Roman Emperor Augustus
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14. Roman Emperor Augustus
(Revelation 2.12-16)

"To the angel of the church in Pergamum write: 'These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. I know where you live — where Satan has his throne.'"Yet you remain true to my name. 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. Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to 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. Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth." (Revelation 2.12-16)

Satan's Throne Pergamum

Roman Emperor AugustusEmperor Augustus (BC 63-14 AD) was the first emperor of Rome. He replaced the Roman republic with a monarchy and during his long reign brought about stability and peace. He was born in Rome as Gaius Octavius. In BC 43, his great uncle Julius Caesar is assassinated and Augustus is named as his heir. He avenges Caesar's death by defeating Antony and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium in BC 31. Early Roman emperors like Emperor Augustus refuse to be deified or to be called gods by their people. Later, however, other Emperors realize that it could be politically useful. Soon, emperors started believing they are gods and expect to be treated as such by the people.

Caesar is Lord

Nero's BustTo reinforce this idea, citizens are required to burn a pinch of incense to the bust of the emperor in a public square and required to say, "Caesar is Lord" as a test of loyalty. This ceremony becomes a unifying principle in the Roman Empire, but it is also a simple and easy way to separate those who are disloyal to the Emperor and to pinpoint Christians. Christians believe that only "Jesus is Lord" and therefore they refuse to burn incense to an idol even an image of the emperor. The earliest statement of faith or creed that we know of is "Jesus is Lord" and this may be a counter to the Emperor's oath of allegiance of "Caesar is Lord." This is the backdrop at the time of writing the Book of Revelation.

Pergamum City

PergamumThe Emperor's bust is set up in the town square of Pergamum also written as "Pergamon" and therefore becomes the place of condemnation for Christians, where "Satan has his throne." The "Pergamum Satan's Throne" however is the official center of emperor worship in Asia, with temples to Roman Emperors Augustus (BC 63-14 AD) and Trajan (53-117 AD). Rome is in one sense Satan's capital and "Pergamum" is therefore seen by the Christian church as Satan's throne. The Satan Zeus Temple is dedicated to the Roman god Zeus in Pergamum City and looks like a huge throne on an eight hundred foot high hilltop. The Zeus temple in Pergamum City is on an impressive forty-foot high projecting ledge of rock. Zeus, the pagan sky and thunder god was worshipped there in ancient Greek religion as well as by the emperor Caesar Augustus (BC 63-14 AD). Smoking constantly with the sacrifice of animals, it was both hated and feared by the Christian community. An ancient Jewish proverb says, "Where the Law of God is not taught, there Satan dwells." "Pergamum" was known as the pagan worship center or the place "where Satan has his throne." This is probably a reference to the temple dedicated to Zeus in "Pergamum."

White Marble Altar

Throne of Zeus in Pergamum"Where Satan has his throne." may also be a reference to the white marble altar in "Pergamum City" dedicated by Eumenes II in BC 197-159. This very impressive marble Altar was dismantled and moved by the German engineer Carl Humann to the Pergamum Museum in Berlin where it may be seen today. The museum has several original full-sized monumental buildings transported from present-day Turkey and meticulously reconstructed stone by stone in Germany. The museum building was constructed and reconstructed between 1910 and 1930 and is due to have another major renovation for completion in 2019. It is a very impressive temple and in its day would have been very striking overlooking the city.

Faithful Antipas

Antipas of PergamumTo Pergamum, the Revelation angel wrote, "Antipas my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city - where Satan lives." Tradition has it that Saint Antipas was ordained as Bishop of Pergamum during the reign of Emperor Nero and martyred in c92 AD by being roasted to death over a fire in a copper bull shaped altar because he cast out demons worshiped by the local people. Thereafter, there is a tradition of oil seeping from the bones of St Antipas called "the manna of the saints." The oil is reputably successfully used by the Early Church for relieving the pain of those suffering from painful ailments such as toothache!

Pergamum Asclepion Parchment

Asclepion the Savior Asclepion was a medical and healing center and temple for the worship of pagan gods. Pergamum was connected to the worship of "Asclepion." "An Asclepion" was literally "a healing temple." Asclepion was the pagan god of healing and became Pergamum's primary object of worship. The so-called serpent god was called Asclepion the Savior and interestingly this symbol of the serpent wound around a staff still appears as the insignia of the medical profession today. It may also have some connections to the story of Moses raising a bronze snake on a pole which when looked upon by the sick people were healed from snake bites. Numbers 21.8-9 recounted the story, "The Lord said to Moses, 'Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.' So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived."

A Huge Library

The city of Pergamum was built on a hill 1,000 feet above the surrounding countryside, creating a natural fortress. It was a sophisticated center of Greek culture and education, with a reputed two hundred thousand volume library of parchment scrolls. The Pergamum Asclepion parchment was made from animal skins. The Pergamum parchment was first invented in the city of Pergamum and was special because it was made from the skins of animals, smoothed and polished and sewn together into scrolls. Pergamum was also the center of four cults, and it rivaled Ephesus in its worship of idols. People came there from all over the Roman world to seek healing through prayer and to worship of its pagan god Asclepion.✞

Revelation Faith Sword

Serpent on a StickThe Lord would soon come to fight against the City of Pergamum and the Nicolaitans with the 'sword of my mouth' or the 'Revelation faith sword' likened to a Roman short sword. The Lord would soon come to fight against the City of Pergamum and the Nicolaitans with the 'sword of my mouth' or the 'Revelation faith sword' likened to a Roman short sword. The letter to Pergamum in the Book of Revelation praised the members of the church for persevering in their faith in Christ even in this pagan setting with all its persecution and martyrdom. A "pagan" in those days described anyone who was not a Christian and worshipped any other god or none. But this letter also admonished them about members who advocated immorality and others who followed the teaching of the Nicolaitans. According to a group of Church Fathers including Irenaeus (130-202 AD), Hippolytus (170-235 AD), Epiphanes (c310-403 AD) and Theodoret(393-458 AD), the Nicolaitans taught the heretical beliefs of "Deacon Nicolas," whose followers were strongly condemned. Deacon Nicholas' beliefs according to Clement of Alexandria (150-215 AD) led to licentiousness and sexual immorality. This sect was prominent in the cities of Ephesus and Pergamum. Only when they repented would they be received back into the church and be given the hidden manna and Christ's stone with his name on it.

Sword of My Mouth

The "sword of my mouth," was possibly a reference to the "Roman short sword", the "gladius" or "Hispanic sword" used effectively by Roman soldiers in close combat in battle. A fully-equipped Roman Legion soldier was armed with a shield (scutum), one or two javelins (pila), a sword (gladius), often a dagger (pugio), and, perhaps in the later empire period, darts (plumbatae). Conventionally, soldiers threw javelins to disable the enemy's shields and disrupt enemy formations before engaging in close combat, for which they drew the gladius. A soldier generally led with the shield and thrust with the sword. All gladius swords appear to have been suitable for cutting and chopping as well as thrusting. The sword of faith was named after this sharp double-edged Roman sword. The "gladius" was also the symbol of the Roman proconsul's power. He controlled the justice system and had the life and death of every "accused" person in his hands. Our Lord comes to fight evil. He is armed for victory!

"Roman Emperor Augustus"
by Ron Meacock © 2019

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