Bible Passage: Revelation 2:12-17
Big Idea: Satan Resorts to Enticement when he cannot Destroy
Intro: Morning friends, visitors and those joining online. My name is Matt Johnson and we are now looking at church number three, in the seven churches of Revelation. The context goes like this – the seven churches – are like God’s Menorah. The light is NOT meant to go out. But the church is under attack. Satan, through an antiChrist figure (either Nero or Domitian) is trying to put out the light – and today we look at the church in PERGAMMUM.
PRAYER: Well friends, this city is called the city where Satan has his throne – and, well – it’s a mess. Pergamum has a direct, undeniable link to both Adolf Hitler AND the World Health Organisation. And, I’m not entirely sure what to make of that. But I believe I should tell you, so that you can make of it, what you will.
(Slide 2) Pergamum came to glory during the Greek Empire around 250BC. It was completely built in marble and the city was full of pagan temples. But the big ones were – the temple to Dionysius (ENTER – top left). Dionysius was a fertility god – which meant sex, sex, sex. To the top right you can see the temple of Zeus (ENTER – top right). Zeus was the Supreme Greek god – which meant power, power, power. Most scholars think Zeus’ altar is the throne of Satan – spoken of by Jesus – because it’s shaped like a huge seat. (I’ll tell you more about this temple in a moment). But the biggest temple in Pergamum is the temple of Asclepius (ENTER) – off screen at the bottom of the hill. Asclepius was the god of healing (and modern medicine).
Now we know what this city looks like because the Germans dug up Pergamum in the late 1800’s. They literally took Pergamum apart stone by stone and moved it to a Museum in Berlin. The Pergamum Museum was opened in 1930 to great Nazi fanfare and with the altar of Zeus (or the seat of Satan) having center stage (Slide 3). Again scholars believe this was actually a giant altar – with sacrifices and libations offered at the top of the stairs.
The frieze (ENTER) – tells the story of how the 12 Olympian gods had sex with humans – which then created humanoid giants. The gods and these half humans then fight in an apocalyptic battle that ends with Zeus coming, “flying on the clouds” as the ultimate victor.
What this is – is an alternate cosmology or eschatology. The book of Revelation tells one story about the battle between good and evil (and how Jesus eventually wins). The frieze (around the altar of Zeus) tells an alternate story about the battle between good and evil – and how Zeus ultimately wins. This is called – “gigantomachy” – because it records a battle between gods and giants (ENTER). Now an interesting observation is that it has some similarities to the Jewish book of 1 Enoch and the biblical flood story – where fallen angels have sex with women – creating Nephilim (who were giants). But in that story neither the fallen angels or nephilim won. Think Noah and the flood.
Anyway, the altar of Zeus (or seat of Satan) was opened in Berlin in 1930 and accompanied Hitlers rise to antiChrist like fame. (Slide 4) Here in 1936 – you can see all the German Olympic athletes – lined up on the throne of Satan to receive a special blessing from Hitler. (Slide 5) This is Adolf Hitler (green) being addressed by the Japanese Ambasador (red) on the steps of the throne of Satan. And here (Slide 6) well I’m not sure what is going on here. But it’s the leaders of the Nazi party doing something that looks demonic in the great hall of the Pergamon Museum.[i] (Slide 7) And again, this looks like some pretty official business just took place in the Pergamum Museum – where the throne of Satan is housed. Now I suspect, that like me, some of you, are thinking what the heck? (So, I attached a website link that will take you to a document with a properly researched bibliography to show this is not just madness of the internet). I’m beginning to think both the physical throne and spiritual throne of Satan, may have moved to Germany in the 1930’s, and the holocaust was not just an accident of history. Which then raises the question – what was Satan up to?
Point 1: Pergammum is called the City where Satan has His Throne
Show: Rev.2:12-13 (READ)
Explain: Well as you can see Pergamum is identified as A) the place Satan has his throne and B) the place where Satan lives. Now my first observation is that this doesn’t sound like Satan is bound in the Abyss. A-MILLENIALLISTS believe Satan was bound in the Abyss (of Revelation 20) – at Jesus’ death and resurrection. But this letter is either 67-68AD under Nero OR early 90’s AD under Domitian – and Satan doesn’t appear to be bound. Revelation 20 says Satan is bound for a thousand years “to stop him deceiving the nations anymore.” AND yet Satan is clearly still deceiving Pergamum. So, reconciling this letter with A-Mill theology requires significant EXEGETICAL GYMNASTICS.
What’s more, the word “THRONE” is the exact same word used to describe God’s throne. Throne implies power and dominion and rule. Satan has a big white throne (made of marble) in Pergamum AND God has the great white throne of judgment in Revelation 20. Let me say Satan is mimicking God in Pergamum in order “to deceive the nations”. And in the first century AD all the nations of the world were coming to Satan. UNLIKE GOD – who is omnipresent, Satan can only be in one place at a time. Not everywhere. So Jesus says – Satan is living in Pergamum. That’s his abode. The word live – means to inhabit or dwell or occupy a particular place. Later in Revelation we are told GOD dwells amongst his people in the New Jerusalem. SATAN dwells amongst his people in Pergamum. So if we understand what Satan is doing in Pergamum we get some ideas about his gospel and methods.
Now what would you imagine a city to look like – that is inhabited by Satan? (PAUSE). Before you answer that question – remember Satan masquerades as an angel of light. His purpose is to attract and deceive all the nations of the world. Just as Jesus attracts all the nations of the world to himself through the gospel, so Satan attracts all the nations of the world to himself – through a false gospel.
Now the city of Pergamum – certainly had a DARK UNDERBELLY. But in the first century – it was probably the most beautiful and learned city on earth. The architecture – was better than Rome. The library was better than Alexandria in Egypt – with over 200,000 scrolls. The city was 1) beautiful, 2) educated, 3) prosperous 4) sexually liberated and all the nations of the world were coming for HEALING.
Although Zeus is the supreme god in the Greek pantheon – the reason everyone was coming to Pergamum was a god named ASCLEPIUS (Slide 4). Asclepius was the son of the god – APOLLO, by a human woman named – CORONIS. But after Apollo impregnated Coronis, she fell in love with another man. So Apollo was jealous and killed Coronis. But he wanted to save the baby – so he performed the first medical caesarean in world history. Growing up, ASCLEPIUS 1) started to heal the sick and 2) he became so good with pharmaceuticals – that he could even raise the dead. The story goes – Ascelpius’ healed so many it infuriated Hermes (the god of the dead) – and he convinced the Olympians – Asclepius had to die. But when Zeus killed him with a lightening bolt – Asclepius came back to life AND became known as the god of pharmakeia. Asclepius then gave his priests – pharmaceutical and surgical knowledge – so they could heal the sick and raise the dead. If it sounds like a different Jesus, with different priests and a different gospel that’s because it is.
Now, if you look later – at Revelation 13 – you’ll find a Satanic Trinity. Remember Satan loves mimicking God. So in Revelation 13, A) SATAN gives his power to a beast (who has suffered a mortal wound) and yet continues to live. B) THIS RESURRECTED BEAST then gives his power to a C) THIRD BEAST who works miracles and leads people into false worship. But this Satanic Trinitarian formula (copying Father, Son and Holy Spirit) was already at work in Pergamum in the first century. It went from 1) Apollo to 2) Asclepius the resurrected one, to 3) Asclepius’ high priests called therapeuters – from which we get the word therapeutic. And this was where all the action was in Pergamum.
The first two temples to Asclepius date back to the C4th BC in Greece. The first famous high priest of Asclepius in Greece was HIPPOCRATES from which which we get the hippocratic oath of medicine. Only the original hypocratic oath began; “I swear by Apollo the Physician and by Asclepius and by Hygieia and Panacea (his two daughters and best students)… that I will abstain from all intentional wrong doing and harm.” Yes, Hippocrates – the father of modern medicine – was a high priest of Asclepius in Greece.
Now the next big temple to Asclepius opened in ROME in 289BC. Rome experienced a terrible pandemic (called small pox). So desperate for a cure, the Romans went to the temple of Asclepius in Greece. They got a statue of Asclepius, built a temple and demanded everyone in Rome worship Asclepius or we’re going to take your 1) livelihood, 2) liberty or 3) life. So, everyone submitted to the authorities and shortly afterwards the plague came to an end. Praise be to Asclepius.
Apply: But by the time John wrote Revelation (it is well established) that the biggest temple for Asclepius (by far) was in Pergamum. People came from all over the world looking for healing. Now all Asclepius temples were filled with SNAKES. They were the patron animal of Ascepius (and no I’m not making this up). In order to receive healing, 1) you had to sleep a night in the temple with lots of snakes – and then 2) Asclepius would come to you in a dream – revealing the cause of your sickness. Now the primary form – that Asclepius took in these dreams – was that of a giant serpent. (Again, I’m not making this stuff up. It’s all well documented historically. And I guess if your sleeping in a temple full of snakes, you’ll probably dream about snakes). Anyway, THE NEXT DAY the sick person would tell the priest what the serpent revealed. The priest would then interpret the vision and offer a pharmaceutical or surgical treatment. Of course, desperate for healing the person would then obey – even if it was a bit unethical or dubious. These medical priests were so respected that you just did whatever they said. They were like gods…
Now from 140AD onwards – the temple in Pergamum had their most famous high priest ever. His name was GALEN (and he is revered in the hallowed halls of medicine). Galen (priest of Asclepius) employed 20 scribes, wrote over 500 treatises and more than 10 million words about “medicine” before he died. (It was like he was given superantural insight into anatomy and pharmacy). Galen’s words then shaped medicine in both the west and the Islamic world – until at least the 1600’s. Asclepius (a serpent god) shaped modern medicine through his two great high priests – Hypocrates and Galen. Today, this is what the World Health Organization has on their own website (Slide 5).
Apply: Now friends – what do we do with all this? I know it’s almost too close to home because most of us – just took a WHO approved vaccine with dubious and questionable ethics. Two years ago – concerned about these dubious ethics I wrote a paper on pharmakeia – asking the question – at what point does taking unethical medicine become Christian apostasy? (At that point I did not know the background to Pergamum). That would have added even more colour.
But based on other parts of the Bible I suggested that when human life begins to be intentionally taken in one sphere (ie through abortion and the destruction of IVF embryos), in order to enhance human life in another sphere – (ie heart disease or cancer) – we are on the edge of spiritual apostasy. Sadly, modern medicine is right at that point now. MIRACULOUS, SUPERNATURAL medications are about to hit the market through the destruction of IVF embryos. Now two Archbishops read my paper – and one of them said – “I was raising a very, very important ethical question that needed much, much more consideration.” (If you know me you can perhaps guess which Archbishop). The book of Revelation finishes with a sober message (Slide 5 – Rev.18:23; Slide 6; Rev.22:14). Could medical healing and pharmaceuticals become a type of apostasy in the last days, like it certainly was in Pergamum – in the early church? We certainly know the evil the Nazi’s did in the pursuit of eugenics and medical science…
Point 2: Pergammum is being Enticed into Apostasy
Show: Rev.2:13-14 (READ)
Explain: Well somehow – the church in Pergamum did not openly renounce their faith in Jesus, even during the martyrdom of Antipas. That’s incredible faith. Last week, I said there was a special honor in God’s Kingdom for Christians who end up martyrs. Antipas gets this honor. In Revelation 1:5 – Jesus is called God’s faithful witness and in Revelation 2:13 – Antipas is called Jesus’ faithful witness. Antipas is like Jesus. That is the highest honor any of us can have – to be like our Lord.
However, despite this courage, the church still stumbles. What could be worse than death? You’ll notice it says “Balaam, taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin.” THE GREEK WORD for ENTICE is actually skandalon – from which we get the word scandal. It means temptation or trap. But it also means revulsion or object of scorn. The person enticed – is lured out of God’s blessing and into God’s curse…
In the Old Testament (around 1400BC) Israel was heading through the wilderness towards the Promised Land. We’re talking a million plus Jews. So the people already living in Canaan – were getting worried. So a King named Balak – sent an envoy 1000km (to a place in Babylon) to get a famous sorceror named Balaam – to put a curse on Israel. Now the Bible tells us that all Sorcery is demonic. SORCERORS draw power from Satan – the ancient serpent – to inflict harm and health on others. But interestingly, (in Numbers 21), just before the story of Balaam – God gives the Jews special protection from SERPENTS.
God gave Moses a staff with a snake wrapped around it – called the Nehushtan. (Slide 10). It looked almost identical to Asclepius’ staff in Pergamum (and I’m pretty sure its in the background of this story). The big difference is A) that Moses Nehushtan provided protection from serpents and B) Ascelpius’ rod sought healing from serpents. So who is more powerful. The God of Moses and the Nehushtan or the serpent God of Balaam and Asclepius’ Rod?
Well Balaam (the great sorcery) tries seven times to curse God’s people – the Israelites, but he can’t do it. God is more powerful than both physical serpents and spiritual serpents. Now Balaam actually knows this before he starts. He knows he’s going to fail. But Balaam also knows how God works and – he tells Balak – how to get the Israelites. Let me show you – (SLIDE 19 – Num.31:16). Now notice – the word “entice”, and maybe the word “plague”. Sex is the method the women use to entice the men into apostasy. But the enticement could be anything desirable that leads to apostasy.
Apply: Balaam knows the only way to get Gods people is if you use something attractive to lure them away from the true God. So, the Midianites use sexual immorality to tempt the men of Israel (away from faith in God) before leading them towards false worship and apostasy.
Now I know there are some people in our church – who are dabbling with SEXUAL IMMORALITY – both heterosexual and homosexual. God’s sexual ethic is very different to the world. And I assure you that if people continue in sexual immorality (and do not repent) – it may eventually lead you to DENY YOUR FAITH IN JESUS – which equals apostasy and damnation. Of course, people can ignore my warnings and think I’m being unloving. But if you continue in sexual immorality (you are moving out of God’s spiritual protection) and the snake will eventually have the ability to bite you. Thanks to Balaam – 24,000 Israelites died and failed to enter the promised land.
Now in Revelation 2 Jesus says – there are some people in Pergamum who also understand the power of enticement. This could be through sexual immorality. I mean Dionysius was a significant god in Pergammum promoting sex, sex, sex, with anyone and everyone. So perhaps – some Christians were being lured out from under God’s protection through sexual immorality. But sexual immorality was everywhere in the first century and not unique to Pergamum.
So I think the Nehushtan in the background of the Balaam story and the rod of Aesclepius that shaped Pergamum – tells us – a far bigger lure was in play. What are you willing to do for healing? Let’s say you pray to Jesus – asking for healing for some sickness in your child. And let’s say – Jesus doesn’t answer that prayer (as quickly as you want). But all around you are people raving about the miraculous healing they got in the temple of Aesclepius. What if some of the people (in the church) – start saying “Don’t worry about it. Its just medicine – just go down to Aesclepius’ temple, listen to the priest, get healed and then come back and worship Jesus.” Valid or invalid?
I suspect this was happening in Pergamum. So Jesus tells the church to “REPENT.” Just as Gods sexual ethic is not the worlds sexual ethic, so God’s medical ethic is not the worlds medical ethic. I there comes a point where the only way to remain faithful is abstinence. If you think the church has stumbled A) over the recent sexual revolution, get ready for B) the medical revolution. Scientists have recently discovered a thing called “TELOMERES” in embryonic stem cells that appear to be IMMORTAL. So is it right for Christians to take medicines made from destroyed IVF embryos if that can cure your cancer? Should Christians take a telomere injection in the spinal column if that will enable your paralysed child to walk again? Or is it a kind of apostasy?
Point 3: Pergammum must Overcome the Enticement to Apsostasy
Show: Rev.1:16-17 (READ)
Explain: Friends, its very easy for us to move out from under God’s protection little by little or perhaps even in ignorance. I had very little idea what the medical world was doing prior to the PANDEMIC. But I discovered we are now on a very slippery slope. I was speaking to a Christian doctor this week – and he said he can’t keep up with what is happening in the medical world. Christians now accept IVF (fertilizing 10-12 eggs) and putting them on ice. I will nail my colours to the mast and say this is profoundly unethical (and usually leads to a type of murder). The Christian doctor agreed. But I could take you to good evangelical churches in Sydney where perhaps a third of the young families have used IVF. The ministers no longer have courage to speak. And if they do speak these young Christians scream them down saying they intend to implant all the embryos. But friends, the path to hell is paved with good intentions (that rarely happen). The cost of storage becomes burdensome AND eventually a decision is made to DESTROY or DONATE the remaining embryos to science.
30 years ago – Christians all believed life begins at conception. But these IVF embryos are then dissected or grown in test-tubes for medical science (where we are beginning to reap the benefits). Should we benefit form the destruction of IVF embryos? Of course, we were on this slippery slope with the recent coronavirus vaccine – where Astranzeneca, Pfizer and Moderna all used stem cells from aborted babies to test their vaccines. We benefitted from these abortions. But then the Sydney Diocesan bioethicist said “this was ok, so long as we didn’t go one millimeter beyond this point.” She actually said – that if we go a millimeter further on this slippery slope it would be “PROFOUNDLY UNETHICAL.” Her words. Then, much to my alarm, we were all encouraged to hop onto this slippery medical slope – promising we would not go a millimeter further. Really? You think the church is going to be true to that promise?
Last week, I spoke about the gun held to the head – demanding I commit apostasy. I think that’s the easy one. My problem is going to be looking into my dying child or grandchild eyes (knowing there is a completely unethical medicine that will save them) and saying “Let us pray to Jesus.” Will I have the faith to do that? I’m not sure?
Apply: Jesus says to those who repent and overcome – he will give secret MANNA. Of course, manna is the miraculous bread of heaven – that God used to save the Israelites in the desert. But will I trust God for miracles in the last days or will I look to unethical medicine as the prophesied plagues come thicker and faster? Jesus says – to the one who overcomes – I will give you a new name. When the city of Pergamum was excavated – inscriptions of people’s names and what they were healed from were found all over the white walls and marble pillars of Asclepius’ temple. Perhaps Jesus is saying – that when he works true spiritual healing in us – we will need a new name, to match our healed identities. Interestingly, in Revelation 21 – the gates of Jerusalem are inscribed with the names of the 12 tribes of Israel and the foundations are inscribed with the names of the 12 apostles. Will you be among those who are truly healed by Jesus and have your name carved into the walls of the New Jerusalem?
In Johns gospel – Jesus says – (Slide 19 – Jn.3:14-16). Friends, this is the gospel. Everything else is ultimately a false gospel. If you believe in Jesus and accept him as your Saviour and Lord – you will be saved from the serpent (and his ultimate fate). God loves you and will forgive you. But when Jesus finally comes will he find Christian faith on the earth? Or will we have been enticed into the serpents temple, making peace with the snake and accepting his version of healing and immortality? I hope I’m wrong on some of the things I’ve suggested today. But, I’m concerned, I might actually be speaking truth.