The Book of Revelation Part 5: Pergamum and the Cult of Zeus

Antipas of Pergamum, Martyr
12 “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: ‘The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword.
13 “‘I know where you dwell, where Satan's throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.14 But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. 15 So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth. 17 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.’-Revelation 2:12-17

Ruins of the Temple of Aesclepius at Pergamum
Verses 12-13: Pergamum, one of the most magnificent cities of ancient times, was located on the River Caicus (now Bakircay), sixteen miles from the Aegean Sea and sixty miles north of Smyrna. It is northwest of the modern Turkish city of Bergama. Paganism was deeply rooted at Pergamum, and there was also a number of the immoral Nicolaitans there. 

Tacitus mentions the famous temple to Aesclepius in Pergamum, the god of healing and medicine. It was said that patients who entered the temple and drank a sacred sedative would experience a visitation from the god, who would tell them how to cure their illness. The practice of such "pharmakeia", the use of mind altering drugs, should be no surprise, as it is a common element of pagan worship throughout the ages. Sacred Scripture uses the word to signify sorcery, and Paul uses it in direct connection to paganism in Galatians 5:20. The Book of Enoch tells us the Watcher Amazarak taught man sorcery. There were also temples to Dionysus and Athena, as well as sanctuaries dedicated to the goddesses Hera and Demeter. The other notable temples here are to the god Osiris, in the form of Serapis, and to the god Zeus. 

Ruins of the Temple of Serapis at Pergamum
Persecution had already broken out in Pergamum in the time of John. At least one Christian had valiantly met death for his Faith. In the year 92 A.D. (approximately 3 years before the writing of the Book of Revelation), Antipas, a presbyter of Pergamum (ordained by the Apostle John) was a victim of a conflict between the pagan priests and the Christian community. Antipas had become well known for his prayers against the gods of the pagans, so much so that the pagan priests found that their gods had stopped responding as usual. The priests went to the Roman governor and asked him to do something about Antipas. The Roman governor, as a punishment, ordered Antipas to offer a sacrifice of wine and incense to an idol, and Antipas refused. Antipas was sentenced to death on the altar of Zeus, inside an idol of the god Apis, symbolized by the bull. The darkly symbolic character of this becomes clear when one understands that Zeus was simply a Greek form of Satan, as Christ clearly states in verse 13. 

Rick Renner, author of A Light in the Darkness, details the martyrdom of Antipas as follows:

“They would take the victim, place him inside the bull, and they would tie him in such a way that his head would go into the head of the bull. Then they would light a huge fire under the bull, and as the fire heated the bronze, the person inside of the bull would slowly begin to roast to death. As the victim would begin to moan and to cry out in pain, his cries would echo through the pipes in the head of the bull so it seemed to make the bull come alive.”1

This altar survives today in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, Germany, first founded in 1899. It is an interesting historical note that Germany became the curator of the throne of Satan, as later, after the National Socialists took power, Albert Speer looked to this very same altar of Zeus for inspiration in building the political center of the Nazi regime, Nuremberg. This was the place where the infamous National Socialist rallies were held. Anthony Santoro, Distinguished Professor of History and President Emeritus of Christopher Newport University states:

"If you look at the kinds of ceremonies that were on display at Zeppelin field with the reconstructed temple there patterned on the Pergamum altar, you'll see photographs of Hitler descending down the steps, like a tribune of the people from old Roman times,"2

Gaius, to whom John addressed his third Epistle, is said to have been the first bishop of Pergamum. If true, he was most probably the "angel" to whom John now writes. 

The white stone in Pergamum
Verses 14-15: The bishop of Pergamum is praised for his zeal and constancy in the face of persecution. Yet there is some room for complaint. He hasn't been sufficiently energetic in rooting out the hated Nicolaitan heresy. Some of his flock are holding to this evil doctrine. On account of their immoral teachings and practices they are called disciples of Balaam. This is a reference to the Moabites who went among the Israelites at Balaam's suggestion to seduce them into idolatry and adultery. In like manner the Nicolaitans are seducing the faithful into sin and error. 

Verse 16: Unless those wicked repent they will be struck with the two-edged sword which breaks the obstinate and confounds all sin and error. There may also be a reference here to the fate of the Moabites who had seduced the children of Israel. 

Verse 17: He who overcomes sin and error shall receive the hidden manna of eternal life. The same reward was promised to the bishop of Ephesus under the symbol of the tree of life. The eternal joys of heaven are also symbolized by a white stone upon which a new name is written. For the Christians of Pergamum, this likely brought to mind a white stone found in the ruins of the city with a list of names on it; an honor reserved for the most prominent of society.