Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
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May 2014  •  Volume XV, Issue 1

Pergamos: A Church Dwelling Where Satan’s Throne Is (1)

There is especially one feature of the church at Pergamos (Rev. 2:12-17) that stands out: it dwelt in a city where Satan had his throne. This is highlighted in three different ways. One, it is mentioned first: “I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s seat is” (13). Two, it is mentioned twice, both at the start of verse 13 (as already quoted) and at the end of that verse: “Antipas ... was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth.” Three, these statements are unique: unique in the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3 and unique in the rest of the Bible.

The key to understanding this church is its physical geography, in connection with demonic geography (so to speak). This ecclesiastical and Satanic geography is significant, for the devil’s dwelling in the same city wherein this church dwelt affected the congregation spiritually.

So what does Revelation 2:13 say about Satan’s presence in Pergamos? First, the devil dwelt there. Being a spirit, the devil does not need a house or a kitchen or a bed or such like. But he is said to dwell in Pergamos in that, when he was not on his travels (Job 1:7; 2:2; I Pet. 5:8), he lived and abode there. He was present there personally more than anywhere else. What a place!

Second, not only did the devil dwell there but he even had his throne there. Literally, “Satan’s seat” (Rev. 2:13) is Satan’s “throne,” bespeaking his government, rule and reign. In Pergamos, the devil exercised greater sway, influence and power than in other places. The devil is “the god of this world” (II Cor. 4:4) in that most of its citizens live and die in unbelief and sin, thus serving and following Satan. But in Pergamos, he was even more powerful, as the king ruling from his invisible throne.

You can imagine what things some people might claim about such remarks today: “It is not politically correct to say that! That might hurt Pergamos’ economy by putting people off the city! What was John thinking of in saying a thing like that? He is supposed to be an apostle! Where is the love!” But these are the words of Scripture: “I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s seat is ... where Satan dwelleth” (Rev. 2:13). These are the words of Jesus Christ (12) and the Holy Spirit (17).

Third, the devil who dwelt and had his throne in Pergamos is twice called “Satan” (or opposer) in Revelation 2:13. This is the idea: That malignant spirit who is the head of all the demons is especially present and powerful in Pergamos, to oppose the kingdom and cause of Jesus Christ there more fiercely than the other six churches in Revelation 2-3 and more than is ordinary in the history of the Christian church.

Some politically-correct moderns might object, “But that is demonizing Pergamos! Might it not stir up violence against people and places in the city?” No! Christians are to do good and pray for their enemies (Matt. 5:44), not follow Satan by doing evil to them or vandalizing their property. By stating that Satan dwells and reigns from Pergamos, Jesus Christ is explaining the origin of the evils that church faces. His Word, “the sharp sword with two edges” (Rev. 2:12) coming “out of his mouth” (1:16), is very pointed against the devil and sin, and calls all men to repentance!

So what was it about Pergamos that indicates that Satan had his dwelling and throne there or that he was especially present and powerful there?

Pergamos served many idols, such as Zeus, Dionysius, Athene and others. It had many temples and altars. But this did not mark it out as Satan’s throne because all the pagan cities in the Roman empire at that time worshipped idols, including the other cities mentioned in Revelation 2-3.

It was the prominence of its worship of Aesculapius or Asclepius as saviour, healer and preserver that made Pergamos distinctive in this regard. Asclepius was a god of healing and health. He had an impressive temple, the ruins of which can be visited in Pergamos today. People used to sleep in that temple with the idea that Asclepius would give them a dream which would be interpreted by his priest telling them how to be healed. The spring beside the temple was said to possess healing powers. Devotees would offer sacrifices or leave gifts for healing. Small terracotta body parts to represent the injured area or limb have been found near Asclepius’ temple in Pergamos. Small wonder that Pergamos has been called the Lourdes of the ancient world.

One animal is especially associated with Asclepius: the snake. Asclepius’ symbol is a serpent-entwined staff (still used in the medical world today). At the dedication of temples to Asclepius, snakes would be encouraged to enter the building. Doubtless, such a ceremony took place in Pergamos too. In honour of Asclepius, a particular type of non-venomous snake was often used in healing rituals. These were called “Asclepian snakes.” They slithered around freely on the floor in dormitories where the sick and injured slept.

What is the Christian analysis of all this? This is devil worship through a false god, Asclepius, symbolized by a snake. In Revelation 12:9, “the great dragon” or “the Devil” or “Satan, which deceiveth the whole world” is also called “that old serpent.” This is a reference to the devil’s use of a snake in Genesis 3 to tempt Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. Whereas death and disease came through the devil using a snake, the worshippers of Asclepius ascribed healing and preservation to the serpent. How perverse! How demonic, how Satanic!   Rev. Stewart

The Old Covenant Broken and the New One Made

A brother in England writes, “According to Reformed teaching, as I understand it, the New Covenant is ‘new’ in the sense that it is the final stage in God’s unfolding of His covenant of grace and marks the end of the types and shadows. Hebrews 8:13 (‘In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away’) seems to suggest it is more than that: a completely different covenant. Is that true?”

The brother cites a second text, “I will no more have mercy upon the house of Israel; but I will utterly take them away” (Hos. 1:6), asking, “What is that saying to us about God’s faithfulness to His covenant promise? Did God break His covenant with the ten tribes?”

I am taking these two interesting and important questions together because they are related to each other and the answers involve the same doctrinal truth. Furthermore, they are both related to a subject I discussed in the last News.

While I do not like to rest the interpretation of Hebrews 8:13 merely on Greek word usage, for most our readers cannot check up on whether I am right, those who are able to deal with the Greek may take note of the fact that New Testament Greek has two words for “new” and two words for “old.” According to Thayer’s A Greek – English Lexicon of the New Testament, one of these Greek words for “new” (neos) means new in the sense of “time, young, recent.” The other word for “new” (kainos) means new “primarily in reference to quality, the fresh, the unworn.” Kainos is used in Hebrews 8:13.

The same distinction is made in the Greek by the use of two words for “old.” The first word, archaios, means old in the temporal sense and describes something as being ancient or from long ago. The other word for old, palaios, means “no longer new, worn out by use, the worse for wear.” It is the word used in Hebrews 8:13.

The distinction is fitting here. Thayer calls attention to the fact that Scripture makes the same distinction as Hebrews 8:13 when it speaks of the old and new man (e.g., Eph. 4:22, 24). Surely, when God makes us a new man, while the old man is totally depraved, the new man is not an entirely new person, but the same person renewed, transformed spiritually, freed from sin. He is new in the sense that, while remaining the same person, he is changed from bearing the image of Satan to bearing the image of God (Col. 3:10).

This is a striking way to explain Hebrews 8:13. The old covenant is dilapidated, worn out in all its efforts to save anyone, of no value or use anymore. Its character was always this: Keep the law and live! Hebrews 8:9 explains the old covenant and its uselessness: “Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by them hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord.” That covenant they could not keep, for it was based on the keeping of the law, and Israel could not obey it.

The covenant was the same essentially. It was still God’s promise: “I will be your God and ye shall be My people.” It was a covenant that promised life: “Do this and thou shalt live.” It even defined the heart of the relation between God and His people: one who lived in covenant fellowship with God had to be as God. He had to be holy, that is, he had to keep the law. But he couldn’t!

Then Christ came. He lived in eternal covenant fellowship with God within the Holy Trinity, but also as the Son in our flesh. “I and my Father are one,” He was bold to say (John 10:30). He kept the law. He kept the law perfectly—even when He was the great Abandoned One on Calvary’s cross. When all He knew was wrath—when He did not even understand the reason for the terrors of being abandoned by God—when He alone could say, “The lovingkindness of my God / Is more than life to me”—He who suffered such anguish because He took upon Himself our sins and our hell—He did what we could never do. And He did it for us! The covenant is the same, but Christ performed that great work that we could never, into all eternity, do!

He paid for our sins and guilt, and took them away forever, earning for us righteousness. He fulfilled the law in that awful moment when from His broken heart the great question of the ages shook heaven to its foundations: “Why? O God, Why?” But even then it was still “My God, My God.” It was as if hell itself could not contain those words, but that they reverberated to the throne of God: “I do not understand. It is so dark here. He whom I love is gone from Me. I know not where He is. But whether I know or not; whether I understand or whether the wrath is almost too great to bear—My God, I love Thee still and will always love Thee, though Thou hast abandoned Me. I love Thee with My heart, My mind, My soul, My strength. I love Thee, though I perish.”

If we would peer into the abyss of hell, how could we ever understand that amazing wonder of Calvary. Luther, awe-struck by it, marvelled, “God abandoned by God!” For me!

And so He took away our sin and guilt. But our Saviour also earned for us covenant life with God. A book on the passion of Christ put it this way: “When our Lord started the long way up, out of hell, towards his Father, when ‘It was finished;’ he trembling and tentatively reached out his hand towards God’s throne and beseechingly laid it at the foot of God: ‘Am I accepted by him whom my soul loves?’ And God, as it were, reached down to his beloved Son in whom he was well pleased and lifted him up to his own right hand. ‘Father (Yes, this time, once again, ‘Father’), into thy hands I commit my spirit.’ And heaven resounded with the voice thrice heard on earth: ‘This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased!’”

The Son of God was taken into God’s covenant fellowship once again. He had kept the law and thus fulfilled all the old covenant that we could not keep. And He had done it for us.

The true covenant—the old covenant—but wondrously, gloriously new. That is Hebrews 8:13. Read it and sing your hallelujahs!

I didn’t get to the second question after all. Next time, the Lord willing. Prof. Hanko

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