The third message Christ delivered in the book of Revelation was to the angel of the church in Pergamum. Almost as if reciting a list of pros and cons, He begins with a declaration of what He knows about this church.
First they held fast to Christ’s name. Then, they did not deny the faith even when they experienced persecution, even when one in their midst was martyred.
Jesus then moved on to the “But I have this against you” column. The number one issue was that someone in their church was doing what the Old Testament prophet Balaam did.
Balaam is actually not as well known as his donkey. He was the prophet hired by Israel’s enemy to curse God’s chosen people. When messengers from the enemy king first approached Balaam, he refused to go. After negotiations and direction from God to go but to only say what God told him to say, Balaam went.
Balaam’s intention was not pure, however. God sent an angel against him and had it not been for his donkey, Balaam would have died. In a miraculous intervention, God allowed the donkey to speak to Balaam, then opened his eyes and set him right.
And yet, though Balaam did deliver God’s message of blessing over the people of Israel instead of the curse he’d been brought to deliver, he found a way to get paid. He told the enemies of Israel how they could entice God’s people to sin. For a time the plan worked. Their sin brought God’s wrath upon Israel, and many people died.
So in the church of Pergamum, there was a “Balaam” teaching ways that would lead God’s people into sin. If that wasn’t bad enough, there were others holding to the teaching of the infamous though anonymous Nicolaitans—those who did deeds God hates.
You’d almost think God was holding this church accountable for being tolerant. And you’d be right. They weren’t removing the Balaam-like false teacher. They weren’t telling the people holding to the teaching of the Nocolaitans to knock it off.
Because they did not take steps against the false teaching in their midst, Jesus told them they needed to repent. And if they didn’t repent, Jesus said he’d come “with the sword of My mouth” and make war on those they should have dealt with.
I suspect this sword is the word of God, which Paul identified in Ephesians as part of the armor of God. Clearly, the best weapon against false teaching is the truth.
Jesus closes his message to Pergamum by once again giving promises to those who “overcome.” You’d think “overcoming” is a theme in these messages.
And still I have to ask the question: overcome what? Interesting that John, who wrote Revelation, had this to say about overcoming in 1 John 5:4:
For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.
Those who have ears to hear receive the promise that if they overcome, Jesus will give them “hidden manna.”
Manna harkens back to the days of the Exodus when God literally fed His people with the bread of angels. For forty years, He provided for their physical needs. Manna also alludes to Jesus Himself, the Bread of Life.
The second half of the promise is a little more cryptic. Jesus promised to give them a white stone and on the stone would be a “new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it” (Rev. 2:17b).
One possible idea is that the white stone referred to something from the Greek culture:
there is an allusion here to conquerors in the public games, who were not only conducted with great pomp into the city to which they belonged, but had a white stone given to them, with their name inscribed on it; which badge entitled them, during their whole life, to be maintained at the public expense … These were called tesserae among the Romans, and of these there were several kinds.” Clarke then gives examples of the different kinds: “Tesserae conviviales, which answered exactly to our cards of invitation, or tickets of admission to a public feast or banquet; when the person invited produced his tessera he was admitted … But the most remarkable of these instruments were the Tesserae hospitales, which were given as badges of friendship and alliance, and on which some device was engraved, as a testimony that a contract of friendship had been made between the parties.”
The inscription of the new name which no one else knows implies an intimacy between the one who overcomes and God. I think the white stone and new name might be my favorite part of this message though I don’t really understand it.
Just to make things interesting, Jesus also will have a new name no one will know.
He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems; and he has a name inscribed which no one knows but himself. (Rev. 19:11)
So in this aspect, those who overcome will be like He who has overcome sin and death and Satan and the world. Amazing that we are even remotely identified with Christ, and yet time and again, that’s His promise.