Seven Church Conditions during the Church Age – The Persecuted and Compromised Congregation

As we study the prophetic messages to the seven congregations in this series, we will quickly see that they follow the same well-defined structure. The Lord begins each message with a greeting that relates back to John’s vision of Jesus, the Son of Man, in the heavenly scene in the first chapter of the Revelation. In other words, Jesus greets each congregation with an aspect of His person or His title that relates who He is to their particular circumstance. Jesus then commends the congregation for the good things He can say to them. Jesus then exhorted the congregations to take the appropriate action with a promise of blessings for obedience. The believers were to overcome must be understood within the context of the struggles and temptations each congregation faced. Furthermore, the Lord connects the congregation’s spiritual condition with the city’s character and reputation in each letter. (2)

Ancient Pergamum

The Congregation at Pergamos

With this introduction, let’s get some background information about Pergamos that will help us understand why the Lord said what He did to the believers in this strategic city. Then we will study this prophetic message with a view of its practical application to our world and lives today. (2)


Before reading the Lord’s letter to the believers at Pergamos, let’s learn what life was like in that ancient city. After taking John’s letter to be read at Smyrna, the courier continued on the Roman postal road to Pergamos, also spelled Pergamum, which was about 50 miles north of Smyrna and about 15 miles inland. (2)

Pergamum Ruins
Pergamum Ruins Map

Select one of the Seven Cities in the Google Map (below), then select “View in Google Maps” on the left to explore each of the Seven Congregations of The Revelation.

Seven Churches of Revelation

The name Pergamos means “citadel, elevated, or exalted” and characterized this city which sat on top of a thousand-foot hill that overlooked the surrounding countryside. It was a natural fortress. Pergamos was also exalted as the chief religious center in the province, with many magnificent temples to different gods and goddesses. Scholars believe the population of Pergamos when John wrote his prophetic message was about 150,000. (2)

When Alexander the Great died, one of his generals, Lysimachus, conquered the area of Pergamos and entrusted a large fortune to Philetaerus, one of his officers. When Lysimachus was killed in battle, Philetaerus used the wealth entrusted to him to build Pergamos into an independent Greek kingdom. When he died, his successors, known as the Attalid dynasty, greatly expanded the Kingdom of Pergamos, ruling over it for five generations. This covered the period of time from 263-133 B.C. When Attalus III died in 133 B.C., he gave the Kingdom of Pergamos to the Roman government. At this time, Pergamos was incorporated into the Roman province of Asia Minor and was its chief city and official capital, with a local Roman proconsul. (2)

Pergamos was famous for its huge library, which rivaled the larger one in Alexandria, Egypt. The library housed about 200,000 volumes, making Pergamos a great learning center for the whole region, and attracting visitors from far and wide. During this time, papyrus was the main material for writing, and Alexandria controlled the papyrus market. Due to their rivalry, Alexandria stopped shipping papyrus to the library at Pergamos. As a result, Pergamos developed parchment (made from animal skins) as a new material for writing. In fact, the word parchment means “belonging to or of Pergamos.” However, Alexandria eventually won the rivalry when in 41 B.C., Mark Antony plundered the library and gave the books to Cleopatra. (2)

Along with its university and medical center, Pergamos had one of the most impressive theaters in the ancient world. It was the steepest theater of its day, situated on the side of the hill. It had a seating capacity of 10,000 people. Because of its location, the acoustics were so good that people could hear the performers clearly and had a magnificent view of the surrounding countryside. (2)

The modern city of Bergama is located at the ruins of ancient Pergamos. The city has a population of 75,000-100,000 and is known for its high-quality Bergama carpets. The city has 15 mosques and a professing Christian community. Its main archaeological site is the Bergama Archaeological Museum, which contains a replica of the altar to Zeus in the Berlin Pergamon Museum. (2)

The Greeting

“To the angel of the church in Pergamum write the following: “This is the solemn pronouncement of the one who has the sharp double-edged sword: (Revelation 2:12 NET)

With this brief background, let’s read the Lord’s prophetic letter to the believers at Pergamos.

The Son of Man greets the believers at Pergamos in a way that addresses their situation. He also refers to Himself in a way that relates back to His glorious revelation given to John.

He held seven stars in his right hand, and a sharp double-edged sword extended out of his mouth. His face shone like the sun shining at full strength. (Revelation 1:16 NET)
“To the angel of the church in Pergamum write the following: “This is the solemn pronouncement of the one who has the sharp double-edged sword: (Revelation 2:12 NET)

What does this symbol mean? The Romans developed a sword that had a revolutionary design that enabled the Roman soldier to attack his enemy with a slicing motion from either side of the sword. It was a sharp, two-edged sword (cf. Judges 3:16). In Pergamos, the Roman proconsul had such a sword. He also had what was called “the right of the sword.” (2)

“right of the sword”— (Latin, jus gladii): the equivalent to what we call the power of life and death, referring to the legal authority to execute someone for a capital offense. (4)

This means he had the authority to use his sword to execute judgment as necessary. Unfortunately, the believers at Pergamos lived under the threat of “the right of the sword.” (2)

Jesus used this situation to remind them that He, too, had a sword that was more powerful than the one used by the Roman official. Like the Roman proconsul, He too had “the right of the sword.” And His right came from a higher authority than Rome. His “right of the sword” came from His Father in Heaven. His sword is the creative power of His spoken Word. This is the same truth that Jesus revealed to us when He stood before Pilate when Jesus would not defend Himself. (2)

When Pilate heard what they said, he was more afraid than ever, and he went back into the governor’s residence and said to Jesus, “Where do you come from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. So Pilate said, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Don’t you know I have the authority to release you, and to crucify you?” Jesus replied, “You would have no authority over me at all, unless it was given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of greater sin.” (John 19:8–11 NET)

Like Pilate, the Roman proconsul at Pergamos thought he was the ultimate authority because he had “the right of the sword.” Being only human, this situation would certainly frighten and intimidate the believers. So Jesus reminds them that He has the ultimate authority over life and death through the power of His spoken Word. (2)

In Revelation 1:16, John says that Jesus’ words are like a sharp two-edged sword coming out of His mouth. When the New Testament talks about God’s Word coming out of His mouth, His spoken word, it uses the Greek word rhema.

Examples of this exact form of Rhema in the New Covenant:

But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word [Gk, rhema] that comes from the mouth of God.’ ” (Matthew 4:4 NET)
Simon answered, “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing! But at your word [Gk, rhema] I will lower the nets.” (Luke 5:5 NET)
Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her to sanctify her by cleansing her with the washing of the water by the word [Gk, rhema], so that he may present the church to himself as glorious—not having a stain or wrinkle, or any such blemish, but holy and blameless. (Ephesians 5:25–27 NET)
The Son is the radiance of his glory and the representation of his essence, and he sustains all things by his powerful word, and so when he had accomplished cleansing for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. (Hebrews 1:3 NET)
By faith we understand that the worlds were set in order at God’s command [Gk, rhema], so that the visible has its origin in the invisible. (Hebrews 11:3 NET)

Since God’s Words are in Him and part of His being, they have His life in them. When He speaks, His Words come out of Him with His life in them to perform what He speaks. This is how God can speak something out of nothing. His life is in His spoken Words. When the Son of Man speaks, His Words are more powerful than a Roman sword. (2)

The Son is the radiance of his glory and the representation of his essence, and he sustains all things by his powerful word, and so when he had accomplished cleansing for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. (Hebrews 1:3 NET) 

The sword used by the Roman proconsul can kill the believers but the Sword of the Lord can destroy Rome. The Sword of the Spirit proceeding out of the mouth of the Son of Man can destroy nations and all the enemies of God and His people. We learn later in Revelation that when the Lord returns, He destroys the nations with His spoken word. John says that those who survive the final battle against the Lord are killed with the sword which proceeded from the mouth of Him who sat on the throne. (2)

Then I saw heaven opened and here came a white horse! The one riding it was called “Faithful” and “True,” and with justice he judges and goes to war. His eyes are like a fiery flame and there are many diadem crowns on his head. He has a name written that no one knows except himself. He is dressed in clothing dipped in blood, and he is called the Word [Gk, logos] of God. The armies that are in heaven, dressed in white, clean, fine linen, were following him on white horses. From his mouth extends a sharp sword, so that with it he can strike the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod, and he stomps the winepress of the furious wrath of God, the All-Powerful.He has a name written on his clothing and on his thigh: “King of kings and Lord of lords.” (Revelation 19:11–16 NET)

While governments may persecute God’s people even to the point of martyrdom, in God’s time He will avenge His people (1) by the two-edged sword of His spoken Word. We do not have to fear those who only have a physical sword. The Lord will destroy our enemies. Victory is certain. Jesus will raise us from the dead by the power of His spoken Word. We will hear His voice and live. (1) (2)

We will sit with Him on thrones and judge those who persecuted us (see Rev. 20:4).

Then I saw thrones and seated on them were those who had been given authority to judge. I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of the testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. These had not worshiped the beast or his image and had refused to receive his mark on their forehead or hand. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:4 NET) 

The Commendation

I know where you live—where Satan’s throne is. Yet you continue to cling to my name and you have not denied your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was killed in your city where Satan lives. (Revelation 2:13 NET)

The Greek word for “live” is very important. It is the Greek word katoikeo, meaning to settle down. The word depicts one who is settled into a house or neighborhood. This individual feels completely at home. The verb tense for “dwellest” describes continuous action. In other words, this is not a visitor or guest who is coming and going. The Greek word katoikeo indicates permanent indwellers. This was especially important to the believers in Pergamum whom Jesus was addressing. They were suffering dire persecution and could not escape their environment. Everyone would like to escape hardship, but there are times when it is not possible. At that time, citizens of the Roman Empire were required to live where the government dictated. The believers in Pergamum were legally obligated to live there because that was where the government gave them permission and the right to live. Generations of families had lived in Pergamum. This was the place where they regularly dwelled, and Jesus fully understood that they could not flee their situation. When Jesus said to them, “I know where you dwell,” the Greek could actually be translated, “I know where you’ve settled down and where you continually dwell — it’s the place where Satan’s seat is.” (4)

When Jesus referred to “Satan’s seat,” He used the Greek word satanas for Satan. This word describes one who hates, accuses, or slanders or one who conspires against another as an adversary. This reveals that Satan was conspiring against the church at Pergamum. He was not haphazardly hoping to destroy the church there. He had a plan to do it! (4)

Jesus reassures the congregation at Pergamos that He knows their works and He knows that they live in a city where Satan’s throne is and where Satan dwells. They live where Satan lives and has his throne. What was the situation at Pergamos that would have Jesus make such startling statements? Pergamos was the pagan religious capital of Asia Minor. The city was filled with temples, statues, and altars devoted to idol worship and the immoral festivals associated with idolatry that was part of the Pergamos way of life. (2)

There were three aspects of pagan worship that characterized the city. (2)

Sun Worship

First, Pergamos was the transplanted capital of Babylonian sun worship. You see, when the Medo-Persians defeated the Babylonians in 536 B.C., many of the Babylonian priests fled to Asia Minor and established their spiritual center at Pergamos. Later, the Attalid dynasty of kings accepted the role as the political and spiritual heirs and representatives of Babylonian sun-worship instituted by Nimrod. (2)

When Attalus III handed over his kingdom to Rome, the religious headship of Babylonian sun-worship was passed to Rome. When Julius Caesar became the absolute ruler, he claimed to be a descendant of the gods and embraced both the political and religious role of king-priest of the old Babylonian religion. Thus Rome succeeded Pergamos as the new superpower religious heir to Babylonian sun worship. The Roman emperor was the head of both the Roman government and the Roman version of the old Babylonian religion. (2)

When Constantine became the Roman emperor, he needed to unite the empire under one religion. Seeing how many of his subjects were embracing Christianity, he made cosmetic changes to Babylonian sun worship and redefined Christianity into a Greco-Roman religion. His purpose was to blend them into one religion that would be acceptable to his subjects. Constantine was very successful in his efforts. To him and the pagan sun worshipers of his empire, the sun god of Babylonia and the Sun of Righteousness were one and the same. Like the city of Pergamos, the old religion of Babylonia was set on high, elevated, and exalted under the guise of Christianity as the religion of the empire. Rome became the citadel of the newly redefined Christian religion. (2)

Imperial Cult Worship

The second aspect of pagan worship that characterized the city was imperial cult worship. Pergamos was the first city in the Roman province to institute emperor worship. The city built a temple to Augustus in 29 B.C. Later they built temples to the Emperors Trajan and Hadrian. Pergamos became known as the “City of Three Temples,” where the emperors were worshiped as gods. (2)

The Great Altar of Pergamon is considered to be one of the greatest surviving monuments from antiquity. Now located in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, Germany, the altar is thought by many scholars to be the “throne of Satan,” referred to by the prophet John in the Book of Revelations. (Revelation 2:12–13)

Zeus Worship

In Greek religion and mythology, Zeus was the supreme god. As the king of the gods, Zeus was worshiped as god and lord and savior of almost every aspect of life. Because Zeus was the “high god of the gods,” the altar dedicated to him was the most spectacular structure at Pergamos. Built high up on the hill overlooking the city, the throne-like altar was one of the ancient wonders of the world. It was shaped like a horseshoe, 100 feet long on both sides and 40 feet high. The altar was made with characters showing Zeus defeating snake-like giants.

From this high position, the altar depicted him as “Zeus the Savior” overlooking the city. In the 1870s, German engineer Carl Humann discovered the altar. In 1871 the altar was taken to Germany where it is now on exhibit at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. The Romans equated Zeus with their own supreme god, Jupiter.

Athena was the patron goddess of Athens. Greek mythology tells how her “father” Zeus gave birth to her. Zeus was told that one of his children would overthrow him. So whenever his wife, Metis, bore a child, Zeus ate the child. Eventually, Zeus got smart and ate Metis to prevent her from having any more children. Unknown to Zeus, Metis was already pregnant with Athena. Much like mothers who knit clothes for their yet-to-be-born babies, Metis made a robe and helmet for Athena. When Metis hammered on the helmet, Zeus cried out in great pain, as it gave him a headache. When the time came for Athena to be born, she burst forth from Zeus’ head fully grown and wearing the robe and helmet her mother made her.

Athena was the favorite daughter of Zeus. She was worshiped as the patron goddess of different areas of life, including wisdom, war, trade skills and crafts, and the making of weapons. People involved in trades joined the Athena Union. They sacrificed to her and sought her help in their work. She was considered by many as the protector of the city. In Greek mythology, Athena was a virgin and given the title Athena Parthenos, meaning, Athena the Virgin. The Parthenon in Athens was built to worship her. Dionysus, a son of Zeus, was the god of wine, drunken revelry, debauchery, and sexual gratification. According to Greek mythology, Dionysus discovered the art of winemaking. He then traveled to different lands, teaching his worshipers how to cultivate the vine to make the best wine. Dionysus worshipers took wine tasting to a new level. Many festivals were held in honor of Dionysus, as it gave people an excuse to get drunk and indulge in every imaginable form of sexual perversion. Worshipers sought union with Dionysus at the temple through temple prostitutes, who would empower them with the ability to experience ecstasy. (2)

Asclepius was the god of healing. He was the patron god of Pergamos and his likeness appeared on their coins. Much like major medical centers today, people would come from far and wide to the temple in Pergamos, seeking healing. There was a large medical center associated with the temple and many “healing priests” who served Asclepius. Since the symbol for Asclepius was the serpent, the temple dedicated to him had temple snakes that were considered the embodiment of Asclepius. These were not poisonous snakes but were “medical snakes” that helped to heal people. The sick worshipers were allowed to sleep in the temple at night. If a “medical snake” happened to touch them, it was as if Asclepius had touched them, and they would be healed. Of course, the priests serving the healing snake god made sure that only those people that they themselves could help had the blessing of spending the night with the snakes. So they inspected the poor sufferers, or as we would say, made them take a medical exam, before admitting them to the temple (hospital). (2)

Pergamos had everything in the way of pagan worship opportunities. With Zeus overlooking the city, there was nothing to worry about as he was your lord and savior. If you were so inclined, you could be part of the old Babylonian worship of the sun. You could even choose which emperor you wanted to worship. You could join the Augustine denomination, the Trajan denomination, or the Hadrian denomination. Or if you were really religious, you could join all three. If you were a member of a trade guild (union) you were blessed with a temple to Athena. To join the guild, you had to worship Athena by making sacrifices to her, eating meat that was leftover from the sacrifices, and also desiring to have union with her. If you were a “Pergamos, pagan, party person,” the temple to Dionysus was open 24 hours a day. There was no limit to your revelry, and you did not need a designated driver, as you could pass out at the temple and the temple prostitutes would take care of you. If you got sick, there was the snake god to heal you. It helped to know one of the priests personally; otherwise, you might not get admitted. There were never enough snakes to go around, so not everyone got healed. (2)

The citizens at Pergamos had many festivals and everyday worship activities devoted to their different gods. There was something for everyone. Their way to worship their gods was to bow down before the gods while making a sacrifice, then eat the meat leftover as a form of worship, and participate in the various temple rituals and activities that embodied the nature and character of the gods.

Living right in the middle of all of this was a small group of believers who received a prophetic message from the Son of Man.

Works are not Mentioned

Note that unlike the other five churches of the Revelation, Pergamum’s and Symrna’s works are not mentioned. 

We must perform the deeds of the one who sent me as long as it is daytime. Night is coming when no one can work. (John 9:4 NET)

Spiritually night had fallen on Pergamum with the Devil, Satan (1), on the scene to kill, steal and destroy. Good works were difficult, if not impossible, in this spiritual war zone.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come so that they may have life, and may have it abundantly. (John 10:10 NET) 
Be sober and alert. Your enemy the devil, like a roaring lion, is on the prowl looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8 NET)

Nevertheless, Jesus has praise for the congregation at Pergamus.

Held fast to His name and did not deny their faith

‘I know where you live—where Satan’s throne is. Yet you continue to cling to my name and you have not denied your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was killed in your city where Satan lives. (Revelation 2:13 NET)

Pergamum is a perfect example of the power and ability of the Gospel to penetrate any environment. In the midst of a greatly oppressive atmosphere in which the church was viciously persecuted, the church not only survived — it thrived! (4)

The Lord commended these courageous believers because they held fast to His Name and did not deny their faith. While under great stress and constant fear for their lives, they were loyal and faithful to the Lord. They acknowledged the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, not the Babylonian sun god, as the One True God; and Jesus, not Zeus, as Savior and Lord. They did not compromise their beliefs in order to prosper or to make business contacts and be accepted by the community at large. They did not water down their teachings to be popular, politically correct, or socially acceptable. (2)

They were not “seeker-friendly,” because who in his right mind in Pergamos would want to join their community? They did not give in to peer pressure. They refused to “fix their sandals” (1) at the altars to the emperors. They would not bow before the pagan deities or participate in the idolatry and immorality which characterized the city. They could not attend civic activities and sporting events because they were dedicated to the gods. Social contact outside of their own activities was difficult, as most of it was related to the gods. It was difficult for them to get good jobs because they had to join a local trade guild that was dedicated to Athena. They did not intermarry with nonbelievers. It was very difficult for them to live and function in Pergamos. These brave believers maintained a faithful witness even though one of them was martyred. (2)

‘I know where you live—where Satan’s throne is. Yet you continue to cling to my name and you have not denied your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was killed in your city where Satan lives. (Revelation 2:13 NET)

In the center of the city lived a Christian leader named Antipas. He had created quite a disturbance in the city because he was casting demons out of people who had been tormented and controlled by them. (4)

He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved, but the one who does not believe will be condemned. These signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new languages;they will pick up snakes with their hands, and whatever poison they drink will not harm them; they will place their hands on the sick and they will be well.” (Mark 16:15–18 NET)

The pagans in Pergamum became agitated, claiming the demons were upset because Antipas was casting them out. Antipas simply exercised his authority through Jesus Christ over demon spirits, and the pagans became so angry about it that they took their complaint to the governor who resided in the Acropolis. They implored the governor, in effect saying, “Do something about this Christian man, Anti-pas, who is casting out devils!” The governor summoned Antipas for a trial. Early records indicate that when Antipas stood before the governor, he was commanded to repent of casting out demons and to return to his pagan roots. But Antipas refused and was martyred as a consequence. (4)

Jesus referred to this in Revelation 2:13 when He concretely describes Antipas as “My faithful martyr who was slain.”
The Greek word for “slain” is apokteino, and it is the word for carnage or butchery. (4)

History records that there was a brazen bull in the acropolis of Pergamum. It was made of metal and was hollow inside. In the head area of this metal bull, pipes had been placed and “music” or sound could emanate from them. There was also a side door where victims were placed to burn them alive as a fire was ignited beneath the brazen bull. This is what happened to Antipas. They placed him inside this bronze bull, lit a fire, and closed the door. As the fire began to heat up, the metal became hot and Antipas was literally fried to death. Through the musical pipes in the head of the statue, the screams of victims like Antipas made it seem like the bull was alive. This was a horrific death, and when the pagans later opened the doors where victims had been burned, the pagans would extract and polish the bones to wear as jewelry. His courage was an example and encouragement to the believers to remain strong and faithful in their commitment to the Lord, as witnesses to the city. (4)

Some people suggest Antipas did not exist, but Jesus called him by name in Revelation 2:13, and his life and death can inspire believers today to hold on to the name of Jesus, to not conform to outside pressure, and to refuse to deny the faith. (4)

While satan thought he would intimidate the believers by putting Antipas to death, the result was just the opposite. They were even more determined in their faith. It has been this way throughout the ages. The congregation of the Lord has been built on the blood of its martyrs. (2)

Blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church

Tertullian (160-240 A.D.) (3)

While demonic-inspired leaders and dictators think that they can destroy the work of God through murder, fear, and intimidation, the results are always just the opposite. When unbelievers see the faith and courage of believers, even to the point of death, they are attracted to such people and the God they serve. (2)

Early believers stood strong, even when faced with the brutal killing of Antipas, a leader in the church. When the enemy changed tactics, compromise entered the church, threatening its existence from within. (4)

However, compromise has the opposite results. Unbelievers are not attracted to people who compromise their beliefs and lifestyle for whatever purpose. Yet some in the congregation at Pergamos were compromising their faith and way of life. Their actions were threatening the integrity and witness of the community and brought about a rebuke and warning from the Lord. (2)

During this time, the teaching called the doctrine of the Nicolaitans reasoned, “What harm is there in making a few compromises to be more like our pagan neighbors? Why not enter their pagan temples or burn a little incense to their gods? If it will provide peace with them, perhaps accommodating the people around us would be beneficial.” (4)

The Rebuke and Exhortation

But I have a few things against you: You have some people there who follow the teaching of Balaam, who instructed Balak to put a stumbling block before the people of Israel so they would eat food sacrificed to idols and commit sexual immorality. In the same way, there are also some among you who follow the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Therefore, repent! If not, I will come against you quickly and make war against those people with the sword of my mouth. (Revelation 2:14–16 NET)

Jesus reprimands this steadfast congregation because they were tolerating some who accepted the doctrine of Balaam and the Nicolaitans.

The Teaching of the Nicolaitans

But you do have this going for you: You hate what the Nicolaitans practice—practices I also hate. (Revelation 2:6 NET)

What was this Nicolatian doctrine that Jesus said to the church at Ephesus that He hated?

Jesus was proud of the church of Ephesus for their “hatred” of the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which He also “hated.” The word “hate” is strong, so let’s see exactly what it means. It comes from the Greek word miseo, which means to hate, to abhor, or to find utterly repulsive. It describes a person who has a deep-seated animosity and is antagonistic to something he finds to be completely objectionable. He not only loathes that object but rejects it entirely. This is not just a case of dislike; it is a case of actual hatred. (5)

The thing Jesus hated about them was their “deeds.” The word “deeds” is the Greek word erga, which means works. However, this word is so all-encompassing that it pictures all the deeds and behavior of the Nicolaitans—including their actions, beliefs, conduct, and everything else connected to them. (5)

The name “Nicolaitans” is derived from the Greek word nikolaos, a compound of nikos and laos. The word nikos is the Greek word that means to conquer or to subdue. The word laos is the Greek word for the people. It is also where we get the word laity. When these two words are compounded into one, they form the name Nicolas, one who conquers and subdues the people. It seems to suggest that the Nicolaitans were somehow conquering and subduing the people. (5)

Irenaeus and Hippolytus, two leaders in the Early Church who recorded many of the events that occurred in the earliest recorded days of Church history, said the Nicolaitans were the spiritual descendants of Nicolas of Antioch, who had been ordained as a deacon in Acts 6:5. That verse says, “And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch.” (5)

We know quite a lot about some of these men chosen to be the first deacons, whereas little is known of others. For instance, we know that the chief criteria for their selection were that they were men “… of honest report, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom …” (v. 3). Once they had been chosen, they were presented by the people to the apostles, who laid hands on them, installing and officially ordaining them into the diaconate. (5)


Stephen was of good report, filled with the Holy Spirit and wisdom like the other men. However, Acts 6:5 makes a remark about Stephen that is unique only to him. It says he was “… a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost.….” This stronger level of faith may have been a contributing factor to the development recorded in Acts 6:8: “And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people.” (5)

Stephen was a God-called evangelist, and he was later privileged to be the first martyr in the history of the Church—killed at the order of Saul of Tarsus, who later became known as the apostle Paul (see Acts 7:58–8:1). The diaconate ministry was vital proving ground to prepare Stephen for the fivefold office of the evangelist. The name Stephen is from the Greek word Stephanos, which means crown. This is worth noting, for he was the first to receive a martyr’s crown. (5)


Philip was ordained with the other six original deacons. However, Acts 21:8 informs us that Philip later stepped into the ministry of the evangelist. He had four daughters who prophesied (v. 9). Just as the diaconate was training and proving ground for Stephen to step into the office of the evangelist, it was also Philip’s school of ministry to prepare him for evangelistic ministry. The name Philip means lover of horses. This name often symbolized a person who ran with swiftness, as does a horse—a fitting name for a New Testament evangelist who ran swiftly to carry the Gospel message. (5)


Very little is known about this member of the original diaconate. His name, Prochorus, is a compound of the Greek words pro and chorus. The word pro means before or in front of as with the position of a leader. The word “chorus” is the old Greek word for dance and is where we get the word choreography. There is a strong implication that this was a nickname given to this man because he had been the foremost leader of dance in some school, theater, or musical performance. There is no substantiation for this idea, but his name seems to give credence to the possibility. (5)


This unknown brother was of good report, filled with the Holy Spirit and wisdom. Other than this, nothing is known of him. He is never mentioned again in the New Testament after Acts chapter 6. His name, Nicanor, means conqueror. (5)


Like Nicanor mentioned above, Timon was known to be of good report, filled with the Holy Spirit and wisdom. Nothing more is known of him outside of Acts chapter 6. His name means honorable or of great value. (5)


We know nothing more of Parmenas than what is mentioned in Acts chapter 6. His name is a compound of para and menopara means alongside, and meno means to remain or to abide. Compounded together, his name came to mean one who sticks alongside and conveys the idea of one who is devoted, loyal, and faithful. (5)


Acts 6:5 tells us that Nicolas was “a proselyte of Antioch.” The fact that he was a proselyte tells us that he was not born a Jew but had converted from paganism to Judaism. Then he experienced a second conversion, turning from Judaism to Christianity. From this information, we know these facts about Nicolas of Antioch: (5)

■ He came from paganism and had deep pagan roots, unlike the other six deacons from a pure Hebrew line. Nicolas’ pagan background meant that he had previously been immersed in the activities of the occult. (5)

■ He was not afraid of taking an opposing position, evidenced by his ability to change religions twice. Converting to Judaism would have estranged him from his pagan family and friends. It would indicate he was not impressed or concerned about other people’s opinions. (5)

■ He was a free thinker and open to embracing new ideas and concepts. Judaism was very different from the pagan and occult world in which he had been raised. For him to shift from paganism to Judaism reveals that he was very liberal in his thinking, for most pagans were offended by Judaism. He was obviously not afraid to entertain or embrace new ways of thinking. (5)

■ When he converted to Christ, it was at least the second time he had converted from one religion to another. We don’t know if, or how many times, he shifted from one form of paganism to another before he became a Jewish proselyte. His ability to easily change religious “hats” implies that he was not afraid to switch direction in midstream and go a different direction. (5)

According to the writings of the Early Church leaders, Nicolas taught a doctrine of compromise, implying that total separation between Christianity and the practice of occult paganism was not essential. From Early Church records, it seems apparent that Nicolas of Antioch was so immersed in occultism, Judaism, and Christianity that he had the stomach for all of it. He had no problem intermingling these belief systems in various concoctions. He saw no reason believers couldn’t continue to fellowship with those still immersed in the black magic of the Roman empire and its countless mystery cults. (5)

Occultism was a major force that warred against the Early Church. In Ephesus, the primary pagan religion was the worship of Diana (Artemis). Ephesus had many other forms of idolatry, but this was the primary object of occult worship in that city. In the city of Pergamos, there were numerous dark and sinister forms of occultism, causing Pergamos to be one of the most wicked cities in the history of the ancient world. In both cities, believers were lambasted and persecuted fiercely by adherents of pagan religions, forced to contend with paganism on a level far beyond all other cities. (5)

It was very hard for believers to live separately from all the activities of paganism because paganism and its religions were the centers of life in these cities. Slipping in and out of paganism would have been easy for young or weak believers since most of their families and friends were still pagans. A converted Gentile would have found it difficult to avoid all pagan influence. (5)

Significantly, the “deeds” and “doctrines” of the Nicolaitans are only mentioned in connection with the churches in these two occultic and pagan cities. It seems that the “doctrine” of the Nicolaitans was that it was all right to have one foot in both worlds and that one needn’t be so strict about separation from the world in order to be a Christian. This, in fact, was the “doctrine” of the Nicolaitans that Jesus “hated.” It led to a weak version of Christianity without power and conviction—a defeated, worldly type of Christianity. (5)

Nicolas’ deep roots in paganism may have produced a tolerance for occultism and paganism. Growing up in this perverted spiritual environment may have caused him to view these belief systems as not so damaging or dangerous. This wrong perception would have resulted in a very liberal viewpoint that encouraged people to stay connected to the world. This is what numerous Bible scholars believe about the Nicolaitans. (5)

This kind of teaching would result in total defeat for its followers. When believers allow sin and compromise to be in their lives, it drains away the power in the work of the Cross and the power of the Spirit that is resident in a believer’s life. This is the reason the name Nicolas is so vital to this discussion. The evil fruit of Nicolas’ “doctrine” encouraged worldly participation, leading people to indulge in sin and a lowered godly standard. In this way, he literally conquered the people. (5)

Teaching of Balaam

God wants to ensure we understand the doctrine the Nicolaitans taught, so Balaam’s actions were given as an example of their doctrine and actions.

But I have a few things against you: You have some people there who follow the teaching of Balaam, who instructed Balak to put a stumbling block before the people of Israel so they would eat food sacrificed to idols and commit sexual immorality. In the same way, there are also some among you who follow the teaching of the Nicolaitans. (Revelation 2:14–15 NET)

Students of the Bible remember the story of Balaam in the Hebrew Scriptures as recorded in Numbers 22-31. The Moabite King Balak was afraid of the Israelites. He sent for Balaam, a prophet for hire, to curse them. Yet each time Balaam opened his mouth to curse them, God made him speak blessings instead. (2)

King Balak offered Balaam more money, thinking this would cause him to finally curse the Israelites. But the offer of money didn’t work. Balaam kept blessing the people he was supposed to curse. (2)

After four tries and being rebuked by his donkey, Balaam realized that God would not let him curse the Israelites. Balaam figured out a way to indirectly curse them. He counseled King Balak to tempt the Israelite men by inviting them to participate in their pagan worship and festivals. (5)

He seduced them into unbridled, sensual living by dangling the prostitutes of Moab before the men of Israel. The idolatry included offering sacrifices to the Moabite gods, eating the remainder of the sacrifices as a form of worship, and committing immorality with the Moabite women as part of the worship. (2)

When Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to commit sexual immorality with the daughters of Moab. These women invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods; then the people ate and bowed down to their gods. When Israel joined themselves to Baal-peor, the anger of the LORD flared up against Israel. (Numbers 25:1–3 NET)

The story tells us that the Lord was angry with His people and allowed a plague against those who participated. (2)

The LORD said to Moses, “Arrest all the leaders of the people, and hang them up before the LORD in broad daylight, so that the fierce anger of the LORD may be turned away from Israel.” So Moses said to the judges of Israel, “Each of you must execute those of his men who were joined to Baal-peor.” Just then one of the Israelites came and brought to his brothers a Midianite woman in the plain view of Moses and of the whole community of the Israelites, while they were weeping at the entrance of the tent of meeting. When Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he got up from among the assembly, took a javelin in his hand, and went after the Israelite man into the tent and thrust through the Israelite man and into the woman’s abdomen. So the plague was stopped from the Israelites.Those that died in the plague were 24,000. (The LORD said to Moses, “Arrest all the leaders of the people, and hang them up before the LORD in broad daylight, so that the fierce anger of the LORD may be turned away from Israel.” So Moses said to the judges of Israel, “Each of you must execute those of his men who were joined to Baal-peor.” Just then one of the Israelites came and brought to his brothers a Midianite woman in the plain view of Moses and of the whole community of the Israelites, while they were weeping at the entrance of the tent of meeting. When Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he got up from among the assembly, took a javelin in his hand, and went after the Israelite man into the tent and thrust through the Israelite man and into the woman’s abdomen. So the plague was stopped from the Israelites.Those that died in the plague were 24,000. (Numbers 25:4–9 NET)

Just as the men of Israel compromised themselves with the world and false religions, now the “doctrine” of the Nicolaitans was encouraging compromise. As you are well aware, compromise with the world always results in a weakened and powerless form of Christianity. This was the reason Jesus “hated” the “doctrine” and the “deeds” of the Nicolaitans. (5)

We learn from this story that the doctrine of Balaam was the teaching that God’s people could mix and mingle with the heathen in their idolatrous worship, which, in Bible times, always led to immorality, intermarriage, and compromise in faith and lifestyle, including eating food offered to idols.

Food Offered to Idols

Eating food offered to idols was not an issue if bought in the marketplace. (2)

“Therefore I conclude that we should not cause extra difficulty for those among the Gentiles who are turning to God, but that we should write them a letter telling them to abstain from things defiled by idols and from sexual immorality and from what has been strangled and from blood. (Acts 15:19–20 NET)(cf. Acts 15:29; Acts 21:25)
With regard to food sacrificed to idols, we know that “we all have knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. If someone thinks he knows something, he does not yet know to the degree that he needs to know. But if someone loves God, he is known by God. With regard then to eating food sacrificed to idols, we know that “an idol in this world is nothing,” and that “there is no God but one.” If after all there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords), yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we live, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we live. But this knowledge is not shared by all. And some, by being accustomed to idols in former times, eat this food as an idol sacrifice, and their conscience, because it is weak, is defiled. Now food will not bring us close to God. We are no worse if we do not eat and no better if we do. But be careful that this liberty of yours does not become a hindrance to the weak. For if someone weak sees you who possess knowledge dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience be “strengthened” to eat food offered to idols? So by your knowledge the weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed. If you sin against your brothers or sisters in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. For this reason, if food causes my brother or sister to sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I may not cause one of them to sin. (1 Corinthians 8:1–13 NET)
So then, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. I am speaking to thoughtful people. Consider what I say. Is not the cup of blessing that we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread that we break a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all share the one bread. Look at the people of Israel. Are not those who eat the sacrifices partners in the altar? Am I saying that idols or food sacrificed to them amount to anything? No, I mean that what the pagans sacrifice is to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be partners with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot take part in the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Or are we trying to provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we really stronger than he is? (1 Corinthians 10:14–22 NET)
Now receive the one who is weak in the faith, and do not have disputes over differing opinions. One person believes in eating everything, but the weak person eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not despise the one who does not, and the one who abstains must not judge the one who eats everything, for God has accepted him. Who are you to pass judgment on another’s servant? Before his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. (Romans 14:1–4 NET)
But you who eat vegetables only—why do you judge your brother or sister? And you who eat everything—why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow to me, and every tongue will give praise to God.” Therefore, each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore we must not pass judgment on one another, but rather determine never to place an obstacle or a trap before a brother or sister. I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean in itself; still, it is unclean to the one who considers it unclean. For if your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy by your food someone for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what you consider good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God does not consist of food and drink, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. For the one who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by people. So then, let us pursue what makes for peace and for building up one another. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. For although all things are clean, it is wrong to cause anyone to stumble by what you eat. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything that causes your brother to stumble.The faith you have, keep to yourself before God. Blessed is the one who does not judge himself by what he approves. But the man who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not do so from faith, and whatever is not from faith is sin. (Romans 14:10–23 NET)

The issue was participating in the heathen worship, festivities, and prayers, which included eating the food offered to the idols. (2)

Is there a message for us in this 2,000-year-old letter? Is there something for us to learn? The answer is a clear yes! We can gain four important insights from this prophetic message that is particularly critical for our times. (2)

1. Beware of False Prophets infiltrating the Church

Jesus warns circa 29 A.D. that there would be false prophets in the church:

Watch out for false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are voracious wolves. You will recognize them by their fruit. Grapes are not gathered from thorns or figs from thistles, are they? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree is not able to bear bad fruit, nor a bad tree to bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will recognize them by their fruit. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven—only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons and do many powerful deeds?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Go away from me, you lawbreakers!’ (Matthew 7:15–23 NET)
“Woe to you when all people speak well of you, for their ancestors did the same things to the false prophets. (Luke 6:26 NET)

This is a strong warning that miraculous signs and wonders are not the true tests of a prophet from the Lord. There have always been false prophets and prophetesses in the universal body of believers as well as in local congregations. Their numbers will increase as we get closer to the end of days. Jesus said this Himself in His teaching about the end times: (2)

And many false prophets will appear and deceive many, (Matthew 24:11 NET)

Peter writes circa 63 A.D. that there will be false prophets and false teachers infiltrating the church,

But false prophets arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. These false teachers will infiltrate your midst with destructive heresies, even to the point of denying the Master who bought them. As a result, they will bring swift destruction on themselves. And many will follow their debauched lifestyles. Because of these false teachers, the way of truth will be slandered. And in their greed they will exploit you with deceptive words. Their condemnation pronounced long ago is not sitting idly by; their destruction is not asleep. For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but threw them into hell and locked them up in chains in utter darkness, to be kept until the judgment, and if he did not spare the ancient world, but did protect Noah, a herald of righteousness, along with seven others, when God brought a flood on an ungodly world,and if he turned to ashes the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah when he condemned them to destruction, having appointed them to serve as an example to future generations of the ungodly, and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man in anguish over the debauched lifestyle of lawless men,(for while he lived among them day after day, that righteous man was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard) —if so, then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from their trials, and to reserve the unrighteous for punishment at the day of judgment, especially those who indulge their fleshly desires and who despise authority. Brazen and insolent, they are not afraid to insult the glorious ones,yet even angels, who are much more powerful, do not bring a slanderous judgment against them before the Lord. But these men, like irrational animals—creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed—do not understand whom they are insulting, and consequently in their destruction they will be destroyed, suffering harm as the wages for their harmful ways. By considering it a pleasure to carouse in broad daylight, they are stains and blemishes, indulging in their deceitful pleasures when they feast together with you. Their eyes, full of adultery, never stop sinning; they entice unstable people. They have trained their hearts for greed, these cursed children! By forsaking the right path they have gone astray, because they followed the way of Balaam son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness, yet was rebuked for his own transgression (a dumb donkey, speaking with a human voice, restrained the prophet’s madness). These men are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm, for whom the utter depths of darkness have been reserved. For by speaking high-sounding but empty words they are able to entice, with fleshly desires and with debauchery, people who have just escaped from those who reside in error. Although these false teachers promise such people freedom, they themselves are enslaved to immorality. For whatever a person succumbs to, to that he is enslaved. For if after they have escaped the filthy things of the world through the rich knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they again get entangled in them and succumb to them, their last state has become worse for them than their first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than, having known it, to turn back from the holy commandment that had been delivered to them. They are illustrations of this true proverb: “A dog returns to its own vomit,” and “A sow, after washing herself, wallows in the mire.” (2 Peter 2:1–22 NET)

Jude writes circa 65 A.D. that the false prophets had infiltrated the church,

Dear friends, although I have been eager to write to you about our common salvation, I now feel compelled instead to write to encourage you to contend earnestly for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. For certain men have secretly slipped in among you—men who long ago were marked out for the condemnation I am about to describe—ungodly men who have turned the grace of our God into a license for evil and who deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. Now I desire to remind you (even though you have been fully informed of these facts once for all) that Jesus, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, later destroyed those who did not believe. You also know that the angels who did not keep within their proper domain but abandoned their own place of residence, he has kept in eternal chains in utter darkness, locked up for the judgment of the great Day. So also Sodom and Gomorrah and the neighboring towns, since they indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire in a way similar to these angels, are now displayed as an example by suffering the punishment of eternal fire. Yet these men, as a result of their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and insult the glorious ones. But even when Michael the archangel was arguing with the devil and debating with him concerning Moses’ body, he did not dare to bring a slanderous judgment, but said, “May the Lord rebuke you!” But these men do not understand the things they slander, and they are being destroyed by the very things that, like irrational animals, they instinctively comprehend. Woe to them! For they have traveled down Cain’s path, and because of greed have abandoned themselves to Balaam’s error; hence, they will certainly perish in Korah’s rebellion. These men are dangerous reefs at your love feasts, feasting without reverence, feeding only themselves. They are waterless clouds, carried along by the winds; autumn trees without fruit—twice dead, uprooted; wild sea waves, spewing out the foam of their shame; wayward stars for whom the utter depths of eternal darkness have been reserved. Now Enoch, the seventh in descent beginning with Adam, even prophesied of them, saying, “Look! The Lord is coming with thousands and thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all, and to convict every person of all their thoroughly ungodly deeds that they have committed, and of all the harsh words that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”These people are grumblers and fault-finders who go wherever their desires lead them, and they give bombastic speeches, enchanting folks for their own gain. (Jude 1:3–13 NET)

Paul warns the church about fierce wolves (i.e., false prophets Matthew 7:15) teaching perversions of the truth, deceitful philosophy, and empty words:

I know that after I am gone fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Even from among your own group men will arise, teaching perversions of the truth to draw the disciples away after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that night and day for three years I did not stop warning each one of you with tears. (Acts 20:29–31 NET)
Therefore, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and firm in your faith just as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. Be careful not to allow anyone to captivate you through an empty, deceitful philosophy that is according to human traditions and the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. (Colossians 2:6–8 NET)
Let nobody deceive you with empty words, for because of these things God’s wrath comes on the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them, for you were at one time darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of the light—for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness, and truth—trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For the things they do in secret are shameful even to mention. But all things being exposed by the light are made evident. For everything made evident is light, and for this reason it says: “Awake, O sleeper! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you!” (Ephesians 5:6–14 NET)

John warns the church about false prophets:

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to determine if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses Jesus as the Christ who has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God, and this is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming, and now is already in the world. (1 John 4:1–3 NET)

In the Book of Revelation, John tells us about the Beast from the Earth who is the False Prophet. John writes:

He performed momentous signs, even making fire come down from heaven in front of people and, by the signs he was permitted to perform on behalf of the beast, he deceived those who live on the earth. He told those who live on the earth to make an image to the beast who had been wounded by the sword, but still lived. (Revelation 13:13–14 NET)

We can tell true prophets of God from false prophets by examining their life and their words. True prophets of God will bear the fruit of the Spirit; walk in holiness, obey the Lord; have a wholesome fear of the Lord; and focus their ministry and words on the character of God and the centrality of Jesus as Lord. Furthermore, their words will always be in accordance with the Scriptures. True prophets will be anointed of God, and that anointing will be obvious. While God gives His true prophets a measure of charisma, we must not follow charisma which can be counterfeited. We must inspect the spiritual fruit and follow only those who express the character of God in their lives. God certainly has His true prophets, and they are much needed. A prophetic word from God spoken to our spirit can be refreshing, encouraging, and comforting. We all need that from time to time. But we don’t need to be running from meeting to meeting “seeking the prophetic” in place of spending time alone with God to hear Him for ourselves. Let the people say, “Amen!” (2)

2. God Holds Leaders Responsible for Guarding His People

The primary reason the false prophetess could continue her disastrous teaching in the congregation at Thyatira was that the leadership was weak. When God calls people to a leadership role, He gives them an anointing and spiritual authority that equips them to serve. The leaders at Thyatira did not exercise their God-given authority to rebuke and correct the woman and cast her out of the congregation if necessary. (2)

Leaders have three primary responsibilities to the people they serve. These are: 1) shepherding, 2) teaching, and 3) guarding (protecting). The Scripture is clear that God’s leaders are not to rule over the people but to serve them and be an example for the people to emulate. (2)

Peter writes to the elders:

Give a shepherd’s care to God’s flock among you, exercising oversight not merely as a duty but willingly under God’s direction, not for shameful profit but eagerly. And do not lord it over those entrusted to you, but be examples to the flock. Then when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that never fades away. (1 Peter 5:2–4 NET)

Paul exhorted the elders at Ephesus:

Watch out for yourselves and for all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son. I know that after I am gone fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Even from among your own group men will arise, teaching perversions of the truth to draw the disciples away after them. (Acts 20:28–30 NET)

Paul wrote to Timothy:

Let no one look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in your speech, conduct, love, faithfulness, and purity. Until I come, give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the spiritual gift you have, given to you and confirmed by prophetic words when the elders laid hands on you. Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that everyone will see your progress.Be conscientious about how you live and what you teach. Persevere in this, because by doing so you will save both yourself and those who listen to you. (1 Timothy 4:12–16 NET)

Paul wrote a second letter to Timothy and instructed him with these words that are essential reminders to every minister:

Preach the message, be ready whether it is convenient or not, reprove, rebuke, exhort with complete patience and instruction. For there will be a time when people will not tolerate sound teaching. Instead, following their own desires, they will accumulate teachers for themselves, because they have an insatiable curiosity to hear new things. And they will turn away from hearing the truth, but on the other hand they will turn aside to myths. You, however, be self-controlled in all things, endure hardship, do an evangelist’s work, fulfill your ministry. (2 Timothy 4:2–5 NET)

Paul further instructed Timothy:

And the Lord’s slave must not engage in heated disputes but be kind toward all, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance and then knowledge of the truth and they will come to their senses and escape the devil’s trap where they are held captive to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:24–26 NET)

3. Believers Have a Responsibility to Test the Spirits

Just because someone says, “Thus saith the Lord” does not mean the Lord is speaking through the person. It may be the devil speaking through the person or their soul speaking.

Paul wrote to the believers at Thessalonica,

Do not extinguish the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt. (1 Thessalonians 5:19,20 NET)

We should embrace the gifts of the Spirit, including prophetic words. This is important for a healthy spiritual life. On the other hand, we must not be naive and believe that everything we are told is from God really is from God.

So Paul says in the next verses,

But examine all things; hold fast to what is good. Stay away from every form of evil. (1 Thessalonians 5:21,22 NET)

John wrote,

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to determine if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1 NET)

Just because someone has a lot of charisma and a television program does not mean he is a true prophet of God or has a genuine charismatic gift of prophecy. We should have people who judge prophecies to see if they are truly from God. This is not optional!

Two or three prophets should speak and the others should evaluate what is said. (1 Corinthians 14:29 NET).

This is what the people did at Berea:

The brothers sent Paul and Silas off to Berea at once, during the night. When they arrived, they went to the Jewish synagogue. These Jews were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they eagerly received the message, examining the scriptures carefully every day to see if these things were so. (Acts 17:10–11 NET)

4. Believers Must Live Holy Lives

Because of centuries of Judeo-Christianity, we no longer have to sacrifice to an idol nor participate in orgies to succeed, have a job, and be accepted in our communities. But the same temptations are just as real today; they have just changed forms. (2)

Tragically, our culture has broken up its Judeo-Christian moral foundations. The pursuits of the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life have replaced the pursuit of God. These are our new gods. As a result, our society has lost its fear of God. When people lose their fear of God, there are few restraints on the way they behave. Our culture and society now permit any form of godless behavior, and there is no shame in our sins. (2)

Sadly, many professing believers’ values, attitudes, lifestyles, and morals are not much different than those of unbelievers. While believers do not worship an image of a god or goddess, whatever we put as the goal of our lives before God becomes an idol. Whatever we spend our time, money, and energy to achieve in place of knowing and serving God becomes an idol. It may be the god of pleasure, power, money, ambition, getting ahead, climbing to the top, pride, ego, or even family and friends. We are all challenged to overcome these temptations in our everyday lives. (2)

More and more, we read about corrupt and unfaithful “Christian” politicians. Professing Christian business people are overcome by greed. Professing Christian women often dress as immodestly as unbelievers. Professing Christian sports stars take steroids to give themselves an unfair advantage in competition. Professing Christian entertainers struggle with many of the same vices as their secular counterparts. Christian men and women struggle with staying pure. Christian families are torn apart by debt. In every area of our lives, believers are confronted with the temptation of compromise. (2)

We do not need to go to a prophetic conference to “get a word from the Lord.” He has already told us what He wants us to hear. If we will spend quality time in God’s Word and listen to His voice, we might hear Him say something like the following: (2)

“You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its flavor, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled on by people. You are the light of the world. A city located on a hill cannot be hidden. People do not light a lamp and put it under a basket but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:13–16 NET)

Believers today have the same challenges as those at Pergamos. While we may not worship physical idols, the attitudes, pleasures, pressures, distractions, greed, and ways of the world are a constant temptation to compromise our beliefs, our faith message, our moral standards, and our lifestyle in order to be accepted and prosper in our anti-God world system. As the United States of America becomes more and more like Pergamos, let us turn away from the doctrine of Balaam and the Nicolaitans. May we not compromise our faith and witness for the sake of family, riches and honor, advancement, personal gain, acceptance, intimidation, fear of government, or any other worldly concern. Let us be faithful and steadfast like the believers at Pergamos. (2)

May we take to heart Paul’s words which are so relevant to our world today:

Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice—alive, holy, and pleasing to God—which is your reasonable service. Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God—what is good and well-pleasing and perfect. (Romans 12:1–2 NET)

The Promise

The one who has an ear had better hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers, I will give him some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and on that stone will be written a new name that no one can understand except the one who receives it.’ (Revelation 2:17 NET)

The Lord makes two wonderful promises to those who hear His voice and repent.

Hidden Manna

First, He says He will give them the hidden manna to eat, which is a promise of spiritual food for the soul and eternal life (see Rev. 2:17).

Jesus is referring to the supernatural provision of manna that God gave to the Hebrews every morning for the 40 years they were wandering in the wilderness (see Exod. 16). It was sweet bread from Heaven that replaced the garlic and onions of Egypt. The manna was the nourishment that sustained them.

The house of Israel called its name “manna.” It was like coriander seed and was white, and it tasted like wafers with honey. (Exodus 16:31 NET)
(Now the manna was like coriander seed, and its color like the color of bdellium. And the people went about and gathered it, and ground it with mills or pounded it in mortars; they baked it in pans and made cakes of it. It tasted like fresh olive oil. And when the dew came down on the camp in the night, the manna fell with it.) (Numbers 11:7–9 NET)

When the Hebrews built the tabernacle of Moses, God instructed them to place a pot of manna in the Ark of the Covenant as a reminder of how He provided for them.

Moses said, “This is what the LORD has commanded: ‘Fill an omer with it to be kept for generations to come, so that they may see the food I fed you in the desert when I brought you out from the land of Egypt.’ ” Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar and put in it an omer full of manna, and place it before the LORD to be kept for generations to come.” Just as the LORD commanded Moses, so Aaron placed it before the Testimony for safekeeping. Now the Israelites ate manna forty years, until they came to a land that was inhabited; they ate manna until they came to the border of the land of Canaan. (Now an omer is one tenth of an ephah.)(Exodus 16:32-36 NET)

When Jesus was ministering on the earth, He presented Himself as the Living Bread of God who came from Heaven with the supernatural, sweet Word of God to feed our hungry souls. John records the miracle of Jesus feeding the 5,000 men plus women and children by multiplying the five loaves of bread. Jesus claimed to be the true bread of God, who came down from Heaven with spiritual food (see John 6).

Then Jesus told them, “I tell you the solemn truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but my Father is giving you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” So they said to him, “Sir, give us this bread all the time!” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. The one who comes to me will never go hungry, and the one who believes in me will never be thirsty. (John 6:32–35 NET)
I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that has come down from heaven, so that a person may eat from it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats from this bread he will live forever. The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:48–51 NET)

Jesus ended His sermon with these words:

Jesus said to them, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in yourselves. The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood resides in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so the one who consumes me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven; it is not like the bread your ancestors ate, but then later died. The one who eats this bread will live forever.” (John 6:53–58 NET)

White Stone with a New Name

Second, Jesus promises the congregation at Pergamos a white stone. In ancient times, stones had various uses. There were stones of remembrance, stones used as an admission ticket to an event, stones as rewards for victors in games, and stones exchanged between friends. In a court of law, those found not guilty were given a white stone, while those found guilty were given a black stone. (2)

White stones were used by the government to write official decrees and announcements. With all the religious events in Pergamos, it was likely that white stones were often distributed to citizens and worshipers to make important announcements about festivals or political events. Trade guilds would have issued white stones with the person’s name, inviting them to special meetings and banquets to honor Athena. Except for those who hold to the doctrine of Balaam and the Nicolaitans, the believers did not get white stone invitations bearing their names. (2)

Jesus promised His overcomers a white stone invitation to an event much greater than any pagan banquet in Pergamos. His invitation was to the Messiah’s banquet at His coming.

John was told to write these words:

Then the angel said to me, “Write the following: Blessed are those who are invited to the banquet at the wedding celebration of the Lamb!” He also said to me, “These are the true words of God.” (Revelation 19:9 NET)

Those who overcome will be given a white stone with their name showing that the court of Heaven has found them not guilty of their sins because Jesus accepted the black stone of judgment for them on the cross.

God has forgiven our sins to be remembered no more:

I, I am the one who blots out your rebellious deeds for my sake; your sins I do not remember. (Isaiah 43:25 NET)

He has removed our sin from His sight:

“Look, the grief I experienced was for my benefit. You delivered me from the pit of oblivion. For you removed all my sins from your sight. (Isaiah 38:17 NET)

He has cast them into the sea of forgetfulness:

You will once again have mercy on us; you will conquer our evil deeds; you will hurl our sins into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:19 NET)

He has separated us from our sins as far as the east is from the west:

As far as the eastern horizon is from the west, so he removes the guilt of our rebellious actions from us. (Psalm 103:12 NET)

He will never count our sins against us:

“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the one against whom the Lord will never count sin.” (Romans 4:7–8)

Realize that if God put sin on your account, you would have to be saved again, but God will not impute sin after you are born again. Hallelujah!

The Lord said He would give us a new name written on the stone that no one knows but the one who receives it. In the Bible, a person’s name indicates the nature and character of a person. The new name the Lord will write on the white stone represents our inheritance in Heaven. While we alone know what our relationship with God was like on earth, we will be known by our new name, which is God’s own glory emanating out of us throughout eternity.

John boldly declares,

And there will no longer be any curse, and the throne of God and the Lamb will be in the city. His servants will worship him, and they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. Night will be no more, and they will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, because the Lord God will shine on them, and they will reign forever and ever. (Revelation 22:3–5 NET)

If the Lord’s message to Pergamos applies to your organization, your ministry, or your life, let us repent and do what He says. Let us heed the words of Paul, who reminds us:

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people.It trains us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, as we wait for the happy fulfillment of our hope in the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. (Titus 2:11–13 NET)

The Invitation

If you were a pagan party person, Pergamos was just the place for you. Because Pergamos was the heart of imperial cult worship and the worship of Zeus, Jesus called it the seat of Satan. Pergamos was the pagan religious capital of Western Asia and was filled with temples and altars to the gods and goddesses of the Greco-Roman world. (2)

While ancient Babylon was conquered politically and militarily by subsequent empires, Babylonian sun worship survived and even flourished. For a time, Pergamos became the center of this ancient religion that would later influence the world through Constantine. To Westerners who have a Judeo-Christian heritage, it is hard to believe that people in the modern world still worship the sun. (2)

Also, if you were really into emperor worship, you could get your fill at Pergamos. No other city in Asia Minor was as zealous in paying homage to the emperors as Pergamos. It was the center of imperial cult worship, with temples built to Augustus, Trajan, and Hadrian. In addition to the everyday worship of the emperors, Rome held special festive days in which the emperors were honored. All the citizens were publicly required to bow before the statue or altar of the emperor, make a sacrifice, and proclaim, “Caesar is Lord.” The local Roman proconsul had the “right of the sword’ to enforce this show of loyalty to the empire. (2)

Then there were the temples built to the Greek deities of Zeus, Athena, Dionysus, and Asklepois. Since Zeus was considered the “god of gods” in Greek mythology, Pergamos was a very important center of pagan worship. Trade guilds were dedicated to these gods and goddesses. In order to have a job or be accepted in the community, you had to express your devotion to these false deities. It was very difficult for believers to survive in Pergamos. (2)

Remarkably, a local congregation survived at Pergamos. The Lord commended some for their faith and steadfastness. However, given the circumstances, we shouldn’t be surprised that others in the congregation taught that they could compromise to keep their jobs, not to mention their lives. The Lord promised spiritual blessings to those who overcame but warned the compromisers that He had the right of the Sword of the Spirit, which He would use against them. (2)

This is such a relevant message for us today. Because America was birthed with a Judeo-Christian heritage, it has been easy to be a believer in America. Until recently, believers were favored in every area of American life. Unfortunately, this is rapidly changing. Unbelievers are now favored by the elite in all areas of American life, while believers are ridiculed and excluded from many positions and opportunities. Already, we see Christian leaders and ordinary believers compromising to receive favor from the secular anti-God establishment. While God will bless believers who are faithful to Him, He will judge those who compromise His Word and His moral standards. (2)

“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star!” And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say: “Come!” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wants it take the water of life free of charge. (Revelation 22:16–17 NET)
Seven Church Conditions during the Church Age:

Please see the following links for more information from Revelation Chapters 1-3 concerning the condition of churches during the Church Age:

(Security, Wholeness, Success)

Dear friend, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, just as it is well with your soul. 
(3 John 1:2 NET)

(1) Select the link to open another article with additional information in a new tab.

(2) Booker, R. (2011). The overcomers: series- understanding the book of Revelation. Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image.

(3) Bartlett, J. (1914). Familiar Quotations (Tenth Edition, p. 942). Little, Brown, and Company.

(4) Renner, R. (2019). Companion study guide: Christ’s message to Pergamum. Rick Renner Ministries.

(5) Renner, R. (2008). Sparkling Gems from the Greek: 365 Greek Word Studies for Every Day of the Year to Sharpen Your Understanding of God’s Word (pp. 631–634).

Hal has taught the Bible for over three decades. Through an interdenominational ministry dedicated to helping the local church build men for Jesus, Hal trained men, the leaders of men’s ministries, and provided pulpit supply. Before that, he was a Men’s Ministry Leader and an Adult Bible Fellowship teacher of a seventy-five-member class at a denominational megachurch. Presently, Hal desires to honor Jesus Christ through this Internet teaching ministry, thereby glorifying the Heavenly Father in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. He believes, second to cultivating his relationship with God that raising his family unto the Lord is the most significant task for him while on Earth. Furthermore, Hal believes that being a successful leader in the church or workplace is no substitute for failing to be a successful leader at home. 

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