Revelation 2:12-17 (Pergamum)

“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 even in the days of Antipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan lives.

But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the people of Israel, so that they would eat food sacrificed to idols and practice fornication. So you also have some who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.

Repent then. If not, I will come to you soon and make war against them with the sword of my mouth. 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.

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6 responses

  1. a few helpful bits from Bruce Malina’s _Social Science Commentary_:”Pergamum was the most spectacular city in Asia Minor… Its kings added the title “savior” and “god” to their names… The sharp two-edged sword points to the word as discerning, scrutinizing, and judging.”2:13: The throne of Satan, the tester of loyalties and vehicle of deception, refers to the altar of Zeus for which the city was famous……”2:17 … [The manna] is hidden either because it was reserved by God for some other purpose, for example, those who overcome some test, or because some of the manna was kept in the Ark of the Covenant, itself hidden by the prophet Jeremia until the times of the Messiah (2 Macc. 2:5) … The new name, mysterious like all divine names, expressed and revealed God in some series of letters. ‘Name’ approximates our usage of ‘person’ [!!!] God’s name is his person, his very being…”Aside from that, I remain confused by why Christ would ask this church to throw out members for teaching false doctrines–and then add that if they don’t, he himself will come make verbal war on these members. Wouldn’t this come to the same thing?

  2. Deut 32:39: See now that I, even I, am he; there is no god besides me. I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and no one can deliver from my hand.This passage goes on to speak of God’s sword.If Christ can heal with a word; surely he can kill with one. I’m not so sure Christ is only threatening a tongue-lashing here.

  3. The sword of God’s word separates truth from error.This may be painful, for anyone too deeply attached to his error.And if we can’t learn what we need through good experiences, we may have to undergo something truly hairy! (All of human history witnesses to that!)But Christ is not threatening to war against the church, merely against members he is already opposed to. (If they’re still in the church, then, the disruption will take place there, rather than discretely outside. That does sound worth avoiding. But where does reconciliation come in, then?)

  4. That I hope for reconciliation — even for those now enemeies of God, even for those who have died in their sins — does not mean this passage need witness to that. I will continue to look for that as I read. But I don’t personally see it here.Perhaps Christ is portrayed here as promising to continue the argument with these folks. But my guts say otherwise. I think this passage is tended as a word of hope to thsoe who persevere not a word of hope to those who resist His Light.

  5. Okay, a word of hope, addressed to those who refuse it, is a word wasted.But so is a threat wasted, if addressed to those who don’t think it applies to them, or to those who can’t understand it as real, or to those incapable of surrendering unless it’s actually carried out.”A word of hope to those who persevere–but is it a word of hope for those who persist in rejecting people with wrong-headed notions?”All right, I’m now trying to think deeper about this myself… The purpose is not to punish people for believing in false doctrines.The purpose is to have a functioning church, whatever that may mean. There must be some doctrine, as a guide to practice: either correct doctrine leading to worthwhile practices, or mistaken doctrines leading to wasted or counterproductive effort.”No doctrine,” in practice, means “only tacit, unacknowledged doctrines.” A modern Quaker example might be: “All human institutional evils can be overcome by convenient, incremental changes that will not offend anyone.”To include people with mistaken beliefs–where the error implies a significant difference in policy–will impede taking necessary actions.To exclude people who disagree with us–unless we can be entirely sure of our own understanding–may deprive us of essential criticism.But to have a working religious organization, you need a functional understanding of what beliefs and goals are implied by joining. “Everyone who wants to can belong, if they’re good people” is not a useful point of agreement–though I believe that that has been the bottom line in more than one Quaker meeting. Once that becomes the policy, then there is nothing to base decisions on–the “will of God” no longer being a universally intelligible consideration–except consensus. Therefore, though there may be shared beliefs, such as favoring peace rather than war, which differ from those of mainstream society, in most matters the organization will naturally tend to accomodate to “the world.”For those of us who recognize the world as “rolling to hell in a shopping cart,” this will not do! (This may have something to do with why Quakers form new organizations–while usually remaining Friends–whenever they want to actually accomplish anything whatsoever.)

  6. The false doctrines in thsi case appear to lead to fornication (perhaps code for joining in the worship of pagan gods) and eating food sacrificed to idols. This is in turn associated with Balaam — who — though a prophet of God, took payment from a non-Israelite king to curse the people of Israel – and is here associated with “putting a stumbling block before the people of Israel” Reading between the lines, John (claiming the authority of the resurrected Christ) is calling for clear bopundary maintenance — something (liberal) Friends don’t do so well. In times of persecution, tight boundaries becoem very important. You need to know who you can trust.Interestingly, Paul in Romans and in I Corinthians takes the opposite tack, eat the meat, but give thanks to God, and don’t eat the meat if you think it will give offense to your fellow Christians.

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