jerome, bishop of Bethlehem, wrote to the bishop of Rome, asking him which position to take. The Roman pontiff told him to take the position of eternal torment. Jerome then began to teach eternal torment, whereas up to then he had taught Universal Reconciliation. Jerome, for all his scholarship, was a bitter and vindictive man, visible to all by his attacks upon Rufinus. Now Jerome found a new enemy and “lost all feeling of decency and veracity” (Hans von Campenhausen, The Fathers of the Latin Church, p. 178).
Even so, Universal Reconciliation remained the dominant view for a long time. Church bishops found it necessary to condemn Origen in the Fifth General Council in 553 A.D., even though Origen had taught what his predecessors in Alexandria had believed since that church’s founding in the first century.
Strangely enough, the Church Councils did not oppose Origen’s teaching on Universal Reconciliation, but his belief that Satan and his angels would also be reconciled in the end. But as time passed, the condemnation was broadened to include the idea of God being the Savior of all men—while at the same time eulogizing some of the most well-known and beloved doctors of the church, such as the two Gregory’s. Perhaps the most significant condemnation came from the Emperor Justinian (527-565) in his Anathema IX. It read,
“If anyone says or thinks that the punishment of demons and of impious men is only temporary, and will one day have an end, and that a restoration will take place of demons and of impious men, let him be anathema.”
It is fitting, perhaps, that Justinian would condemn the biblical teaching of Universal Reconciliation as mandated by the law of Jubilee. Justinian was the emperor who officially brought an end to the Pergamum era and established the beginning of the Thyatira era (529-1517 A.D.). His greatest projects were the new calendar and the new Roman (Church) Law, which began the time of the “little horn.”
For a longer study on the history of Universal Reconciliation and how it was rejected by the church, see my booklet, A Short History of Universal Reconciliation.
The point is that the martyrdom of Antipas, prophesied to the church of Pergamum, can be seen as a type of the death of Universal Reconciliation, which was probably the most significant doctrinal controversy during the prophetic Pergamum era (313-529).
The Counsel of Balaam
Rev. 2:14 criticizes the church of Pergamum, saying,
14 But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit acts of immorality.
The Old Covenant church corresponding to Pergamum is the Balaam church in the time of Moses. For this reason, we find that Pergamum had its own Balaam teachers in its midst. Of course, it is hardly likely that those teachers would have claimed Balaam as their mentor. But the One holding the two-edged sword was able to discern the thoughts and intentions of their hearts.
Balaam was a prophet who desired power and money. His story is recorded in Numbers 22-24. The king of Moab was terrified of the advancing Israelites, so he and the elders of Midian hired the prophet Balaam to curse Israel (Num. 22:6). Balaam asked God for permission to curse Israel (verses 10, 11), but God told him, “you shall not curse the people, for they are blessed” (verse 12).
This should have been sufficient, but Balaam desired the favor of Balak, king of Moab. So when the king offered him greater rewards, Balaam again asked God if he could curse Israel (Num. 22:19). God told him that he could go with Balak’s men, but that he could only speak the words that God gave him. Balaam then did so, “but God was angry because he was going” (Num. 22:22). No doubt God’s anger was directed against Balaam’s motive, for he yet hoped to curse Israel and gain favor with Balak.
The angel of the Lord then stood in the path with a drawn sword. Balaam’s donkey saw the angel, but Balaam did not. The donkey turned off the path, and Balaam became angry and began to beat the donkey. Finally, the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth, and the donkey became the first in history to speak in tongues (Num. 22:28).
Balaam then argued with the donkey before realizing that the donkey had saved his life. The prophet finally confessed his sin (Num. 22:34). He confessed his sin of not seeing the angel, but he did not confess his real sin—that his desire was not God’s desire. He was misusing his prophetic gift to establish things that were not the will of God.
This is a Pentecostal story that pictures a donkey being ridden by a prophet with carnal motives. In Scripture, donkeys represent Pentecostals, while horses represent Overcomers of the feast of Tabernacles. (See my book, The Wheat and Asses of Pentecost.) The story specifically applies to the church of Pergamum, where, in John’s day, there were prophets who followed the example of Balaam. These prophets should have listened to their “donkeys” (spirit-filled believers).
In the end, because Balaam was prevented from cursing Israel (and could only bless Israel), he counseled King Balak to take a different tactic. He told Balak to tempt Israel to sin by enticing them into immoral behavior. Num. 25:1-3 says,
1 While Israel remained at Shittim, the people began to play the harlot with the daughters of Moab. 2 For they invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. 3 So Israel joined themselves to Baal of Peor, and the Lord was angry against Israel.
As a result, God instructed Israel to destroy the Moabites and Midianites, and in the battle, Balaam was also killed (Num. 31:8). We then read in Num. 31:16,
16 Behold, these caused the sons of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to trespass against the Lord in the matter of Peor, so the plague was among the congregation of the Lord.
Here we are told that it was Balaam’s idea to corrupt Israel through immorality. Balaam understood that this was the only way to bring God’s curse upon Israel.
The Pergamum Church Adopts Balaam’s Counsel
It appears that the same counsel of Balaam had surfaced in the church of Pergamum. We do not know any details insofar as that individual church was concerned. More important, however, was how it affected the church in the Pergamum era from 313-529 A.D. There we find the spirit of Balaam manifesting in church history.
During the Smyrna period of persecution, Rome tried to curse the church, but it only grew faster. So a different tactic was taken. Rome (i.e., Constantine) blessed the church, but there were carnally-minded church leaders who set out to unite with pagans in the attempt to convert them to the Christian religion. In this way they repeated the story of Balaam. But instead of pagans being converted to Christ, the Christian religion began to adopt pagan gods and their practices. Pagan temples were converted to Christian churches, pagan gods were given the names of Christian saints, pagan statues were renamed, and pagan holidays were Christianized. Statues of Persephone were adopted as portrayals of Mary.
Under Constantine and his successors, it was politically advantageous to be a Christian, and to become a bishop in large cities meant having great power and wealth. Soon ambitious men were drawn into the ministry for the wrong motives. The teaching (or counsel) of Balaam was successful in seducing the church to forsake the word of the Lord. Christian leaders became increasingly carnal over the centuries, and idolatry took firm root, disguised as images of Christ, Mary, and the saints.
The counsel of Balaam was to induce Israelite men to engage in immoral behavior with the Midianite women if they would only bow to Baal-Peor. The tactic worked well, but 24,000 Israelites “died by the plague” (Num. 25:9) when God judged that nation.
The marriage with paganism in the time of Moses was repeated in the era of the Church of Pergamum. This lends support to the view that Pergamum (or Pergamos) has to do with gamos, “marriage.” It is proven by the outworking of prophecy itself.
The Spirit of Counsel
The message to the church at Pergamum came from the Spirit of Counsel, one of the seven Spirits of the Lord. The Spirit of Counsel was meant to counteract the counsel of Balaam. So the message to the church at Pergamum counseled the believers not to take heed to those “who hold the teaching of Balaam” (Rev. 2:14).
The Spirit of Counsel also advised the church to refrain from eating things sacrificed to idols (Rev. 2:14). Israel had done this while committing fornication with the Moabite women, as we read in Num. 25:2,
2 For they invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods.
This was prohibited in the law in Exodus 34:15,
15 lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land and they play the harlot with their gods, and sacrifice to their gods, and someone invite you to eat of his sacrifice.
In Acts 15:29 at the first Church Counsel, it was decided…
29 that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication…
It was probably for this reason that many believers thought it was a sin to eat meat that was being offered in the marketplace. The temples usually had far more sacrifices than the priests could eat, and so much of the meat was sold at the meat market in order to raise money for the temples. The question was whether it was lawful for a Christian to buy this meat and to eat it.
Paul did not believe that eating such meat constituted playing the harlot with other gods or making covenants with people worshiping foreign gods. It would have been a different matter if the people had gone to the temple with pagan friends to bow to other gods and eat a fellowship meal with them.
Hence, when Paul discusses Christian communion, he says in 1 Cor. 10:18-21,
18 Look at the nation of Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices sharers in the altar? 19 What do I mean then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.
Nonetheless, buying meat in the meat market, even if sacrificed to idols earlier, was not a covenant-breaking act. To sacrifice meat to idols did nothing to the meat. The idols did not create those animals and therefore did not own them, for as verse 26 says, “the earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains.”
In other words, ignore the issue unless someone questions it, and if someone serves you meat that has been offered to idols, “eat anything that is set before you without asking questions for conscience sake” (vs. 27). The prohibition only applies if the meal is part of a pagan worship ceremony, for then it should be considered a false communion, or “the table of demons.”
Paul thus compares the Lord’s table with the table of demons. The Lord’s table is where we eat and drink Christ’s flesh and blood, according to the spiritual principle in John 6:54. Conversely, to eat at the table of demons is to eat and drink the flesh and blood of a false god or a false messiah. Since we are what we eat (and assimilate), it is evident that we ought not to become the manifestation of demonic activity, but rather to become the living word of Christ.
This, then, is the meaning of the prohibition given by the Spirit of Counsel in Rev. 2:14. It is connected to the story of Balaam. The church was counseled to refrain from doing all that the Israelites did in joining with the daughters of Midian in their worship of Baal-Peor.
Revelation 2:15 says also,
15 Thus you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.
Since this was already explained in our study of the Ephesus church, we will refrain from further comment, except to say that the same problem was found in the church at Pergamum. From a prophetic, historical standpoint, the seeds of Nicolaitan doctrine (lording over the laity) began in the first church era from 33-67 A.D., but by the time of the Pergamum era (313-529) it developed more fully as the church hierarchy rose to power.
God Threatens to Make War on the Church
Revelation 2:16 says,
16 Repent therefore; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth.
Even as God brought a plague upon Israel for their fornication with the Moabites, so also God threatened the Pergamum church with war, unless they repented. The overcomers repented; the rest of the church did not. It seems significant that the great controversy over Universal Reconciliation should begin in the year 400, and just ten years later, Rome was sacked by Alaric the Goth, which began a series of divine judgments involving war.
This traumatic event occurred just 30 years after the emperor Theodosius had made Christianity the state religion in 380 A.D. The sacking of Rome motivated Augustine, bishop of Hippo (near Carthage in North Africa), to write his influential book, City of God, explaining that Rome was not the New Jerusalem, but that the “City of God” was a spiritual city. In other words, the Goths had not overthrown the New Jerusalem.
While his basic premise was certainly true, the inescapable truth was that God allowed a Christian Empire to come under divine judgment. This can be explained only by God’s judgment upon the church for its apostasy, which most church officials probably did not comprehend, nor could they admit. The Spirit’s message to the church at Pergamum helps explain why God judged Rome.
As we will see later, Alaric the Goth, was the first judgment upon Christian Rome when the angel sounded the first trumpet in Rev. 8:7.
The sword coming from God’s mouth is His word—that is, the sword of the Spirit. God’s tongue is likened to a fiery sword. The metaphor is pictured in physical terms, but it is actually a matter of His word. His word is law. His word is a decree from the court of heaven, which is then enforced by men on earth. In this case, God raised up the Goths to enforce divine judgment against “Christian Rome” for its apostasy. Alaric and his army used physical swords to sack Rome.
The rewards for overcoming are given in Rev. 2:17,
17 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.
The “hidden manna” is a reference to the pot of manna that Moses put into the Ark of the Covenant, along with the tables of the law and Aaron’s rod. Heb. 9:3, 4 says,
3 And behind the second veil there was a tabernacle, which is called the Holy of Holies, 4 having a golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden jar holding the manna, and Aaron’s rod which budded, and the tables of the covenant.
Apparently, Moses set aside manna on the first day that the manna was sent from heaven, although the Ark itself had not yet been built. Exodus 16:31-34 says,
31 And the house of Israel named it manna, and it was like coriander seed, white; and its taste was like wafers with honey. 32 Then Moses said, “This is what the Lord has commanded, ‘Let an omerful of it be kept throughout your generations, that they may see the bread that I fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you out of the land of Egypt’.” 33 And Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar and put an omerful of manna in it, and place it before the Lord, to be kept throughout your generations. 34 As the Lord commanded Moses, so Aaron placed it before the Testimony, to be kept.
The manna was a type of the word of God, which the people were to eat daily so that they would grow spiritually. But the church in the wilderness under Moses soon became tired of manna, desiring meat (flesh) instead. The story is given in Numbers 11, where the people said in verse 6, “there is nothing at all to look at except this manna.”
Manna represents the word of God. The people wanted flesh to eat. The lesson here is that the church ought not to desire “flesh” to be dispensed from the pulpits. They should desire the true word of God, so that they may eat Christ’s flesh and drink His blood, so to speak.
This is also represented in the bread and wine of Communion. The manna represented Christ Himself, for Jesus said in John 6:48-51,
48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread also which I shall give for the life of the world is My flesh.
We can say, therefore, that the Israelites who rejected the manna in the wilderness were actually rejecting Christ without realizing it. In the New Testament church, we find a similar pattern. So the overcomers are given the “hidden manna,” and this implies that the rest of the church, like the Israelite church in the wilderness, were not to receive this manna.
In other words, most of the church had rejected Christ in the same manner as the Israelites had done before them. Their leaders became increasingly religious and fleshly, and their message came not by revelation but by mental study of Scripture and tradition.
Whereas Moses and Aaron simply put manna in a jar and later placed it in the Ark, the Spirit of Counsel interpreted this as “hidden manna.” We are to understand that in the Pergamum era of the church, the word of God would be hidden from the church as a whole. Only the overcomers would have ears to hear what the Spirit says to the church. This implies that from 313-529 A.D. church policy openly began to forbid people to hear God for themselves.
Church Councils Replace Hearing God’s Voice
History shows that the church began to set up Church Councils to draw up official creeds to define true believers, rather than their love. The power to establish Church membership thus passed from God to men and came to reflect the values of religious men, rather than God’s values. No longer would true believers be defined by their enrollment in the heavenly records (Heb. 12:23). Now men would give themselves the right to record and erase men’s names on earth and then claim that heaven followed their lead.
The abuse of authority is in thinking that God gave the church authority to determine the will of God, rather than allowing the will of God to determine their own actions.
The same had been done in Judaism, where, for example, the temple priests cast out (or excommunicated) the man whom Jesus had healed of blindness (John 9:34). Those that were cast out were considered “sinners” and barred from worshiping in the temple. Those priests did not act according to the will of God, but thought that God had given them the authority to act according to their own understanding (i.e., the traditions of men).
The Pergamum church followed the lead of the Israelite church in the wilderness, not realizing that their abhorrence of manna had disqualified them from knowing the will of God.
The overcomers, however, are those who know the truth when they hear it. They love the word of God because they love Christ who is the Word made flesh. Whoever does not love the word of God does not really know Christ either. One must know the written word (Bible) by the revelation of the word. To put it in legal terms, one must eat clean spiritual food. One must eat (read or hear) the Scripture and then chew the cud (Lev. 11:3) in order to allow the Holy Spirit to turn it from flesh to spirit—or from a carnal, mental exercise into a revelation.
In this way the overcomers have access to the hidden manna that is in the Ark of the Covenant.
The White Stone
As we quoted earlier, Rev. 2:17 also says that the overcomers will be given “a white stone.” When judges met to decide a case, it was customary to cast their ballots for guilt or innocence by using either a white stone or a black stone. A white stone signified innocence. A black stone indicated guilt.
Here God gives the overcomers a white stone. Once again, this implies that the church as a whole did NOT receive a white stone, but rather a black stone. The guilty verdict is seen in the warning to the church and the call to repentance (Rev. 2:17).
The New Name
The white stone given to an overcomer has “a new name written on the stone.” What name is this? We are not told, and the name is deliberately veiled, for “no one knows but he who receives it.”
I believe that it is the name of the New Creation Man that has been begotten in us by the word of God. It is one’s spiritual name, the name that is recognized in the heavenly record as a son of God. Hence, 1 Peter 2:4, 5 calls us “living stones” in the spiritual temple that God is constructing. Each living stone is a piece of this temple (Eph. 2:20).
Our “old man,” that is, the fleshly man, was named at birth. Even so, our “new man” also has a name that is known only by divine revelation. The purpose of a name is to reveal one’s nature. Names were thus given and sometimes changed later to testify of a change in one’s life. Stephen is the name given to my Adamic man, but the name of my Spirit-begotten New Creation Man is different. So it is with all of us, if indeed we have been begotten of God.
Each person is responsible to know who they are in Christ, their calling, their purpose on earth, and their destiny. They need to know their place in the body of Christ and their place in the temple of God. All of this is revealed in their new name.
I believe that our new name is revealed by the name of our angel (or angels), those who are assigned to minister through us to the world at large. Angels are messengers of the word of God. At least one angel is assigned to each of us, but in many cases they remain as external helpers or protectors. It is only when we absorb them, assimilate them, and become one with them that we take on the nature of our angel and begin to manifest the word (name) that is in that angel.