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 Balaam's teaching, 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 brought stability and peace during his long reign. He was born in Rome as Gaius Octavius. In BC 43, the assassination of his great uncle Julius Caesar took place, and Augustus named as his heir. He avenged Caesar's death by defeating Antony and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium in BC 31. Early Roman emperors like Emperor Augustus refused to be worshiped or to be called gods by their people. Later, however, other Emperors realized that it could be politically useful. Soon, emperors started believing they were gods and expected to be treated as such by their people.

Caesar is Lord

Nero's BustCitizens had to burn a pinch of incense to the emperor's bust in a public square and needed to say, "Caesar is Lord" as a test of loyalty, which became a unifying principle in the Roman Empire. It was also a simple and easy way to separate those who are disloyal to the Emperor and to pinpoint Christians. Christians believed that only "Jesus is Lord;" therefore, they refused 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." It became a counter to the Emperor's oath of allegiance of "Caesar is Lord." This oath of loyalty is the backdrop at the time of writing the Book of Revelation.

Pergamum City

PergamumPergamum, also written as "Pergamon," set up the Emperor's bust in the town square and became the place of condemnation for Christians, where "Satan has his throne." The "Pergamum Satan's Throne," however, was the official center of emperor worship in Asia, with temples to Roman Emperors Augustus (BC 63-14 AD) and Trajan (53-117 AD). In one sense, Rome was Satan's capital, and "Pergamum" was 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 giant throne on an eight hundred foot high hilltop. The Zeus temple in Pergamum City was on an impressive forty-foot high projecting ledge of rock. Zeus, the pagan sky and thunder god, was worshipped in ancient Greek religion and by the emperor Caesar Augustus (BC 63-14 AD). Smoking always with the sacrifice of animals. It was both hated and feared by the Christian community. An ancient Jewish proverb said, "Where you do not teach the Law of God, there Satan dwells." "Pergamum" was known as the pagan worship center or the place "where Satan has his throne," which was 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 imposing marble Altar was dismantled and moved by the German engineer Carl Humann to the Pergamum Museum in Berlin, where it is 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 another significant renovation recently. It is an imposing temple and, in its day, would have been very striking overlooking the city. To Pergamum, the Revelation angel writes, "Antipas, my faithful witness, died in your city where Satan lives." Tradition has it that Saint Antipas was ordained as the 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. A tradition developed 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 SaviorAsclepion is a medical and healing center and temple for the worship of pagan gods. Pergamum connects to the religion of "Asclepion." "An Asclepion" is literally "a healing temple." Asclepion is the pagan god of healing and becomes Pergamum's primary object of worship. The so-called serpent god is called Asclepion, the Savior.

Bronze Snake

Interestingly, this symbol of the serpent wound around a staff still appears as the medical profession's emblem today. It may also have some connections to Moses's story of raising a bronze snake on a pole when looked upon by sick people with snake bites, are healed. Numbers 21.8-9 recounts 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 makes a bronze snake and places it up on a pole. Then when a snake bites anyone, if they look at the bronze snake, they will live." The city of Pergamum is built on a hill 1,000 feet above the surrounding countryside, creating a natural fortress. It is a sophisticated center of Greek culture and education, with a reputed two hundred thousand volume library of parchment scrolls. Animal skins were the pages in Pergamum Asclepion parchment. It was unique because the writing was on animal skins, smoothed, polished, and sewn together into scrolls. Pergamum was also the center of four cults, and it rivaled Ephesus in its worship of idols. People from all over the Roman world sought healing through prayer and 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 Pergamum letter in the Book of Revelation praises church members for persevering in their faith even in this pagan setting despite persecution and martyrdom. In those days, a "pagan" describes anyone who is not a Christian and worships any other god or none. But this letter also admonishes them about members who advocate immorality and others who follow 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 teach the heretical beliefs of "Deacon Nicolas." Deacon Nicholas' beliefs, according to Clement of Alexandria (150-215 AD), led to licentiousness and sexual immorality. This sect is prominent in the cities of Ephesus and Pergamum. Only when they repent would they be received back into the church and be given Christ's stone with his name on it.

Gladius

The "sword of my mouth" is possibly a reference to the "Roman short sword," the "gladius" or "Hispanic sword" used effectively by Roman soldiers in close combat in battle. The armaments of a fully-equipped Roman Legion soldier are 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 draw 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. This sharp double-edged Roman sword names the sword of faith. The "gladius" is also the symbol of the Roman proconsul's power. He controls the justice system and has the life and death of every "accused" person in his hands. Our Lord comes to fight evil and is armed for victory!

"Roman Emperor Augustus"
by Ron Meacock © 2020

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