PERGAMOS, WHERE SATAN’S SEAT IS
A Study in Revelation 2.12-17. (Part 1)
You will find, if you look at the map, that Pergamos was the furthest north of the seven cities to which the Apostle John wrote at the behest of the risen Christ. Unlike Ephesus, unlike Smyrna, Pergamos was not a commercial city in those days; it was the capital of the province. It was therefore, an administrative centre, and a great number of its people would have been in the category of what today we call ‘civil servants’. The dictates of the Roman government in Asia as a whole were administered from Pergamos.
Another thing about Pergamos was that at that time it was a notoriously pagan city. One of the many gods worshipped in Pergamos was the god of medicine. That god was worshipped under the symbol of a serpent. You may notice in certain literature connected with various medical matters, there is a symbol which to this day includes a serpent. That is its origin; it had its origin from this pagan god of medicine whose centre of worship was at Pergamos. The paganism of the city as a whole and of this serpent god in particular, may well have suggested the phrase that the Lord introduces in verse thirteen in this letter, where he speaks about Satan’s seat. Satan was first manifested on the earth in the form of a serpent. There may well have been a close connection between that serpent god of medicine, and the fact that Pergamos was Satan’s seat.
Pergamos was also a very noted cultural city. The particular form of culture in Pergamos was that it had a great library. In the days when books were written by hand, on papyrus, they had indeed got beyond the days of writing on clay tablets, but they had not arrived at the days of writing on paper. In those days, libraries were a great rarity. This library at Pergamos rivalled the great and famous library at Alexandria in Egypt which was the largest and most famous in all the world at that time. For its library at Pergamos large supplies of papyrus were required for writing material. Egypt had the monopoly of papyrus, and Egypt had no papyrus to spare for Pergamos in its production of books, and so the people of Pergamos invented their own process for making papyrus. They made it from calf hides and produced what they called the ‘carta pargamena’, the ‘Pergamos sheet’, (carta pargamena actually is the word from which we get our English word parchment.) Such was the cultural tradition of the city to which the Lord Jesus Christ wrote a letter addressed to the Angel of the Church.
In this city of civil servants, culture, paganism, books and learning there was a Christian Church. How it came to be there, we know not, but there it was, and to them came this letter from the Lord Jesus Christ by the hand of His Apostle John. Generally speaking, these letters contained three elements or three sections. There is the element of commendation; there is the element of complaint and there is the element of counsel.
1. The Circumstances
Like the other two letters we have already considered, this letter to Pergamos begins with the element of commendation. Let us consider the commendation.
‘These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges;
I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth.’
We notice that this commendation came from the One who is described as having the sword with two edges. The sword speaks of Christ’s authority, His right and His power to execute judgement. The sword is a symbol of judgement, and the double edged sword may well suggest the thoroughness with which the Lord does judge, and with which He was to judge those in Pergamos who professed to be Christians but were not.
Now, as in the case of the letter to Smyrna, we must take particular notice of the circumstance under which the Lord Jesus gave His commendation to the Christians in this Church at Pergamos because their circumstances were very trying; indeed, they were very harrowing. Jesus says in verse thirteen, first of all, I know thy works. Like the other Churches, this was an active Church, and that fact was noted by the Lord. He whose eyes are as a flame of fire sees when a Church is active, and when it is inactive. The form of the activity here, we are not told, but the Lord knew, and evidently He knew approvingly. He took note that they were not at ease in Zion, that their religion was an active religion, outwardly as well as inwardly. What they did in terms of Christian testimony, pleased the Lord, and the Lord said so, I know thy works. Would He say the same of us?
Jesus then says, still in verse thirteen, I know your location, I know where you are, I know ‘where thou dwellest’. I know Pergamos. I know all about Pergamos, and I know it better than you do. I know that you have to live, and you have to witness in that city where Satan’s seat is. That is what the Lord Jesus tells us about Pergamos. It is where Satan’s seat is; something that was more prominent than its culture, than its administrative importance, than anything else was this, Satan’s seat was there! That means of course,
Satan’s throne, the seat in this sense means throne. It was if you like, Satan’s headquarters. It was a most expressive way of saying that the monstrous and sinister nature of the evil that was prevalent in Pergamos and which pervaded the life of the city was known to the Lord. Where Satan’s seat is, where Satan is established, where Satan is well established, where Satan is set up. Now I suppose we would say that every city and every town and indeed, every rural area in the country is a place where Satan is. Satan seems to have his seat and his throne everywhere. It is global. We cannot deny it. At the same time, we cannot deny that some places are more evil, more depraved, more anti-Christian than others. We would probably say that the Soho area of London was more wicked than Bethersden. The city of Amsterdam in Holland has a worldwide notoriety of being a city of evil far more wicked than any other. It comes to be a question of relativities. Amsterdam is more wicked, Satan has his seat there in a more prominent sense than in Canterbury, Coventry or Carlisle. Satan’s throne, Satan’s power is certainly more prominent in some places than in others, and so it was in Asia. Satan was in all the cities of Asia, he had a seat, or a throne of some kind everywhere, but of all the cities in Asia, Pergamos seemed to be the worst. Satan was more obviously, more openly at work there than in any other city.
We saw last time (see Vol. 13, No. 4, page 156), that in Smyrna, Satan was most active in the synagogue (verse 9). The synagogue was not the synagogue of God, it was the synagogue of Satan, where the Jews were so ill-motivated that they persecuted the Christians. In Smyrna it was in the synagogue, but in Pergamos it was everywhere. He had the city in his grip, and this, remember, is the statement, is the judgement, is the observation of Him whose eyes are as a flame of fire. He knew what was in Pergamos, and His conclusion was that Pergamos was where Satan’s throne was established. Wherever Satan’s throne is, Christ’s Church is in peculiar and constant peril, and persecute that Church, Satan will.
As at Smyrna, so here at Pergamos, there was persecution. We get the first hint of it in the martyrdom of Antipas (verse 13), Thou hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth. Who Antipas was, we have no idea. Herod Antipas we know, but this Antipas is otherwise unknown, beyond the tradition that there in Patmos, he was roasted alive in a brazen bowl at command of the Emperor Demetia. That was the situation in Patmos. Satan’s seat was there, and that was the kind of thing that happened to members of the Christian Church. Satan dwelt there and consequently, there was bloodshed, there was violence, there was persecution. The Christians were passing through a harrowing time.
In spite of all that there was in Pergamos a faithful pastor, the angel, the messenger, the bishop, the pastor of the Church at Pergamos to whom this letter is addressed. We know nothing more about him than the fact that this letter was sent to him. In these harrowing circumstances, the commendation of Christ was sent to him concerning his Church.
2. The Commendation Itself
Having looked somewhat at the circumstances, let us then look at the commendation itself. It is twofold. ‘Thou holdest fast my name, and thou hast not denied my name even in those days when Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth.’ Now notice, the commendation involves two things, My name and My faith. My name, you have held fast; My faith, you have not denied. Let us take them in turn.
‘Thou holdest fast my name.’ In the evil through which they passed, the members of this Church at Pergamos held fast Christ’s name. The name speaks of the person and they were commended for their loyalty and their steadfastness to the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, and that means, to say the very least, that they publicly acknowledged the risen Lord as their Lord in that dark place. They publicly and regularly worshipped the risen Lord in that same place where, with their own eyes, they had seen Antipas martyred for doing the same thing. They did not observe their religion in a corner, not even when they were aware of what had happened to one of their number for doing the same thing. They had a loyalty to the person of Christ.
That raises the question of our loyalty to the person of Christ, which is not just a matter of our deliverance from our sins, nor is it just a matter of singing songs of anticipation as we march to the promised land. Loyalty to Christ is something more than that. Our loyalty to Christ must have in it discernment enough to see the kind of person that Christ is. This is the very thing that was objected to by the Jews and by the pagans in Asia, as opposed to the Christians. They objected to what the Christians had to confess concerning Jesus Christ. They accepted and confessed His two natures, and we must accept and confess Christ’s two natures. His true humanity, and His real deity. No one is loyal to the person of Christ who denies either His humanity or His deity. Let him call himself what he will, let him profess what he likes, loyalty to the person of Christ involves the confession of what He is in Himself. The One for whom we are to stand, the One to whom we are to be steadfast, holding fast to His name, is very God of very God, and very man of very man in two distinct natures in one Person for ever. That is loyalty to the person of Christ. Not simply loyalty to Christ for what He says, though it involves that as we shall see; not simply loyalty to Christ for what He has taught, though it involves that, but over and beyond and above everything else, loyalty to what Christ is, to His being as very God and very Man. That is the first part of the commendation. My name you have held fast. We have to ask ourselves, Would He say that of us?
The second part of the commendation is this, still in verse thirteen. My faith, you have not denied; thou hast not denied my faith. Now notice very carefully, what it is the Lord says. He does not say, You have not denied your faith; He is not talking about their faith. He says, you have not denied My faith, My faith. He says, It is not your faith in Me that I am talking about, it is the faith that I have given you. It is not the faith subjectively, but the faith objectively. Not faith with a small f but faith with a capital ‘F’. It is The Faith, once delivered to the saints. It is the Christian Faith. It is the body of truth, the body of doctrine that surrounds Christ’s person. It is the faith of which Christ is the author and the finisher. You have not denied my faith. There were those in many parts who had; there have, down the ages, been many who have denied the faith; there are those who deny the faith today. The believers in Pergamos, the dark city of Pergamos, in spite of everything in their circumstances and surroundings, were sound in the faith, were healthy in the faith, were orthodox in the faith once delivered. As they would not disown the Person of Christ, neither would they disown the doctrine of Christ. In spite of their location, where Satan dwelt, in spite of their persecution, where Antipas was martyred, they would not deny the doctrine of Christ, they would not deny that Christ’s teaching on anything and everything was true and faithful.
Now, it is one thing to be faithful when the wind is behind us, there is not much trouble there, but let the wind change, and we are put to suffer for Christ’s sake. That is a different matter. Yet, that is what enhances this commendation, and indeed, any commendation of Christian people and Christian churches. Why should Christ commend us for loyalty to Him in fair weather? That is the very least He may expect of us, but when the weather turns foul, when we are loyal to Him against all odds, when we are loyal to Him against grave repercussions, then we may expect His commendation. I fear that kind of loyalty and faithfulness is something we know little of simply because we are not oppressed as the Christians at Pergamos were. Of course, it has to be said, alas, that today the Church in Britain at large is certainly not as loyal to Christ and to Christ’s person and to Christ’s faith as the Church should be. Indeed, there is a wholesale denial in the Church at large. There is a wholesale denial of cardinal doctrine, as to that which Christ taught. There is a wholesale denial of cardinal doctrine as to who and what Christ is.
There is a rejection of biblical practice in ethical matters because there is a rejection of those principles for living that Jesus Christ himself taught. Sadly, these things are often found among and propagated by the very people who earn their livelihood through the Church, who live off the gospel they profess, but deny that very gospel by what they say and what they do.
The final appeal today is for some of the steadfastness of the Pergamos Christians to rub off on us. We gladly recognise, we gladly bear testimony to the fact that there are still many Churches in our land that are loyal to Christ’s name, who hold fast His name. We gladly recognise and acknowledge that there are many churches in our land which still refuse to deny His faith, that is true. Our prayer, our concern must be that their number should increase and that their strength should abound yet more and more.
Here, then, is the commendation that Christ gave to the Church in Pergamos, My name you have held fast, My faith you have not denied. There follows complaint and counsel, but I must leave that for another time. However, there is an urgent question before us in conclusion. Were Christ to address a letter to the Church where you are in membership today, would He make this commendation of you? Have you held fast His name? It is known by those around you that you profess His name, and can you give an account of the name and of the Person that you profess, very God and very Man? Have you denied His faith? There is no persecution. Everything is easy, even the old rampant atheism that some of us remember of fifty or sixty years ago when the atheists were active and provocative and militant has all gone and has been replaced by sheer cynicism and a ‘could-not-care less” attitude about Christianity and about the Church. Not only is there no persecution, every man is left to do his own thing and if your thing is religion, well, that is all right, that is your business. Things are so much easier for us, so what do we have to do? We have to remind ourselves that it is a simple fact of history that the Christian Church has always flourished most in times of persecution. It may very well be that history, in a century to come, if the world lasts so long, will record that the most vital profession of Christianity at this particular time in the 1970s and 80s was in Russia, and in Eastern Europe. They have held fast His name; they have not denied His faith. All honour to them, but as they would say, ‘yet more honour to Him who has enabled us’. For us, it is not so much a question of open denial, it is a question of secret denial. Things are so easy, we can cover up; we can profess what we like, and get no trouble from it. The question we have to ask is the simple one of Isaac Watts’ hymn,
‘Do our lips and lives confess
The holy Gospel we profess?’
What does Christ say of us? Have we His approbation. Does He say, My name you have held fast, my faith you have not denied? I think I hear the exhortation of Paul coming in to back up the whole matter when he says, as he does, to the Corinthians, “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.” I know thy works. Is Christ pleased with what He knows of us?
To be concluded