Troublesome Topic: The Possible Symbolism of Pergamum

What the city was known for: Pergamum was famous for its library, which rivaled that of Alexandria. This shows there was an emphasis on knowledge and academic achievements.  Hence my reference to them as intellectuals. It was also famous for inventing a new material on which to write books, it was called parchment.

It was known as a place of earthly power, and earthly thrones, having been granted special privileges from Rome. Pergamum has been described as a combination of university town, royal residence and city full of temples.

Some think Pergamum represents Rome because of its close connections to Rome, and because both cities have names which mean “exalted.” This place, whether Pergamum or Rome, or both, are where “Satan lives,” because in both of them, the elite and powerful lift themselves up as gods, and exercise authority over all that they claim to have under them. I think it refers more to the attitude of the rulers than to a physical place.

It was also a place of intense opposition to Christianity where the possibility of martyrdom was very real; it was more than just an idle threat.  Antipas is mentioned as already having been martyred there, and numerous others were martyred there in the years that followed. It was called the place where “Satan has his throne” because a throne was not just a fancy object on which to sit, it was a symbol of complete authority. In this setting Satan had full control, he tolerated no opposition, he demanded complete obedience, and through the ruling class he openly demonstrated his hatred for those who pledged allegiance to Jesus.

Pergamum was a place of martyrdom at the hands of the elite intellectuals in places of power.

But the church of Jesus remained faithful for quite some time, indicating that the letter from John which we call Revelation was indeed an encouragement to them as intended.

What the city’s name meant: As mentioned above, the name Pergamos, or Pergamum, means “height,” “elevation,” “elevated,” or “exalted.” The name came from the fact that the most important part of the city was on the top of a cone-shaped hill. However, it also applies to the attitude of the people—haughty, elite. The intellectuals and the powerful of that city elevated themselves to act like gods, deciding whom to kill and whom to let live, and pretending to be all-knowing.

The irony is that they only pretended to be of elevated intellect and position. In spiritual matters they lacked true wisdom which only comes from God. But rather than submitting to God, they opposed God and demanded that others submit to them. They had replaced the wisdom of God with the wisdom of man, and they tried to replace God’s authority with their own human authority. They failed to realize that God exalts the humble but brings down the proud.

The next lesson is: The Possible Symbolism of Thyatira