Pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil people, for not everyone has faith. But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one- 2nd Thessalonians 3:2-3 NIV
When I was a girl my grandparents lived down the road from an old abandoned house. The house sat by itself a good distance from the main road. The paint was faded and a couple of windows had been broken out. The power had been turned off years before so it was perpetually dark and gloomy. The entire property was covered with overgrown blackberry bushes and all sorts of weird creepy bramble. My brother, cousin and I would torment each other with disturbing stories we made up about “the house”. We were convinced someone had been murdered there (we had zero proof of this conviction). Therefore, it must have been haunted by ghosts and crawling with demons. We were so terrified of “the house” we would literally walk a half-mile out of our way to avoid setting foot anywhere near that property.
It was just too dang scary.
Our silly fears were nothing compared to the anxiety ordinary Christians in Pergamum experienced every day of their lives. It’s not an exaggeration to say Pergamum was likely the least safe place in all of the Roman Empire to be a Christian. The city was so sinister and creepy Jesus called it “the place where Satan has his throne.”
Jesus was not overstating the dangers of the city.
Pergamum was a dark spiritual stronghold where Satan exerted an extraordinary level of power and authority. Idol worship undoubtedly contributed to the grip Satan had over Pergamum.
Pergamum was a city of idols.
On a hilltop overlooking the city sat two massive pagan temples. One was dedicated to Athena the goddess of war, the other to Zeus. The temple of Zeus was an enormous open-air altar that smoked night and day with animal sacrifices. The shape of the altar was such that it looked very much like a huge smoking throne. The “throne” was clearly visible from every vantage point in and around the city. Pergamum was also home to a famous hospital/shrine/temple to the god Asclepios. The symbol of Asclepios was a serpent (snake). Sick people from all over Asia Minor travelled to Pergamum to spend a night in a room full of snakes in order to get healed. There were also smaller shrines to different gods and goddesses dotting the entire city. Many of the shrines were dedicated to whatever Roman Emperor happened to be in power at the time.
Pergamum was perhaps best known for its zealous dedication to Caesar worship.
In most cities Caesar worship was a once-a-year thing. A person went to an altar in their city and declared Caesar to be god. Then they were given a certificate of compliance and that was that. The deed was done for a whole year.
In Pergamum Caesar worship was such a huge part of the culture of the city a person could be compelled to pay homage to Caesar daily. Anytime someone walked passed a shrine to Caesar it was expected they would declare “Caesar is Lord”. If a Roman official did not hear the anticipated pronouncement they could (and often would) force the person to say it. If the individual refused they would be sent to the arena in Pergamum where they would be crucified, torn limb from limb, fed to wild beasts or beheaded ASAP.
The Christians in Pergamum refused to give an inch on the issue of Emperor worship. As a consequence, there were a lot of Christians martyred there. Jesus praised the Church for not renouncing their faith in Him even when it cost them their lives (Revelation 2:13).
There is more than one way to cave to social pressure and the Christians there definitely caved. As a result, Jesus’ letter to them was not all sunshine and roses. The Christians in Pergamum had no problem dying for Jesus but many struggled to live for Him.
Their struggle centered around practical issues of life.
In order to obtain employment in the ancient world one was expected to join a trade union and all trade unions were associated with some pagan deity. This created a living nightmare for Christians. It was impossible to belong to a union without making regular sacrifices to pagan gods and/or having sexual relations with temple prostitutes.
Further complicating an already thorny situation were some prominent Christian teachers/pastors in the Pergamum church who taught pagan worship was perfectly okay as long as one ALSO worshiped Jesus. Apparently, Christians in Pergamum were all too eager to embrace teaching that both made their lives easier and room for sexual immorality (1st Corinthians 5:1-11).
In Revelation 2:14-16 Jesus makes it abundantly clear He is not okay with Christians who compartmentalize parts of their lives in order to compromise with worldly values and ideas.
Jesus wanted all of them not just a small part or piece.
Jesus’ warned the Christians in Pergamum there would be serious consequences (Revelation 2:16) if they continued to compromise. His criticism not born out of an egotistical desire Jesus had to have their devotion at the expense of their personal safety.
Jesus wanted the total devotion of the Christians in Pergamum because He loves each and every person on earth as if they were the only person on earth. Jesus knows all eternal rewards for Christians are directly linked to our level of obedience here on earth. Jesus did not want His people to foolishly trade eternal joy, intimate fellowship with God and reward (Revelation 2:17) in order to gain the approval and acceptance of those who do not know or love God. Jesus wanted the Christians in Pergamum to make Him their everything. Because He knew in doing so they would find joy and peace here on earth and greater reward in heaven.