Originally the capital of Asia, the city of Pergamum was known for its first use of parchment paper. Its university had the 2nd largest library in the world, behind only Alexandria, with 200,000 volumes. The Imperial cult was strong there, worshipping the Roman emperor as a divine being, and so was the worship of Zeus.
The letter to the Church in Pergamum represents 314-590/600 A.D. in church history. The persecution had ended with Constantine, and he had even required everyone to be “born again”. Because the government became involved in Christianity, compromises had been made. Sometimes when things get too easy, we lose our “saltiness” and become bland and blend in with the world.
“The One who has the sharp two-edged sword says this: ‘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.'” ~Revelation 2:12b-13
Jesus was reminding them that He had the “sharp two-edged sword”, the Word of God, IS the Word of God, the Truth. He recognized how difficult it was to live amongst the imperial cult and other pagan altars, and He commended them for keeping His name and faith, even after Antipas, a physician and leader of the church who refused to deny Jesus, was put to death.
But. “‘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. Thus you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent therefore; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth.'” ~Revelation 2:14-16
Back in Numbers 22-24, Balak employed the prophet Balaam to curse the Israelites so he could defeat them. God would not allow Balaam to curse the Israelites, only to bless them. So Balaam suggested to Balak his people intermingle and intermarry with the Israelites, thus bringing idolatry into the camp of Israel and pulling them away from their one true God.
In John’s time, there were some who wanted to compromise the church and intermingle it with the teachings of the world around them. As we desire to be more hip, more cool, more in touch with the culture around us, you can no longer tell the difference between believers and unbelievers. We are no longer light and salt.
The Nicolaitans were desiring this, as well as a clerical hierarchy, which eventually came into play with the Roman Catholic church established as ruling the people, and the pope as high ruler. The Bible, however, teaches us that we are all on equal ground before God. The church does not have authority to decide what works and what doesn’t, what is right and what is wrong- only God’s Word does. The church does not have the authority to change to meet the world, to fit in- God’s Word doesn’t change, it stays the same. The Truth stays the Truth. And the Truth will “make war against them” and win!
We are once again told to listen, to hear, in the closing verse of this letter, and the promise “‘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.'” ~Revelation 2:17
Back in this time of history, they would cast their votes, with white stones meaning yes, and black stones being no votes (possibly the origin of the term “black-balled”). Jesus is casting a yes vote for those of us who hear, repent, and overcome, and giving us a new, secret name. And manna, bread… Jesus is the Bread of Life.