Pergamum: A Church so Close to Hell, Part 1

The letter to the church at Pergamum

(Click on the link below if you wish to read the letter as whole first; I will quote them as I explain.)

Introductory comments about Christian Warfare

C. T. Studd was a respected Cricket Player in 19th Century England. In 1885,

C T Studd in Africa

C. T. Studd (1860-1931; pictured in Africa.

he journeyed to China as a missionary — one of “The Cambridge Seven.”

He authored a booklet entitled: “The Chocolate Soldier.”

“Heroism is the lost chord of Christianity! Every true soldier is a hero! A soldier without heroism is a chocolate soldier!  Dissolving in water and melting at the smell of fire.” [See Studd below].

There were no Chocolate soldiers at Pergamum! The Christians at Pergamum were heroic Christians. They lived as brave men and women who had the spirit of martyrs in them. C. T. Studd often said —

Some want to live within the sound
Of church or chapel bell;
I want to run a rescue shop,
Within a yard of hell.

Christians of Pergamum set up that proverbial “rescue shop” very close to hell. They could see “Satan’s Seat” high above them. Pagan temples were abundant in the city. 

Historical focus on the city of Pergamum—vs. 12a

12 And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write… .

Pergamum existed as a separate kingdom until Attalus III bequeathed it to Rome at his death. It boasted of a library of 200,000 volumes. It was built on a hill 1,000 feet above sea level. Its acropolis was on a high citadel with sacred buildings and temples.

 

The Heights where the Imperial Temple sat at Pergamum (left).
The Rod of Asclepius (right).

Pergamum was the center of four great cults of Rome — (1) Zeus; (2) Athene; (3) Dionysis; (4) Asklepios (symbol was the Rod of Asclepius, pictured above).
Pergamum was the center for the Emperor cult. It was the first city to be permitted by Rome to build a temple to a living emperor. If ever hell were manifest on earth, surely it was in pagan cities who worshiped false gods.

berlin_4

The Altar of Pergamum (now in Berlin) is thought to be Satan’s Seat.
It is the best preserved artifact from ancient Roman Empire. 

The Roman Proconsul in Pergamum had the right to execute at will (the power of the sword = the Gladius pictured right below at Roman soldier’s side). False worship was wedded to dictatorial powers of Rome in Pergamum.  This is a dangerous combination for the Church of Christ anywhere. Roman Soldiers 2

Christ pledges success to the church who faithfully preaches his word amid vilest of evil.

12 “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: ‘The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword.’

The Risen Christ reveals himself as the one who has a sharp double-edged sword — in Greek the word is rhomphia — the large broad sword used by the pagan hordes conquered by Rome (pictured left). It is an effective instrument of judgment in the mouth of Christ, not in the hands of the Proconsul.

barbarian swordThis figure of the sword coming out of the mouth of Christ is meant as a comfort for the church so close to hell. Christ’s word is effectual for His people against His enemies. Isaiah 55:11-12 are our watch words in time of attack and seeming failure.

10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. [see ESV below].

God’s Word is powerful for the faithful church that preaches it even if that church is at the gates of hell itself! Tim Keller explains how Christ meets people in the midst of other so-called competing “gods.”

“My mother [recently] had suffered a stroke, and my father needed someone to lean on. His pastor sat with him for hours in the hospital, ministering not with profound answers, but simply with his presence.

“In the same way, Christianity does not so much offer solutions to the problem of suffering, but rather provides the promise of a God who is completely present with us in suffering. Only Christians believe in a God who says, “Here I am alongside you. I have experienced the same suffering you have. I know what it is like.” No other religion even begins to offer that assurance.” (see Keller below.)

The Persecuted Church today in many parts of the world is like the church at Pergamum. 

See the graph below about the number of persecuted Christians during 2018.

Compare the number of Christians on the graph below in the top 50 nations worldwide. During the persecution from 2018-19, Christian numbers rose and did not fell. “The blood of the martyrs is ever the seed of the Church.” Not all martyrs die. They are willing to take their testimony as far as death if it is necessary. I have forgotten who said this — “The Apostle John lived the martyrdom of a very long life.”

The Church of Christ can be most effective amid persecution and false worship. Christians point others to Christ’s ability to comfort amid suffering. The brightness of Christ’s Gospel is best seen against the dark backdrop of that which is false.

Psalm 115 makes the point that the lack of ability of false gods to come to the aid of their followers!

3 Our God is in the heavens;
he does all that he pleases.

4 Their idols are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.
5 They have mouths, but do not speak;
eyes, but do not see.
6 They have ears, but do not hear;
noses, but do not smell.
7 They have hands, but do not feel;
feet, but do not walk;
and they do not make a sound in their throat.
8 Those who make them become like them;
so do all who trust in them.

9 O Israel, trust in the Lord!
He is their help and their shield.

In a pagan age such as ours, we can point people to the Savior who comes to the aid in all His people’s troubles! This is why Pergamum prospered in the midst of evil, and this is how we also can prosper amid evil today. We must remain faithful to the Word of God!

More on this letter next time.

Notes

ESV. English Standard Version. Accessed from https://www.biblegateway.com/

Keller, T. (2019). “Preaching Amid Pluralism.” Accessed June 22, 2019 from https://www.christianitytoday.com/pastors/2002/winter/1.34.html

Studd, C. T. (2002). “The Chocolate Soldier / or, Heroism—The Lost Chord of Christianity.”  (Kindle).

© 2019 C. Richard Barbare All Rights Reserved

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