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Revelation 2:12-13 meaning

Jesus, the one who has God's word, greets the church in Pergamum and commends them on standing firm in their faith even as they live in Satan's dwelling place where other believers are killed.

This is the beginning of the letter to the third church, the church in Pergamum. Revelation 1:2 said that God communicated the message "by His angel to His bond-servant John." There, the word translated angel comes from the Greek word "angelos," which means "messenger." In that context, the messenger referred to Jesus, who gives God's message to John.

Here in Revelation 2:12, as with the greeting to each of the seven churches, the word angel is also the Greek word "aggelos" which means "messenger." Following the instructions for blessing in Revelation 1:3 to read, hear, and heed, it can be inferred that the messenger here is the human person, the messenger, who is going to read the letter to the church in Pergamum. It seems unlikely that there is a heavenly angel/messenger that John is referring to, but rather a human messenger who will deliver the letter from John to the people of Pergamum. Therefore, Jesus the "messenger" gives a message to John, which he is instructed to write and deliver to the seven churches of the Asian province by means of human "messengers."

The letters to each of the seven churches starts with a greeting, but it's more like a "memorandum" greeting format such as "To: all office employees" rather than the more formal greeting that is seen in the Pauline letters.

Here in the letter to Pergamum, Jesus names Himself as the "One who has the sharp two-edged sword." In scripture, the sharp two-edged sword typically represents the word of God, such as in Hebrews 4:

"For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart."
(Hebrews 4:12)

And again, in Ephesians 6, which comes at the end of the passage about the armor of God:

"Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God."
(Hebrews 6:17)

A two-edged sword cuts in any direction it is wielded, perhaps providing a picture that God's word is always applicable, wherever it is applied (Isaiah 55:11). The "memorandum" greeting of the letter to the church in Pergamum can be interpreted as "To: the capital city" "From: the one who has God's word."

Pergamum served an important purpose as the capital of the Roman province of Asia, where all seven of the churches of Revelation were located. It was a center of Roman power and, according to this passage, where Satan's throne is. After Jesus died and rose, He is in charge and in control (John 12:31, Matthew 28:18). However, His kingdom is not yet of this world (John 18:36). Satan is like the sitting lame duck president after his successor has been elected, but has not yet assumed office. He doesn't have any ultimate power, but he still has a throne and authority to act for a time.

There may have been a literal throne in Pergamum for the Roman governor, but at the very least to "have the throne," meant to be the one in charge, the one in Pergamum that has the authority to rule. Therefore, a Roman governor is on the earthly throne while Satan has the spiritual throne in Pergamum. The inference is that the two are connected. The cruelty and depravity of Rome can be explained by considering that Satan sat as a spiritual authority that superintended over the earthly government of Rome in Asia. A similar idea is found in Daniel, where a demonic "prince" is said to rule over Persia (Daniel 10:13, 20).

Referring to Satan as also being on the throne is connecting the things on earth to the things in heaven, like how "the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches" in John's vision in Revelation 1:20. Satan is described by Jesus as being both a murderer as well as a deceiver (John 8:44). Satan's goal is to destroy people, and he often does it through deception (1 Peter 5:8). This letter to Pergamum will address false teachers, who are deceiving believers. Satan can work his deception through anyone, as shown by the incident where Jesus addressed the Apostle Peter by saying "Get behind me Satan" (Matthew 16:23).

Jesus initially praises the church in Pergamum for what they are doing right, which is that you hold fast My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days of Antipas, My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. 

The word here for witness applying to the faithful Antipas is the same Greek word that is often translated as "martyr" when the person referenced has died for their faith, as indeed Antipas did. However, they should both mean the same thing: which is someone who has died to themselves and their own desires. This is one who has dedicated themselves to telling others the good news of Jesus, and has lived faithfully the truth of His word, which is to speak the two-edged sword of His word. Jesus says that Antipas is My witness, meaning that Antipas was also My faithful one. To be a witness for Jesus means to be faithful to Jesus.

God acknowledges that He knows what has happened in the church in Pergamum, and He commends them for standing firm when it would have been circumstantially more convenient to deny their faith. Antipas was killed for his faith, which means that the other believers in the church would have reason to believe that they could be killed for their faith too. But they continued to be faithful witnesses and not give sway to Satan and his falsehoods.

It is interesting to note that Jesus does not speak of their faith, but rather says that the believers in Pergamum did not deny My faith. This is connected to the fact that they also are said to hold fast My name. The picture is that these believers in Pergamum remained true, taking a stand that they were believers in Jesus, even in the face of persecution. At this point in history, Christianity was illegal in the Roman Empire. The Bible teaches us to obey ruling authorities (Romans 13:1-7). But it also teaches that God is above all ruling authorities, so when there is a clash between serving Him and serving government, God comes first (Acts 5:29).

In some instances, Christians in this era would be persecuted and tortured, and given the opportunity to deny that Jesus is Lord in order to avoid persecution. There apparently was a prominent believer in Pergamum named Antipas who was killed by Roman authorities for his faith. And even though he was killed, it seems he never gave in to the Roman demand to renounce Jesus.

Seeing the example of Antipas, the believers in Pergamum knew that refusing to renounce Jesus might cost them their physical lives. But even though they knew this, they refused to denounce Christ. They did not deny the name of Jesus, and they remained steadfast, continuing to refuse to deny My faith.

From the context, the term My faith would seem to apply to the faith that Jesus asks His followers to have, namely that He is the Christ, the Son of God, who takes away the sins of the world (John 20:31, 1 Corinthians 15:3-4). It is the faith, the belief, that He has been granted all authority (Matthew 28:18) and has commanded His followers to follow His ways, making disciples and teaching His commands wherever they go, and whatever they do (Matthew 28:18-20).

Therefore, it is inferred that Jesus commends the believers in Pergamum for clinging to their testimony of believing in Jesus, and refusing to renounce their faith, even in the face of persecution and death. However, Jesus will correct these same believers in the next section for not being willing to take a stand against false teachers within their own number.

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