As with his messages to the other churches, Jesus here informs the believers living in Pergamum that he knows their circumstances. They live in a location where Satan has a powerful stronghold – the city was a centre of pagan worship and it also was known as a city devoted to emperor worship. With regard to the latter practice, Pergamum was one of the first cities in the empire to build a temple for emperor worship (in AD 29). So the Christians were living in a city where paganism and politics went hand-in-hand.
The city was also known for its devotion to Aesculapius, a religious cult that had a serpent as its symbol. This cult was connected to healing, but Christians there would have linked the symbol with the account of the serpent (the devil) in the Garden of Eden (and references are made later in Revelation to this dual identity).
In the main, the church in Pergamum had remained loyal to Jesus. They had come through a time of persecution which had taken the lives of one of their members. Probably the opposition would have targeted a leader in the church with the aim of causing others to compromise their faith in Jesus. Despite the ordeal, most had remained true.
The description that is given of Antipas as a faithful witness indicates that it was a public witness, that he had the opportunity to deny Jesus, but did not do so. Moreover, Jesus gives to Antipas the same title as was used of Jesus in Revelation 1:5. The Saviour was faithful unto death when he appeared before Pilate and here we have a reminder of the ability of Jesus to sympathise with his suffering people and of the appreciation of Jesus for those who express their love for him to such an extent. We can assume that the Saviour would have shown the same loving interest in the martyrdom of Antipas as he showed towards Stephen when he was martyred.
The obvious application that comes to us from this commendation by Jesus is the necessity that we show loyalty to him which flows out of love for him. There are many reasons why we should love him, especially what he did for us on the cross and also what he is doing for us now in heaven. The way to be loyal is not by merely gritting our teeth and continuing stoically; instead, there must be ongoing love in our hearts for him and a willingness to stand up for his cause.