Robert E. Surgenor
It has now been three days since we bid good-bye to our suffering brethren in Smyrna. Our visit in the beautiful city has caused much searching of heart. Having travelled north for 64 miles, we now enter the capital of proconsular Asia, the seat of imperial and judicial authority. There is a gentle breeze as we enter the city, standing 1,000 feet above a beautiful, fertile valley on a cone-shaped hill. Pergamos is the name, which means twice married, coming from the same root as the words bigamy, polygamy. This name conveys to us not only the nature of the city, but the nature of God's assembly there as well.
One October night in B.C. 539, when Cyrus took Babylon (Dan. 5) the heathen priests and temple prostitutes fled to Pergamos and were given asylum. In gratitude they conferred on the king, Belshazzar's title, PONTIFAX MAXIMUS, meaning, one who bridges the gap between the demon world and men. When Atlaus III died, the kingdom, along with Belshazzar's title, passed by his bequest to the Roman Republic and afterwards to the Empire. When Constantine left Rome, the Bishop added PONTIFAX MAXIMUS to his many other titles. Today it can be seen in large letters on the Vatican, thus proclaiming that the Pope is not the successor of the apostles, but rather the successor of Belshazzar, the high priest of heathendom!
Unlike Ephesus and Smyrna, Pergamos was not a city of commerce. Even though it was the capital of the Roman province of Asia, the seat of imperial and judicial authority, it was known chiefly for its religion. Pergamos was the center of the official state religion. When Augustus was made an imperial title, claiming Caesar to be God, it inaugurated emperor worship. The first temple of this cult was erected in Pergamos in 27 B.C. A second temple was erected in Smyrna and a third in Ephesus. This cult was a challenge to Christ!
However, the city's primary god was Aesculapius, who was designated, saviour. Being in the form of a serpent, Aesculapius was the god of medicine. The Greeks depicted him holding Hermes' staff with the two-headed snake. It was believed that this god had the power to avert death. Even today the Hermes' staff, the Caduceus, is still the symbol of physicians and the medical corps. Entwined snakes became the emblem of the city. Connected with this god we notice a number of institutions called Aesculapium. Entering one on the many buildings we discover that we are in a library of 200,000 volumes, second largest in the world. Near the top of the mountain a remarkable sight meets our eyes - the great altar of Zeus measuring 125 by 115 feet and standing 50 feet high! Walking in a beautiful grove, called the Nicaphorium, our eyes behold temples to Zeus, Athene, Apollo, Aesculapius, Dionysus and Aphrodite. Truly, Pergamos was a suitable place for Satan to set up his headquarters, as his most effective activity is accomplished through religious systems.
In our tour, we have become aware that Rome is the military center of the world, Athens the cultural center, and Alexandria the learning center. However, as we move about the 160,000 people in Pergamos, we soon perceive the sobering fact that this wealthy, beautiful and elevated city is the very center of Caesar worship,
Babylonish idolatry, and the Devil's throne! For a spiritual Christian to live in Pergamos could be very dangerous! Let us now gather with the saints as they meet in a believer's home to hear the letter from their Lord read.
THE PRESENTATION OF CHRIST
'These things saith He who hath the sharp sword with two edges' (Rev. 2:12). Being the capital, Pergamos used the sword, which to the Roman mind conveyed the thought of the highest order of authority. The saints had observed the use of the sword, as offenders convicted by the government were put to death. In contrast, Christ claims the highest authority! If in Smyrna He presented Himself as the One invested with the power of life, in Pergamos He reveals Himself as the One with the power of death! To this assembly He presents Himself as the judge of compromise. His sword is sharp, with two edges. Nothing escapes Him. His discerning and executive power is fully able to discriminate and divide between things that differed. Seemingly, in this they had failed, for they had lost their discernment and were mingling with the world. They had lost the sense of true separation to Himself. What about ourselves? Do we feel free to engage in worldly amusements that brethren of a former generation avoided? Are we spending our valuable time and our money on sportive activities for the excuse of relaxation? Do we feel at home in this world? Do we sit down, only to rise up and play? Do we term those who are living godly, separated lives, legal? If so, join the church at Pergamos and you will feel absolutely at home! If Ephesus was cold and fallen, and Smyrna was crushed and flogged, Pergamos was compromising and faltering, and Christ was about to act!
THE COMMENDATION OF CHRIST
"I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan's throne is: and thou holdest fast My name, and hast not denied My faith, even in those days in which Antipas was My faithul martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth" (Rev. 2:13). In moving amongst these saints, we notice that most of them are quite worldly. However, the Lord speaks first to the faithful remnant among them and commends them. He knew their work, meaning, their business, their employment, that which occupied them. He then refers to Satan's seat (throne). The presence and power of Satan were evidenced in some significant way and perhaps the fact that Pergamos worshipped the emperor as god, Zeus the father of gods, and also, Aesculapius, the god of the snake, could very well be the answer. In spite of the desperate atmosphere, there were some that held fast His name, meaning that they were loyal to Christ and shared fellowship with Himself. The verb, holdest fast, is in the present tense, indicating a continual thing. Consequently, they had not denied His faith. The verb, hast not denied, is in the aorist tense, indicating that during a particular crisis, they were loyal to His precepts. In reality, the faithful were fulfilling the exhortation of 1 Peter 5:8,9. "Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist steadfast in the faith."
Now a crisis comes! Remember Antipas at the assembly gathering, his godly demeanor, his humble spirit, in spite of the fact that he was a dentist and doctor? His unassuming ways reminded us of Christ. He was a valuable man in the assembly and was seeking to maintain a path of separation. He had avoided the burning of incense to Caesar. The public games had no attraction for him. He spoke out against fraternizing with the idol's temple and the eating of meat offered unto idols. The worldly-minded in the Pergamos Assembly termed him a legalist.
As we walk in the beautiful Nicaphorium Grove, a strange sight captures our eyes. In front of the Temple of Aesculapius, stands a hollow brazen bull with a hinged door in its side. Excitement prevails as wood is being gathered and placed under the brazen bull. We observe a crowd coming and among the ungodly throng is the brother that immediately had gained our admiration and respect, Antipas. He had been suddenly wrenched from his home, taken to court and accused of disloyalty to Aesculapius and to Caesar. He had refused to burn incense to Caesar and to confess him as God, neither would he acknowledge the serpent as God. He was immediately condemned to burn. The carnal saints perhaps had tried to convince him to bow to the government's demands outwardly, just to avoid death, while secretly in his heart still confessing Jesus as Lord. They may have even told him that God would understand, knowing his heart and that his wife and children needed him. But what does Christ say? "My FAITHFUL martyr." Our beloved brethren stand at a distance with broken hearts, for Antipas was to be slain among them, meaning, at their side. Terror and horror fill our soul as we observe our brother finishing his course on earth. The door of the bull is opened and Antipas is put inside. The door is locked and the wood underneath is lighted. Antipas has left forever the assembly he sought to guide. His ashes remain inside the brazen bull, but his redeemed soul is now in heaven with the Lord. With great searching of heart, we slowly turn and walk away with the divine words ringing in our ears, "Antipas... my faithful martyr, who was slain among you."