As with most of the seven churches, we don’t have information about the origin of the church in Pergamum. Perhaps it commenced through evangelism connected to Paul’s time in Ephesus when the inhabitants of Asia heard about the word of God (Acts 19:10).
We can see from this brief letter that the church in Pergamum had known persecution in the recent past and had remained loyal to Jesus despite losing at least one of their members during that persecution. Perhaps if Jesus had been describing their situation some time before, they could have been like the church in Smyrna and not received a rebuke from Jesus. But Jesus does not only focus on the past – he wants them to deal with what they are now, with how they are responding to the ongoing threat of opposition from within their city.
Their current situation explains why Jesus describes himself as the One who has the sharp two-edged sword. As we can see from the vision in Revelation 1:16, this sword is not in the hand of Jesus; rather, it is described as coming from his mouth, which means that the sword is describing the possibility of verbal judgement against those who were engaged in wrong practices and teaching.
We know that the imagery of the sword is used in the Bible to symbolise the authority of the state to impose capital punishment (Rom. 13:4). Apparently, Rome had given to the city of Pergamum the power to impose capital punishment – Pergamum was where the Romans located the administrative centre of the province for a time. It is not difficult for us to see the connection. The Christians in Pergamum lived under the reality that the city authorities could deal with them harshly if they chose to do so. Yet the believers had to realise that they were also under another authority, that of Jesus, and he has the authority and ability to deal with what was wrong in the church.
This is a reminder that Jesus is the One who possesses total power. Earthly powers, including those who oppose his church, will come and go, but the reign of Jesus remains total through it all. Here the question however is, will he use his power for or against the church in Pergamum? Or at least, for or against some of them? We will find out in later readings.