The Seven Churches, Part IV : The Church of Pergamos

Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea. I suppose that we have all memorized these seven names at some time. These churches represent the different periods of the church from Jesus’ death until His Second Coming. The names of the first and last churches, Ephesus and Laodicea, are always easy to remember, of course—like Genesis and Revelation. We have trouble remembering the ones in between.


The first church, Ephesus, started when Jesus ascended into heaven in 31 a.d. and continued until about the death of the last apostle. This was the apostolic church, and its timeframe was 31–100 a.d. The Bible says that these were the ones who were faithful to the truth. They were hardworking, but they were lacking one thing. (See Revelation 2:2–4.) The Scripture mentions about six good things about this church and one bad thing. What was it? They left their first love, that fervent love. For that and that alone, the Bible says, they would be removed from being a church before the Lord.

You see, no doctrine in the entire world is as important as love. As it says in 1 Corinthians 13, you can have faith to remove a mountain; you can understand all prophecy, but if you do not have love, you are worth nothing. It does not say nearly nothing; it says nothing. It says you can give all your goods to feed the poor and leave nothing for yourself; you can give even your body to be burned, but if you have not love, it does not do one bit of good—nothing. That should cause us all to stop and analyze our lives.

How would you like to give your tithes and offerings to a church and find out that it is worth nothing? I do not want to try to be earning my way to heaven. We cannot do that. But if I get to the end of my life and I find that I am lost, after trying to serve the Lord all my life, simply because I have not allowed Jesus’ character of love to come into my heart, that would be so sad.

Self Interferes

Jesus talked with His disciples about this love for three years, but they just could not seem to comprehend. They would not be broken from self. They thought they were pretty good, because they were doing a lot of work, and they were doing what was right and preaching the truth. But in Luke 22 is recorded the very last weekend Jesus had with His disciples. At the Last Supper, “He took bread, gave thanks and broke it.” This is the last night Jesus had with His disciples. In less than 24 hours from this time, He would be dead. But what does it say in verse 24? “Now there was also a dispute among them . . . .”

Jesus was giving His life for them, and we read that there was rivalry. Can you imagine? When Jesus was getting ready to give His life for them, they were striving as to who was the greatest! Who was the greatest? Who was going to be the first? What led to this rivalry, this seeking for position, this arguing over who was the greatest and climbing the ladder? It was a lack of love. They had a lot of love for themselves, but the dispute was caused by a lack of love for one another and for Jesus.

Jesus told them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called ‘benefactors.’ But not so [among] you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be the younger, and he who governs as he who serves. For who [is] greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? [Is] it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves. But you are those who have continued with Me in My trials.” Verses 25–28. So Jesus said, “I come as a servant, and if you want to really be great, become a servant.”

Desire to be First

No one will ever get to heaven by being first. You cannot get into heaven by crowding in ahead of someone else. The Bible says the last shall be first, but the first shall be last. (Matthew 19:30.) Yet the selfish, sinful human nature seeks to be first. That is what it means to be broken—when we learn to put self out of sight and put God first and others before ourselves. We cannot do that of ourselves, can we?

The disciples did not. It only happened when they saw Jesus bruised and bleeding and dying for them. Jesus told them, when He left, “This is how you will know that you are My disciples, when you have love for one another.” (John 13:35.) They had not yet developed that love. This was the hardest thing in all the world for them to do. No matter what Jesus said, it seemed to make no difference. He could change their thinking on theology; He could get them to go out and work; He could counsel them on a lot of other things, but no matter what He said about being broken or about learning to love one another, it never worked. Jesus’ own example did not work until they saw Him bleeding on the cross; then their hearts were broken.

Just as the disciples had not learned from Jesus, so the converts the disciples brought into the church had the same problem as had the disciples. No matter what they said, it did not seem to make any difference. The disciples could get the converts to work; they could get them to understand theology; they could get them to be firm for the gospel, but they could not get the converts to really love one another and to love the Lord with all their hearts. They could not seem to understand it. Of course, if you had asked them about love, they would have said they had love. Why else would they be doing all this work?


It took persecution to finally convert the church of Ephesus. That separated the chaff and the wheat; the unconverted left the church. The church was left pure, and that began the next church. That church was called the church of Smyrna, and it existed from 100 a.d. until 323 a.d. when, at the conversion of Constantine, persecution ceased. For over 200 years there was serious persecution at the hands of the Roman emperors. You have surely read or heard the stories of the amphitheater of Rome and how Christians were cast to the lions, and some were dipped in tar and then placed up on posts and set ablaze to provide light for the emperor’s garden in the Coliseum.

The church of Smyrna was the opposite of the last church, the church of Laodicea. Not one good thing was to be said about the church of Laodicea. There is not one bad thing said about the church of Smyrna. They were told to be faithful, and they would receive the crown of life. This was a church at the purest state. As long as they were pure, Satan could not destroy them no matter what he did. He tried everything to destroy them, but nothing worked. So Satan developed a different plan.

“Although Satan rejoiced because of the sufferings of the saints, yet he was not satisfied.” Early Writings, 210. As the saints were being clawed and chewed to death by the lions there in the amphitheaters, Satan rejoiced, but it was not a very good rejoicing. He was not satisfied, because they went down to their graves as champions, as conquerors. He could not get them to relinquish their faith and their love for one another. “He wanted control of the mind as well as the body. The sufferings that they had endured only drove them closer to the Lord, leading them to love one another.” Ibid. What is it that finally brought the church to love one another? Suffering and persecution. What a shame it took that! Could they not learn it without that suffering? But that is what it took.

“[The sufferings caused] them to fear more than ever to offend Him. . . . Although thousands were slain, yet others were springing up to supply their places. Satan saw that he was losing his subjects. . . . Satan therefore laid his plans to fight more successfully against the government of God and to overthrow the church.” Ibid. Satan found that persecution did not work, so what did he try? “He led the heathen idolaters to embrace a part of the Christian faith.” Ibid.

Constantine’s “Christianity”

Constantine was one of the great heathen idolaters who was led to embrace Christianity. Constantine, in 321 a.d., made the first Sunday law, but he was not a Christian. It was to honor the venerable day of the sun. Two years later, he embraced Christianity. He did not change any habits; he declared that all of his soldiers were now Christians—after he marched the whole army through the river and then proclaimed they were all baptized Christians! How wonderful! Everyone was a Christian! It was suddenly popular to be a Christian.

These Christians professed to believe in the crucifixion and the resurrection of Christ. They proposed, without a change of heart, to unite with the followers of Jesus. Oh, the fearful dangers of the church at this time. This, then, began the third period of the church. There was first the apostolic period; that was the church of Ephesus. Then, the church, during the first persecution period, was the church of Smyrna. Then came the popular period and the church of Pergamos. It went from 323 a.d. until about 538 a.d.


Our study about the church of Pergamos in prophecy begins with Revelation 2:12:

“And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write, ‘These things says He who has the sharp two-edged sword.’ ”

In the church of Smyrna, the church about which God had nothing bad to say, who was carrying the sword to that church? The devil was carrying the sword of persecution. In verse 10, we read the message sent to the church of Smyrna: “Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw [some] of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

The Bible says the devil was carrying the sword of persecution to the church of Smyrna. But now Jesus has the sword of the Word. Things have changed a little bit. Would you rather suffer from Satan’s sword or from God’s sword? That is a question everyone will have to answer in the last days before Jesus comes, because in the last days, it is not going to be Satan’s sword and then Jesus’ sword; they will both be here on the earth at the same time. We could read a number of verses in this respect, but in Revelation 12:9, we read, “The great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan.” Then verse 17 says, “The dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.”

The next chapter tells how the people who do not receive the mark of the beast or worship his image will be killed (Revelation 13:12–15), and how they will not be allowed to buy or sell (verses 16, 17), unless they have received this mark in their right hands or their foreheads.

Chapter 14 goes on to explain what God says about those who do receive the mark. Man will kill those who do not receive the mark of the beast. Verses 9 and 10 tell us what will happen to those who do receive the mark: “Then a third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, ‘If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives [his] mark on his forehead or on his hand, he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God.’ ”

Whose Sword?

Oh, what a predicament the people in the last days are going to have. They will all be under a sword; it is just a matter of whose sword. It will either be man’s sword or God’s sword. They will have to choose whether they fear God or whether they fear man, whether they have respect to God or whether they have respect to man. They are either going to be condemned to death by the human tribunals or they are going to be condemned to death by a divine tribunal. Who do you fear, God or man? By whom do you want to be condemned, God or man? It is going to be one or the other. If you have to choose, who are you going to choose to offend, God or man?

The disciples had to choose whom they would respect and obey. They said, “We must obey God or man; we cannot do both, because they are going in two different directions. Who are we going to obey, God or man?” They decided they should obey God rather than man. (Acts 5:29.) That is the choice that all of us have to make before Jesus comes.

The church of Smyrna pleased God, and they came under persecution by man. The church of Pergamos pleased man, and they came under God’s condemnation.

Satan’s Throne

Why was it that God said He was going to fight against the church of Pergamos? Well, He does say a few good things about them, before He tells us why He was going to come at them with a sword.

In Revelation 2:13, we read: “I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne [is].” Where is Satan’s throne in prophecy? From the prophecy of Revelation 12:4 and 13:2 we know that Satan’s throne is Rome.

We find, in chapter 13:2 that Satan—the dragon—gave his throne to the next power that came along. In the chapter before, we find that that throne was the capitol of the pagan world. It was from pagan Rome that Satan ruled the world for centuries. Then, again, it was from Rome where, through false Christianity, Satan wielded the sword throughout the Middle Ages. At the time after Constantine’s conversion, Rome very quickly became the predominant Christian center of
the world. For a long time, it was Alexandria and Rome, but because Constantine was from Rome and had been the head of the pagan church, he was the pontificate maximus; that was his title. That title, of course, was taken over by the bishop of Rome some years later, and he became the pontificate maximus. Constantine was called the pontificate maximus, and he was used to being in charge of the church. After he became a Christian, he did not see any reason why he should quit. He immediately declared that the church in Rome was to have predominance, preeminence, above all the churches of Christianity. The Council of the Bishops settled questions of doctrine in Rome. The church in Rome began to bear rule over all the churches.

Papa and Antipas

The head of the church of Rome began to be called papa. In fact, all of the bishops began to be called papas. Today, the term is used to refer to the pope.

Jesus had something to say about this title of papa. Papa in Latin is father. In Matthew 23:9, Jesus said, “Do not call anyone on earth your father [or your papa]; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven.” Not all of the Christians readily assented to calling the head of the church papa or the bishops papas. Some of those who did not immediately give reverence to these leaders were martyred. Now, instead of the pagans martyring the Christians, it was the Christians martyring their fellow Christians who would not come under the authority of the leadership of the church.

Revelation 2:13 says, “I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne [is]. And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas [was] My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells” there in Rome. Who was Antipas? The historians have searched and searched for someone by the name of Antipas, perhaps someone who was martyred. They have never found anyone.

Remember that these books are symbolic, and each symbol has meaning. When it says, “where Satan’s throne is,” we have to compare Scripture with Scripture to find “where Satan’s throne is.” Antipas comes from two words, anti and pa or papa, which in the plural would be pas. William Miller, in his lectures, stated: “It is supposed that Antipas was not an individual, but a class of men who opposed the power of the bishops, or popes, in that day, being a combination of two words, anti, opposed, and papas, father, or pope; and at that time many of them suffered martyrdom in Constantinople and Rome, where the bishops and popes began to exercise the power which soon after brought into subjection the kings of the earth.” Miller’s Lectures, 138, 139. That is what William Miller believed Antipas meant.

There was a faithful remnant who refused to compromise in order to have peace. This verse indicates that the core of those who refused to compromise were the church. Neither Satan nor his throne was ever considered in these prophecies to be the church any more than Ahab was the church in the Old Testament. However, these false leaders affected the church.

“From the beginning, faithful souls have constituted the church on earth.” The Acts of the Apostles, 11.

(I want to tell you, though, that faithful souls are often influenced by leadership, by those around them, and by society.) Who were these faithful souls, many of whom were martyred such as Antipas was—not Antipas as a person but, as the Bible indicates here, by the symbolic Antipas? A little bit of the history that took place during this time has been given to us by Ellen White:

“It required a desperate struggle for those who would be faithful to stand firm against the deceptions and abominations that were disguised in sacerdotal garments and introduced into the church.” The Great Controversy, 45.

To be continued . . .

Pastor Marshall Grosboll, with his wife Lillian, founded Steps to Life. In July 1991, Pastor Marshall and his family met with tragedy as they were returning home from a camp meeting in Washington state, when the airplane he was piloting went down, killing all on board.