“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.” Revelation 2:17
The ascended and glorified Lord Jesus now addresses the church in Pergamos. “And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write, ‘These things says He who has the sharp two-edged sword.’” (Revelation 2:12). “Pergamum was famous for its university with a library of about 200,000 volumes, and for manufacturing parchment resulting in a paper called pergamena” 1 from which the city derived its name. 2
“The city of Pergamos (the northernmost of the seven cities, fifty miles north of Smyrna) was full of temples and was a center for the cults of Zeus, Soter, Athena, Dionysus, and Asklepios.” 3 “Emperor worship was more intense there than in any other surrounding city.” 4
“Satan’s activity in this city not only affected the unsaved but also was profoundly detrimental to believers as well. They tolerated false teaching. Thus, Jesus tells the believers in this pagan city just what they need to hear.” 5
When addressing “the church in Pergamos” the Lord Jesus refers to Himself as “He who has the sharp two-edged sword” because His judgment of them with His Word was near (2:12; cf. Hebrews 4:12).
“It is interesting that Pergamum was a city to which Rome had given the rare power of capital punishment (ius gladii), which was symbolized by the sword. The Christians in Pergamum were thus reminded that though they lived under the rule of an almost unlimited imperium, they were citizens of another kingdom—that of him who needs no other sword than that of his mouth . . .” 6
Because these believers at Pergamos were not doing anything about the false teaching in their church, the Lord Jesus wanted them to see His Word as an instrument of judgment and to know that His judgment of them was imminent (cf. 2:16; John 12:48). 7
Next, the Lord Jesus commends the church for holding fast to their commitment to Him amid a Satanic stronghold. “I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.” (Revelation 2:13). The Lord Jesus was aware (“I know”) of the difficulties these Christians faced in a city where “Satan” was very active, initiating both idolatrous practices as well as the persecution of believers.Even though these Christians were compromising the truth by tolerating false teaching, Christ graciously commends them for holding “fast to” His “name” and for refusing to “deny” His “faith” even after one of their fellow church members, “Antipas … was killed.” 8
“Antipas is said to have been a dentist and a physician, but the Aesculapiades suspected that he was propagating Christianity secretly and they accused him of disloyalty to Caesar. He was condemned to death and was shut up in a brazen (or copper) bull, which was then heated until it was red-hot.” 9
After commending them, Jesus rebukes these believers for compromising the truth. “14 But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality. 15 Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.” (Revelation 2:14-15). This church was toleratingthe false teaching “of Balaam” who introduced idolatry and “sexual immorality” to “the children of Israel” (2:14; cf. Numbers 31:15-16; 2 Peter 2:15; Jude 11).
In the Old Testament, Balaam told Balak that he could overcome the Israelites if he would involve them in the Moabite religious feasts that included sacred prostitution (Numbers 22-25; 31:15-16). This would compromise their faithfulness to God and subject them to His painful discipline. The unbelievers in Pergamos, likewise, were evidently encouraging the Christians to join in their pagan feasts, and the sexual immorality that accompanied those feasts (2:14). The believers in the church who participated in these immoral feasts had given their approval to Balaam’s teaching. The “Nicolaitans” evidently regarded these sins as acceptable, under the pretense of Christian liberty (2:15; cf. Revelation 2:6). Interestingly “Balaam” in Hebrew can mean “swallow the people,” so the conceptual connection between the Nicolaitans (“conquer the people”) and Balaam is clear. 10 These false teachers were more interested in dominating or using people than serving them.
Chitwood makes an astute observation: “The main facet of the doctrine of Balaam which is being promulgated in Churches today is the teaching that [equal] future blessings and rewards have been set aside for every Christian solely on the basis of Christ’s finished work on Calvary and the Christian’s positional standing ‘in Christ.’ Thus, all Christians—regardless of their conduct during the present time—will receive crowns and positions of power and authority with Christ in the [millennial] kingdom. However, the teaching throughout the Word of God is to the contrary. The Israelites did not sin with immunity, and neither can Christians. Sin in the camp of Israel resulted in the Israelites being overthrown in the wilderness, short of the goal of their calling. And it will be no different for Christians.” 11
It is a big deal to God when we cause other believers to stumble, especially when we do it knowingly and for profit like Balaam (2:14-15). That is why the Lord demanded that the Christians in Pergamos repent. 12 “Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.” (Revelation 2:16). The verb “repent” (metanoeō) is a compound made up of two Greek words. The first is meta, “after,” and the second is noeō, “to perceive, understand or think.” The two together mean “after perceiving, understanding, thinking” or “to change one’s mind.” 13
These believers were to change their thinking and stop tolerating the teachings of Balaam and the Nicolaitans. If they failed to do this, Christ warns them, “I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.” They would be judged by “the sword” proceeding from the exalted Lord Jesus’ “mouth.” Balaam had died, ironically, by the Israelites’ sword (Numbers 31:8). This judgment of unrepentant Christians at Pergamos would be by the unyielding standard of God’s revealed Word—that clearly condemns such compromise. Having taken sides with the enemy, they could expect God to oppose them in His “war” against evil. 14
Christian leaders are not to tolerate compromise in their churches, whether it be doctrinal or moral. Leaders cannot control peoples’ decisions, but if wayward Christians refuse to repent, leaders are to implement church discipline to restore them back to fellowship with God and one another (cf. Matthew 18:15-17; I Corinthians 5:1-13).
What does Christ promise believers who repent and live victoriously for Him? “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.” (Revelation 2:17). This verse mentions two eternal rewards for the believer who “has an ear” and “overcomes” by rejecting the teachings of Balaam and Nicolaitans.
The first reward consists of “the hidden manna to eat,” a possible reference to the miraculous manna from heaven, that sustained the lives of the Israelites in the wilderness, of which a sample keepsake lay “hidden” in the holy of holies (Exodus 16:32-34; cf. Hebrews 9:4). “This manna will surely provide the benefits good food offers today: increased energy, enhanced ability to serve God, and enjoyment. Eating that bread will forever remind us that the Lord Jesus is the Bread of Life (see John 6:35).” 15
It may be “hidden” in the sense that it is not available to everyone, only to those believers who reject the teachings of Balaam and Nicolaitans. 16 Some suggest it represents a special kind of intimacy with the Lord Jesus when He returns to earth to set up His Kingdom. 17
The second reward is “a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.” I read an intriguing article about this white stone by Ken Yates that changed my view of this reward. 18
Yates has a friend who is a gemologist. When his friend sees the words “white stone,” “he thinks of a pure diamond. A diamond has a numerical rating from 0 to 10. The less color it has in it, the closer it has to a rating of zero. A zero is a perfect diamond with no color. It is a white diamond…
“Years ago, he wanted to give his wife a special gift. He wanted to find a diamond as close to a zero as he could find. He found one with a rating of .3. It was a special gem and one that was very expensive.
“He gave it to his wife on that special occasion. Being married to my friend for many years, she knew the special character of that gem. She knew that her husband had gone out of his way to give her this stone. She knew he wanted to give her something very special.
“I don’t think I need to tell any reader of this blog that this was a special piece of jewelry to this woman. Sure, it was beautiful. Sure, it was not like any other piece of jewelry she had. Sure, it was expensive.
“But there was something else about that gem. She knew that her husband had great joy in giving it to her. Every time she wore it, she was reminded of how he loved her. She knew that it had come from her husband who wanted to honor her.
“In other words, this gem was valuable to her because of the one who gave it to her. It was valuable to her because it showed what he thought of her. He found her worthy of this gem.” 19
Yates continues, “Don’t you think that it will be like that with those who receive this white stone at the Judgment Seat of Christ? John tells us that the stone will have a new name on it. The believers who receive it will know that the Lord thought they were worthy of it. They will know that He received great joy in giving it to them. The fact that it came from Him will make it of infinite value.” 20
Jesus said that the “new name” on this white stone will only be known by “him who receives it.” Certainly, the Lord Jesuswill know the name as well since He is the one giving (and probably inscribing) the stones. It is as if the Lord will say, “Because you refused to deny My name in time, I will honor you with a special name in eternity.” 21
Dillow observes, “The giving of a ‘new name’ was a Jewish custom of assigning a name at a point in life which characterizes the person. See Judges 6:31-32, where Gideon was renamed Jerub-Baal, which means ‘Let Baal contend with him’ because he took a stand against Baal and cut down his altars. In the early church James was called ‘camel knees’ because of the calluses on his knees from so much kneeling while he was praying. Our Lord called Simon by a new name, Peter, which means ‘rock,’ signifying his future as the rock of stability in the church. Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, was called ‘Barnabas,’ which means ‘son of encouragement.’” 22
Each believer in Jesus Christ has his own distinct life message, his own unique history of struggle and demonstration of God’s life in his or hers. The Lord Jesus is a God of the individual as well as of the church. The secrecy of the name implies a special intimacy between Christ and each overcomer. It will be a name which in some way signifies an outstanding attribute of that person’s life. This of course challenges each of us to consider the question, “What will my name be?” And more significantly, “What would I like my name to be?” 23
In summary, Jesus’ message to the church in Pergamos challenges Christians to repent of any doctrinal or moral compromise so they can faithfully serve Christ until death and receive eternal rewards involving delicious foods and precious jewelry (2:12-17). Such rewards will forever bring Jesus glory and honor!
Prayer: Almighty Lord Jesus, some of us may be tempted to give up in our Christian lives because the journey is difficult. The road can be treacherous at times. Hidden dangers lie ahead of us that can overtake us. Things like betrayal, depression, disease, failure, loneliness, loss of loved ones, persecution, or rejection. Like the Christians at Pergamos, we may be living in an area of Satanic strongholds. Temptations bombard us continually in a declining society. We may be tempted to follow the world’s substitutes consisting of lust, greed, and pride (I John 2:16). But You call us to follow You against the cultural currents of compromise and evil. You offer us something far greater than fame, money, power, or sex – all of which are temporary. You offer us rewards that last forever and will be far greater than any earthly pleasure or treasure. Lord Jesus, please give us the strength to lean into You instead of this world when we are afraid or in pain, knowing You will give us eternal rewards consisting of delicious food and a precious white stone with our own special name on it. Both rewards will be eternal reminders that You deemed us worthy of such recognition. Both rewards will grant us greater intimacy with You throughout eternity. Thank You, our Lord and our God. In Your mighty name we pray Lord Jesus. Amen.
1. John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 164.
2 Archibald Thomas Robertson, A. T. Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament, 6 Volumes (E4 Group, 2014 Kindle Edition), Kindle Locations 213293-213295.
3. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1506.
4. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 38 cites William Barclay, The Revelation of John Vol. 1 (The Daily Study Bible series. 2nd ed. Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 1964), pg. 110.
5. Vacendak, pg. 1506.
6. Constable, pg. 38 cites Alan Johnson, “Revelation.” In Hebrews-Revelation. Vol. 12 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 12 vols., (Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), pg. 440; G. B. Caird, The Revelation of St. John the Divine (Harper’s New Testament Commentaries series. New York: Harper, 1966), pg. 38.
7. Vacendak, pg. 1506.
9. Constable, pg. 38 cites Frederick A. Tatford, The Patmos Letters (By the Author, 1969; reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, n.d.), pg. 75.
10. Constable, pg. 39 cites Alan Johnson, pg. 441.
11. Ibid., pg. 40 cites Arlen L. Chitwood, Judgment Seat of Christ (Norman, Okla.: The Lamp Broadcast, Inc., 1986),pg 70; cf. Charles H. Savelle, “Canonical and Extracanonical Portraits of Balaam,” Bibliotheca Sacra 166:664 (October-December 2009), pp. 387-404.
12. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2373.
13. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 640.
14. Constable, pg. 40.
15. Robert N. Wilkin, The Road to Reward: A Biblical Theology of Eternal Rewards Second Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 78.
16. Evans, pg. 2373.
17. Joseph Dillow, Final Destiny: The Future Reign of The Servant Kings: Fourth Revised Edition (Grace Theology Press, 2018 Kindle Edition), pp. 959-960; John f. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Chicago: Moody Press, 1966); G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999), pg. 252.
18. Ken Yates’ June 2, 2020, blog entitled, “Looking at the White Stone from a Different Angle (Revelation 2:17)” at www.faithalone.org.
21. Vacendak, pg. 1507.
22. Dillow, pg. 969.
23. Adapted from Ibid.