WISDOM FOR MARRIAGE FROM THE BOOK OF REVELATION – Part 4: Lessons from the Letter to the Pergamum Church

It’s easy to find advice on living a good life and having a great marriage. But are we listening to the right advice? Does the world’s influence on us have a greater impact on how we live than we realize?

Wisdom for marriage is found throughout the Bible–from the first book to the last. This Couple’s Bible Study series looks at the last book–Revelation–and gathers wisdom from the letters to the seven churches in Asia. Each letter is full of truths that will help us strengthen our marriage as we grow closer to each other and to the Lord.

As we saw with Jesus’ letters to the churches at Ephesus and Smyrna, God’s Word has much to teach us about how to be faithful followers and live as godly husbands and wives. We continue our study this week with a look at His letter to the church at Pergamum:

Revelation 2-12-17 - The Pergamum Church

Jesus Gives Us His Word

We don’t typically think of Jesus with a “sharp, double-edged sword” (Revelation 2:12). But Jesus and God the Father are One. They are the authors of all Scripture. They led every book’s author to write what needed to be written in the Bible. We read in 2 Timothy 3:16: All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”

And Hebrews 4:12 gives us a description of Scripture: For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

So this picture of Jesus holding a double-edged sword is right in step with all of Scripture. It is the Word of God.

Jesus is bringing His Word to the church at Pergamum and to us. What He tells us here allows us to become right with Him and with each other. It allows us to know where we are following His Word and where we are not, so we can repent. This is the only way we can have the blessed marriage He intends for us.

Jesus Knows and Understands All About Us

Having introduced Himself, we now know we can trust and must follow what Jesus is about to say. As He has with the previous churches, He assures the church at Pergamum–and us–that He knows about and understands their—our–situation. He says “I know where you live” (Revelation 2:13).

It is very reassuring to know that Jesus knows all about our lives, our marriages, and all of their ups and downs. We can’t hide them from Him. He knows everything. So instead of trying to run and hide from Him, we need to go to Him with whatever we deal with. It is His desire to help us and He will when we ask Him.

Jesus tells the Christians at Pergamum that He knows that they live where Satan has his throne” (Revelation 2:13). This probably refers to a number of things that were true of Pergamum. These were all things that Satan would use to try to cause problems for the believers and to thwart the spread of the Gospel there.

First, there was a glorious temple to the false god Zeus Soter in Pergumum. And there were many other temples to other false gods. Plus, the city was the center for a group who claimed to bring healing through the use of occult practices. Finally, it was a city known as the center of the region for emperor worship.

Being Faithful No Matter What

The Christians in Pergamum had stood their ground against all of this. Jesus said they had remained “true to my name” (v. 13). He told them, “You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives” (Revelation 2:13).

Now, we do not know who Antipas was. He is mentioned only here in Scripture and is not discussed in any early Church writings. But he obviously was killed because of his faith in Jesus.

We, too, learn from this that we must stand for Christ and His truth–no matter what is going on in our world around us.

And in the same way, we must help each other as partners in marriage to face whatever may come our way by remaining faithful to Christ and His teaching.

Hebrews 4:12

Things to Watch Out For

Even though the Pergamum Christians were faithful to Him in many ways, Jesus did have some areas to teach them about. These are good instructions for us and our marriages as well.

First is a concern that some in the church were following “the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality” (Revelation 2:14).

We read about Balaam and Balak in Numbers 22-24. In these chapters, Balak, king of Moab, is afraid of the large group of Israelites who are traveling through his country under Moses’ leadership. Balak seeks to have his prophet, Balaam, place a curse on the Israelites. But God stops Balaam from doing this by speaking to him through a donkey.

The teachings of Balaam referred to in Revelation 2:14, however, can be found in Numbers 25. There, after obeying God’s warning not to place a curse on the Israelites, Balaam uses Moabite women to entice the Jewish men to sin against God. These women seduce the men to commit adultery and to eat meat offered to idols. This led to God becoming angry, and the subsequent  death of a number of Israelite men.

Balaam is not mentioned in the Numbers 25 incident. But we know Balaam was the instigator of this sin of adultery by the Israelite men against their wives and against God. For in Numbers 31, Moses has Balaam and the others involved in this incident put to death (see vv. 14-17).

God takes faithfulness to His Word seriously. This includes faithfulness to our spouses. A teaching that includes the watering down of any part of God’s Word, such as His instructions on marriage, must be rejected.

Thus the church at Pergamum must reject “the teaching of Balaam” (Revelation 2:14).

They also must reject “the teaching of the Nicolaitans” (Revelation 2:15). We discussed their teaching when we did our study of Jesus’ words to the church at Ephesus. Their teaching also allowed sexual sin, including infidelity in marriage. The church at Pergamum is told to stand strong against the unbiblical teachings of the Balaamites and the Nicolaitans. And so must we.

A very clear teaching about sexual relationships is found in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8:

“It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.”

False teachings like those of the Balaamites and the Nicolaitans have been used by Satan since the beginning of time. They certainly are prevalent in our world today. We must fend off these sinful ways by knowing and remaining true to God’s Word in every part of our lives, including marriage.

Deal with Sin Immediately or Face the Consequences

If there is even a hint of sexual sin in our lives we must deal with it immediately. As Jesus taught in Matthew 5:27-28: “‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’”    

We must do what Jesus commands the Pergamum Christians in Revelation 2:16: “‘Repent therefore!’” If we don’t, God will take it very seriously. He says in the rest of verse 16: “‘Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.’”

When we refuse to turn away from sin, God will use His Word to condemn us and bring the consequences of our sin upon us.

Remain Faithful to God’s Word and Receive His Promises

But if we are faithful to Christ and His Word, His promises are beautiful. He tells the Christians at Pergamum that He will give them “some of the hidden manna” (Revelation 2:17). Manna in Scripture refers to God’s provision. It extends back to Exodus 16 when God provided the Israelites with what they needed to survive during their wilderness trek.

Exodus 16:31-32 says: The people of Israel called the bread manna. It was white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey. 32 Moses said, ‘This is what the Lord has commanded: “Take an omer of manna and keep it for the generations to come, so they can see the bread I gave you to eat in the wilderness when I brought you out of Egypt.”’”

In the New Testament, the people asked Jesus in John 6:30-31: “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

Jesus answered them in John 6:32-33: “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

Jesus then explained what He meant by this in John 6:35: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

John 6-35

To have the lives and the marriages He desires for us, we must begin by turning control of our lives over to Him. (If you want to know more about how to do this, please read Meet Jesus.)

Jesus also promises the church at Pergamum (and us) “a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.” White in Scripture refers to cleanness and holiness. We see this in Isaiah 1:18: “‘Come now, let us settle the matter,’ says the Lord. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.’”     

The meaning of the “stone with a new name written on it” and “known only to the one who receives it” can be found later in Revelation. In Revelation 19:12, we read a description of the returning Jesus: His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself.”

This is a name only Jesus knows. Many names for Jesus we can know are found in Revelation 19. These include “Faithful and True” (Revelation 2:11) and “Word of God” (Revelation 2:13). But the name that only Jesus knows reminds us that He is God. We as humans can never know everything there is to know about Him.

As Job said in Job 36:26: How great is God—beyond our understanding! The number of his years is past finding out.”

And the “the Teacher” writes in Ecclesiastes 8:16-17: “When I applied my mind to know wisdom and to observe the labor that is done on earth—people getting no sleep day or night— 17 then I saw all that God has done. No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all their efforts to search it out, no one can discover its meaning. Even if the wise claim they know, they cannot really comprehend it.”

This great and awesome God wants us to know Him, in spite of our sinfulness and the pain we cause Him. He wants us to know how to have a life and marriage full of joy.

Now this is a God “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). This is the life and marriage we can have as we give our lives to Him and then faithfully learn to live out His Word.

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♦   Read this week’s teaching together. Discuss what God has taught you through it – individually and together. Discuss how you can apply it to your lives and marriage.

♦   One of the clear teachings of this section of Scripture is that we must be faithful to God’s Word no matter what may be the ideas of the culture around us. God brings us together in marriage to help each other do this. Are you studying God’s Word together? Are you encouraging each other to live it out? (Check out our Couple Connect resource for one way to help you do this.)

Commit to each other and to God that you will faithfully do this. Ask His help in doing so. He will help you because you are following His Word. James 1:21-22: “Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. 22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”

♦   Often we have good intentions, but do not follow through on our commitments. As you meet together this week and every week, plan a time to meet together in the coming week when you can study God’s Word and pray together. Make this a priority. If an emergency arises that causes you to miss your time together, set a new time.

Satan does not want you to have this time together. He will seek to distract you. God does want you to have this time together, and He will help you. Ask Him.

Remember James 4:2b-3: “You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” Spending time together with God is certainly not a “wrong motive.”

♦  Close your time in prayer together. Include asking God to help you with the commitments you have made.

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Next week we will look at what Jesus has to say to the church at Thyatira, and how it speaks to our marriages.

Until then, may God bless you in all His wonderful ways,

Part 1: Can This Book Really Teach Us About Marriage?
Part 2: Lessons from the Letter to the Ephesus Church
Part 3: Lessons from the Letter to the Smyrna Church
Part 5: Lessons from the Letter to the Thyatira Church
Part 6: Lessons from the Letter to the Sardis Church
Part 7: Lessons from the Letter to the Philadelphia Church
Part 8: Lessons from the Letter to the Laodicea Church
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Header photo by SW Austin Dixon via Snapwire (CC0 1.0), cropped/text added.
Bible photo by Unsplash via pixabay (CC0), cropped/text added.

 Wisdom for marriage can be found from many sources. But listening to the RIGHT advice is essential to having a great marriage and living as godly husbands and wives. Jesus' words to the church at Pergamum give us this right wisdom. Join us for a look at the Book of Revelation and what we can learn about marriage from its wisdom. | Simply One in Marriage.


About David Penley

A devoted husband and father, former pastor and seminary professor, who longs to grow closer to the likeness of Christ each day and share God's love and truth with everyone.