As we've previously seen, each of the seven churches of Revelation corresponds to a period of church history. The Pergamum stage is that period of time between the accession of Constantine the Great in A.D. 324 to the sixth century, when the era of the popes began. During that period of time, the great councils of the church — Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus, Chalcedon, and others — determined and canonized the true doctrine of the person of Jesus Christ — who He was and how He combined in Himself the full nature of God and of man.
But this was also the time of the first "marriage" between church and state, when Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. In fact, the name Pergamum means "marriage" and comes from the same root word from which we get such words as monogamy and bigamy.
Despite the seemingly desirable goal of fostering the rise of Christianity by making it the state religion, Constantine was not an orthodox Christian. In fact, he adopted many pagan practices and brought them into the church where they became accepted. By this time in its history the church was enjoying considerable popularity. It had come to be viewed not so much as a family of faith, but as a formal, institutional, worldly kingdom, much like any other kingdom. As the church's political influence grew throughout the Pergamum period of history, its spiritual influence waned.
At the close of His letter to the church at Pergamum, the Lord gives a special promise to the believers of that far-off place and time — but also to believers of our own time.
2:17 "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. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it."
This promise is addressed to all those who heed the warnings of this letter, who are vigilant and faithful in the areas of sexual immorality, spiritual superiority, and spiritual pride. If you and I stand fast against the lure of corruption and the lust for power over others, Jesus promises that we will be given several things — secret things with a special significance.
First, He says He will give us "hidden manna." Second, He will give us a white stone. Third, upon that stone will be written a new name, known only to ourselves. Here is a beautiful symbolic picture of special intimacy with God.
Manna was the food from heaven with which Moses fed the people of Israel in the wilderness. Jesus Himself is the food from heaven on which you and I may feed. In John 6, Jesus says, "I am the bread that came down from heaven." He is the "hidden manna." He is the food for the inner spirit — a food that others do not know about.
In John 4, the Lord sent His disciples into the city of Sychar to get food. When they came back and found He had been ministering to the woman at the well, He said, "I have food to eat that you know nothing about." Jesus fed upon the inner strength He found in His intimate relationship with God the Father. We find that same inner nourishing and strength when we experience true intimacy with God as we resist the lure of moral impurity and spiritual conceit.
Jesus also promises a white stone with our new name — a secret name — written upon it. The symbol of the white stone is significant because the Romans of John's time used it as a mark of special favor. The secret name written upon the white stone was, of course, another symbol of intimacy, of a special, intimate relationship with God.
A number of years ago, the well-known Christian author Elisabeth Elliot came to speak at Peninsula Bible Church, where I served as pastor. I had read several of her books, including one she wrote about her life with missionary Jim Elliot, who was martyred in Ecuador. In that book, she referred to herself as Betty a number of times, so while she was visiting at PBC, I called her Betty. After a while, she took me aside and said, "Could I ask a favor? Would you please call me Elisabeth? You see, Betty was Jim's private name for me."
I immediately understood. A private name is a special mark of intimacy. The name Betty was a mark of the special relationship Elisabeth Elliot enjoyed with her late husband. She cherished that name and very properly wanted to preserve its special value. From that moment on, I called her Elisabeth.
If we know the Lord Jesus and if we keep our hearts pure from the corrupting influences of the world around us, He has promised to give us a new name, a secret name, a special mark of intimacy with Him. That name signifies not merely a change in what we are called, but a change in what we have become: We are new creatures, with a new nature, heirs to a new and exciting destination in eternity — a rich, warm, intimate relationship with Jesus Christ that goes on and on forever.