And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword: “I know where you are living, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you are holding fast to my name, and you did not deny your faith in me…Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. To everyone who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give a white stone, and on the white stone is written a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it.”
Revelation 2:12-13a, 17
I often hear people say when studying the Bible, “Wow! I see that things have not changed since Bible times. We are dealing with the same human problems they did then!”
That’s what I’m thinking this morning as I read the news. Here is yet another article about a Christian leader seduced by sex, silver and self. Then over here is a poll about the rising number of “Nones” rejecting today’s church and the Christian faith. I read the news and wonder, “What are we going to do?”
This nagging question drives me to the timeless Bible and to Jesus’ prescient messages to seven churches in the pagan first century (Revelation 2-3). Jesus’ messages there speak powerfully to us today.
Today I am pondering Christ’s message to Christians in Pergamum. Jesus says that His message to them is also for us today and any who will listen: “anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches…”
Pergamum was an amazing city, a bucket list kind of city. It was capital of the Roman province of Asia Minor and rose dramatically 1,000 feet above the Caecus River plain. It was a culturally vibrant city and home to a vast library second in the world only to the famous library in Alexandria.
But Pergamum was famous not only for its economic and political clout, but for being at the world’s epicenter of pagan religion. It was a hub for the worship of Zeus, Athene, Dionysus, and Aesclepios. Christians daily faced this wicked brew of occult darkness and sensuality. It is thought that the first Christian martyr in Asia Minor is mentioned by Jesus in this Pergamum message: “Antipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan lives” (Revelation 2:13). That says everything a reader needs to know about life in Pergamum!
Then add to this the fact that Pergamum was the first city to build a temple for the worship of the Emperor as god and savior. It was dangerous to be a Christian in Pergamum and to say “Jesus is Lord, not Caesar!” Jesus acknowledges the difficulty of being a Christian there and living faithfully to Him: “I know where you are living, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you are holding fast to my name, and you did not deny your faith in me” (Revelation 2:13).
To those who would hold fast to Jesus, He makes marvelous promises:
“To everyone who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give a white stone, and on the white stone is written a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it.”
Faithful Christians will receive “hidden manna”, a genuine soul food for the inner person not found in the world and all of its glory. As manna sustained Israel in its wilderness journey so Christ will sustain and nourish us as we journey a difficult road!
Jesus also promises the faithful that He will give them a white stone. The white stone refers to the custom in ancient law courts where white and black stones were used for registering the verdict of juries; a white stone meant innocence and a black one meant guilty. Compare the modern version of “blackballing” people today. Conquerors in battle or athletic contests were also awarded a white stone. Stay close to Jesus and experience His total acceptance of you!
Finally, Jesus says that He will give to the faithful a white stone with a “new name” written on it. This speaks to the Christian’s new life and identity in Christ (See 2 Corinthians 5:17). And Jesus promises that it is a new name “that no one knows except the one who receives it.” Anyone who has ever been in love understands this! I have my name for Rita that no one else in the world knows, but Rita. It bespeaks intimacy and love. In Jesus’ promise of a new name, a ‘pet name’, He is saying that He loves each one of us in a way He loves no one else! Each one of us is special and unique to Him. You matter to Him. In this we experience the fulfilling of the ancient prophecy of Isaiah:
The nations shall see your vindication,
and all the kings your glory;
and you shall be called by a new name
that the mouth of the LORD will give.
Just something to think about as you read today’s news!
Grace and peace,