The third mark of the church is truth (Rev. 2:12-17).
Situated on a conical hill more than a thousand feet above sea level, the city of Pergamum dominated the Caicus River valley below it. Its name, in Greek, means “citadel,” which it certainly was: a fortified city, both powerful and prestigious. The proconsul of Roman Asia resided there, exercising the ius gladii or “power of the sword” over the inhabitants of the province. The Greek gods Zeus, Athena, Dionysus, and Asklepios each had a temple there. Augustus and Trajan erected temples for the worship of deified Caesars such as themselves within the city, making Pergamum the center of the imperial cult in Roman Asia.
No wonder, then, that Jesus describes Pergamum as the place “where Satan’s throne is,” “where Satan dwells.” No wonder, then, that Antipas loses his life there, for martyrdom occurs whenever and wherever the church and the world collide. And no wonder, finally, that Christ reminds the Pergameme Christians that he “has the sharp two-edged sword,” “the sword of my mouth.”
That sword is the ius gladii of Jesus Christ, the mark of his office and the instrument of his power. Describing Christ at his Second Coming, John writes: “From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron” (Rev. 19:15). It is, of course, the word of God, “piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). It is also the Christian’s only offensive weapon (Eph. 6:17).
Such a weapon comes in handy at Pergamum, both for opposing the proconsul’s unjust power and the imperial cult’s untrue religion. We Christians always need to be reminded that what we see with our eyes is not the only reality. The citadel of Pergamum is not the City of God. The proconsul’s ius gladii is a wet paper knife compared to Christ’s two-edged sword. And the thrones of the Greek gods and Roman emperors are not God’s Throne.
Unfortunately, some of the Christians at Pergamum had become overwhelmed by the obvious power of the proconsul and the imperial cult. They had listened to the eternally bad advice of Balaam (Num. 31:16, 25:1–5). They had compromised their faith and begun to participate in the pagan cults of gods and emperors. They ate “food sacrificed to idols” and practiced “sexual immorality”—the sacraments of Pergameme idolatry. Jesus Christ praises the Christians of Pergamum who had remained faithful to him, but warns those who had not: “Therefore, repent,” he says. “If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.
The sword of Christ, the word of God, protects us from the delusion of the “citadel.” We must always speak Christ’s simple truth to the world’s obvious power, calling all people to hear and heed the word of God. For in it lies their salvation—and ours.