By Chuck Griffin
As we continue our exploration of the seven letters to the churches in Revelation, let’s deal with the churches at Pergamum and Thyatira together.
In appearance, they were significantly different cities. Pergamum officially was the provincial capital of the Roman Empire, described in other sources as a wealthy and beautiful city. Thyatira lay about 45 miles to the east, and while not considered a great city, it was very commercial, undergirded by a network of trade guilds.
The churches within these cities had the same basic problem. False teaching had made its way inside.
Paganism surrounding the churches exacerbated their situations. Pergamum was a city known for pagan temples set aside for the worship of the Roman emperor and other supposed deities. Several of these temples offered sex with temple priestesses as part of their rituals. No wonder John the Revelator referred to Pergamum as the “city where Satan has his throne.”
In Thyatira, the trade guilds each had a particular patron deity, and their festivals also emphasized sexual revelry. In both cities, there also would have been the consumption of food sacrificed to idols, which implied participation in unholy worship.
These were tough places for Christians to try to live out their basic commitments to marriage as described by Jesus and the apostles. Most people around them would have questioned the Christians’ unwillingness to participate in premarital and extramarital sex.
I have no doubt that at some point, more than one person said to the Christians, “Hey, everybody is doing it!” In our sex-saturated culture, we should certainly understand the struggle, assuming we take our own commitments to Christ seriously.
It’s also not hard to see how dynamic, alluring liars could begin to deceive these churches, convincing their members it was okay to hang out at the temples, fully enjoy the festivities and still be in good standing with Christ. As in any era, it was a message some church members were itching to hear.
In Pergamum, the lies seem to have been carried into the church by organized heretical sects, while in Thyatira, Christ’s condemnation fell upon one false prophet in particular, a woman referred to as “Jezebel” in an Old Testament allusion.
Regardless of who led these Christians toward sin, the solution was simple, these letters said. Repent—stop doing what Jesus and his apostles taught is wrong. And then cling to doing what is right, knowing you will receive your eternal reward!
As old-fashioned as the formula may sound, it remains the best advice for today.
Lord, thank you for the well-established Scripture we now have to clearly instruct us about your will in all things. Where we have been wrong as individuals and churches, may we repent, and may we follow your teachings closely as we proceed. Amen.