HE DIED AT SATAN'S THRONE (Rev. 2:13)
By Thomas Cosmades
Success catapults one into the limelight. The world sings the praises of those who succeed, acclaims those who achieve. Undeserving persons are placed on a pedestal, while unsung heroes are buried in the archives of negligence.
There is a vast army of heroes of faith encountered in the Old Testament and the New, along with those mentioned in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, whose commitment to the Triune God draws due admiration. There are also a large number of puissant champions, who are either mentioned in a cursory manner in the Scriptures or not at all. The Holy Spirit apportions another manner of divine recognition for them.
Old Testament heroes of the faith such as Enoch, Caleb and Jabez don't receive extensive recognition. In the New Testament, Mary, mother of John Mark (Acts 12:12), who is only cursorily mentioned rates among the heroes. The illustrious persons acknowledged in Romans 16, to whom Paul affectionately offers due recognition, are surely among the laudable persons of early Christianity. About protomartyr Stephen, ‘a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit', we don't have extensive information. We only know that he was among the first deacons (Acts 6:5) and that his sermon shook Jerusalem's religious establishment (Acts 7).
Another person, about
whom very little information comes from the pages of the New Testament, is a
shining follower of Jesus Christ. He is called Antipas. He was in the
forefront of the Pergamean assembly (Revelation 2:13). Deducing from his
name, he was likely a Greek convert to the faith of Jesus Christ. The name
Antipas is a shortened form of Antipater, one of Alexander's successful
generals (c. 397-319 B.C). A vast number of men and even women (Antipatris)
in the Greek world were named after him
We mentioned that Antipas was an unsung hero. But in studying the brief recognition of him in the single sentence of Revelation 2:13 and considering that the author of this heartening pronouncement was Jesus Christ himself, we realize that Antipas is far from being an unsung protagonist. An august song for him is sung by none other than the glorified, exalted Son of God in heaven in the company of multitudes of angels and cherubim.
In Pilgrim's Progress John Bunyan relates how Christian met Faithful ahead of him on his journey to the Celestial City. "Ho, ho! so - ho! Stay," he cried, "and I will be your companion." At that, Faithful looked behind him and answered, "No, I am upon my life, and the avenger of blood is behind me."
Chasing Antipas was the avenger of blood. He caught him and murdered him in cold blood. The sad event did not escape the attention of his risen Master in heaven. When He sent his third letter through the disciple John, He did not forget the heroic, resolute commitment of Antipas. He said to the congregation in Pergamum, "I know where you are living, where Satan's throne is. Yet you are holding fast to my name, and you did not deny your faith in me even in the days of Antipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells."
PERGAMUM – WHERE SATAN LIVES
Even Ephesus with all the advantages of the Great Temple and a bustling port, could not match the importance of the once royal seat of the Attalids. Situated on a scenic acropolis Pergamum was embellished with the largest number of Greek and Roman temples in the whole of Asia Minor, i.e., Zeus, Athena, Apollo, Demetra, Dionysius and Aphrodite. On another site it housed the largest Aesclepium of the empire. Its library of 200,000 volumes rivalled the renowned library in Alexandria. The eminent doctor Galen was among her favorite sons. Roman emperors came to seek healing at the famous Aesclepium. Aesclepius was honored as the god of healing in the classical world.
When the cult of 'Dominus et Deus'' was initiated in Pergamum, the great Basilica was erected, adding to the rostrum of numerous idolatrous temples. The visitor to Bergama (Turkish name of the present-day city) will see this immense structure at the edge of the bustling centre. The Basilica became a monument of vice and cruelty. Every citizen was forced to burn a few grains of incense here and worship the Emperor as Deus. He would then proceed to his own religious edifice to perform his preferred practice – a common syncretistic act which never lacked its double-faced devotees.
For anyone who refused to submit to this profane practice, death was imminent. Whereas the temple of Zeus was referred to by the early Christians as the 'Seat of Satan', the appellation was later transferred to this centre, where some Christians felt compelled to pay obeisance.
Very likely the Good News of Jesus Christ reached this metropolis during Paul's tenure in Ephesus, on his third journey, "when all the residents of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the Word of the Lord" (Acts 19:10). A goodly number of the residents of Pergamum, whose hearts the Lord opened to listen to and believe in what Paul's emissaries conveyed, became fervent believers in Christ. A church was founded in Satan's dwelling place.
Antipas, the only person mentioned by the glorified Christ, might have been a convert from pagan background or the son of a converted family. His is the only name mentioned by the Pantocrator in His seven messages to the churches, if we exclude the symbolic Jezebel, whose disastrous activities in neighboring Thyatira caused the degeneration in the church there. Antipas is set apart as the distinguished disciple from among the seven churches addressed by the glorified Christ.
If Antipas had come from the triumphant churches in Smyrna or Philadelphia, his unflinching allegiance and obedience to the Savior could probably be more easily comprehended. But the church he was identified with was not recognized as an overcoming church. The enemy's onslaughts on her belief and ethical uprightness had caused serious spiritual erosion.
Before Antipas' martyrdom he witnessed the betrayal of a small band that had broken their loyalty to Christ by slipping into Balaam's teaching. Another little group fell into the position held by the Nicolaitans who had not been able to find fertile ground for themselves in Ephesus. Antipas, a faithful witness of Christ, experienced deep pain in seeing the fledging church to which he belonged deviate into two obnoxious directions. Seeing that some had abandoned the stance of Christ's faith once delivered to the saints, he was perplexed for a while: "If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?" (Psalm 11:3). But immediately he took heart and lifted his voice with David: "In you, O LORD, I seek refuge; do not let me ever be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me" (Psalm 31:1).
Absolute faith and total commitment to Christ are imperative in places like Pergamum. Satan had firmly entrenched his throne there. But Christ's throne in heaven is much firmer than all other thrones combined. Antipas was aware of the commendable endurance of the neighboring church in Smyrna to whom Christ would say, "Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life" (Revelation 2:10b). This reassurance along with Antipas' faithful stance, were to fortify the spirit of the venerable Polycarp, who would defy the idolatrous powers of Rome and die the martyr's death. Antipas' martyrdom would have a chain reaction, also heartening Ignatius of Antioch and a host of others in the illustrious rostrum of martyrs.
Those were cruel times when Antipas became the torch-bearer and vanguard of the church. The cruel emperor Titus Flavius Domitianus (81-96 A.D.), known as Domitian, was pursuing the course set by his predecessor Nero. During his reign the compulsory `Dominus et Deus' worship was imposed, beginning in this dwelling place of Satan. Also the second wave of persecution was systematically carried on against Christians. They were called atheists because of their refusal to bow before the emperor god. All natural calamities, famines or disasters of any kind were attributed to Christ's followers.
To be an uncompromising follower of the Lord Jesus Christ in the imperial metropolis where Satan had established his throne was the boldest of commitments. But Antipas had resolved long before to follow Christ to death, who had given his own life for him. Christ's encouragement rang in his ears; "Do not fear those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul..." (Matthew 10:28).
Antipas' resolve to remain true to his Savior grew stronger even as his heart pained when he observed some from the assembly slipping into Balaamism and some to Nicolaitism. He fervently prayed, "Help, O LORD, for there is no longer anyone who is godly; the faithful have disappeared from mankind" (Psalm 12:1). "Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands at a distance; for truth stumbles in the public square, and uprightness cannot enter" (Isaiah 59:14).
Christ replied to him
from heaven: "You are my witness, my faithful one" (Revelation 2:13). In
times of ordeal, trial or desertion, what an encouragement to be in touch
with Him who said: "In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer,
I have overcome the world... Do not let your heart be troubled, neither let
it be afraid" (John 16:33: 14:27b). Antipas' call, like all other
believers', was to a path of contempt and disdain. Before His death our
Lord heartened His faithful disciples by saying: "You are those who have
continued with me in my trials"
Was Antipas a former under-shepherd of the church? This is one of the unknown facets about this venerable martyr. Martyrologists say almost nothing about him. Even in John Fox's 'Book of Martyrs', Antipas receives no recognition. The contemporary pastor in our modern agglomerations where Satan rules and reigns can discover a lively parallel between Antipas' pastoral service at Satan's seat and his own.
If Antipas was the first pastor of the Pergamean church, he had to wage a determined struggle against Satan's throne. He did not flinch or waver. Constantly combating Satan's throne without and conciliar intrusion within was the course of his heartfelt service to his living Sovereign Lord. The call of duty to his modern successor in any city requires the same dedication. There can be no consideration of capitulation. Antipas lost his head; the modern under-shepherd will face other losses. But against whatever is lost, the attainment of the hidden manna and the white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the recipient, is the promise to the conqueror by the Arch Victor.
On his journey to the Celestial City, Discontent met Faithful, whom he tried to dissuade from walking through the Valley of Humility. To go this way was to disown all his friends such as Pride, Arrogance, Self-conceit, Worldly-glory and others. Faithful would have none of it! Next, he turned away from Shame who tried hard to drive him to distress of mind for being so faithful to his cause.
"...and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you where Satan lives" (Revelation 2:13). It is regrettable that most English and other translations miss the fine, but crucial distinction in this divine commendation by rendering the passage in a simplified manner: "Antipas, my faithful witness." The original text has the possessive pronoun in front of both witness and faithful. The RSV does full justice to the text. Christ commends this exemplary believer on two counts of loyalty: "Antipas my witness, my faithful one," thus He bestows on Antipas the appellations used for himself: "the witness, the faithful" (Revelation 1:5).
We all live and die with our persuasions. The ancient Greeks had a god or goddess for every notion and concept. They either tried to serve or appease them. The modern person doesn't have multitudinous deities, but in his outlook and conduct he caters to numerous whims. Conversely, Antipas was a single-minded, resolved, determined believer, a witness with the total implication of the word.
From the hour he committed all to Jesus Christ and that in the foremost pagan city of his time, he purposed to be his Lord's witness at the place of Satan's throne and to be faithful to his Lord at all costs. His heart-cry was like that of the Psalmist: "Who do I have in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire other than you" (Psalm 118:25). Reassurance was extended from heaven: "He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep" (Psalm 121:4). "Because I myself was tested by what I suffered, I am able to help those who are being tested" (Hebrews 2:14).
Christian and Faithful arrived at Vanity Fair. Previously, Evangelist had told them that one or both must seal their testimony with blood. Life's pilgrimage is arduous, demanding faithful men like Antipas. Vanity Fair was no fair for the single-minded pilgrims. "The way to the Celestial City lies just through this town. The Prince of princes Himself went through this town to His own country," writes Bunyan.
As soon as they entered Vanity Fair, all attention zeroed in on them. Their clothing was different from that of the rest, their speech could not be understood, they ignored the offers and provisions of the Fair. They were only interested in bringing the truth. Their very presence disturbed the artificial tranquillity of the people in Vanity Fair. The Great One of the Fair was informed about these strange passengers. Interrogation began.
They did not hesitate to tell the interrogators that they were travelling to their own country, the heavenly Jerusalem. The inquisitors did not believe a word of it. They thought the two were mad, or had come to spoil the Fair. They beat them, besmeared them with dirt and put them in a cage. Christian and Faithful were made objects of derision in Vanity Fair, the Great One of the city being among the chief mockers. Irons were hung upon them, and they were led up and down the Fair. Their noble, non-retaliating conduct and immovable resolve won a few to their conviction. This infuriated the rest and they cast their decision for their death.
Both recalled the foretelling of their friend Evangelist, that death was to be expected. The judge who conducted their trial was Lord Hate-good. Faithful defied the king they talked about, and all his angels, as the enemy of his Lord. Three witnesses were brought against them, Envy, Superstition and Pickthank (Sycophant).
At the suggestion of the jury, the verdict was swift. Faithful had to be executed in the cruelest death that could be imagined. First they scourged him, then they battered him, then they lanced his flesh with knives; stoned him, pricked him with their swords and at the end they burned him. Faithful died the death of the faithful, just as Antipas did, and so many other millions especially in our time.
John Bunyan puts this song into Christian's mouth, who escaped from the prison of Vanity Fair:
"Well, Faithful, thou hast faithfully professed
Unto thy Lord, with whom thou shalt be blest,
When faithless ones, with all their vain delights,
Are crying out under their hellish plights.
Sing, Faithful, sing, and let thy name survive;
For, though they killed thee, thou art yet alive."
What are the motivating compulsions which caused Antipas and all other faithful men and women to count all human aspirations as loss and lay down their lives in total commitment to Jesus Christ?
I. A Life Geared to the Priority of Unshakeable Witness
Ours is an increasingly syncretistic epoch, demonstrated in every realm of human existence. Christ's pre-eminence has been completely sacrificed at a multitude of altars of appeasement and conciliation. Conciliar church groupings abound. Christ's absolute claim on His uniqueness, "I am the way, and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6), has been jettisoned in favor of rival vagaries. All around we see a series of distressing departures from the age-long devotion to Christ and his unassailable uniqueness.
The Lord Jesus Christ commented, "Antipas, my witness." In the original language, 'martyr' is the term used for the one bearing testimony to the redemptive act of the Savior, and also for the one who forfeits his life for his belief. In the period and setting to which Antipas belonged, witnessing boldly of the uniqueness and pre-eminence of Jesus Christ meant martyrdom. As Faithful knew what to anticipate at Vanity Fair, Antipas foresaw the impending trial of fire awaiting him in Pergamum.
Observing the manner of life and trend of belief into which a certain segment of the congregation was drifting, Antipas became aware of the ignoble development leading to their spiritual death. In the light of the downward spiral of some, death for his Savior was gain (Philippians 1:21). God's seething pronouncement on those who forsook Him in favor of an adverse teaching was fresh in his mind: "When Ephraim spoke, there was trembling; he was exalted in Israel; but he incurred guilt through Baal and died" (Hosea 13:10). King David lamented the death of his newly-gained asinine general by crying, "Should Abner die as a fool dies?" (II Samuel 3:33).
While Antipas was dying under the Sword of Rome, or through some other vicious design, a whole church assembly not far from Pergamum was undergoing the pangs of a very infamous, ungratifying death. Jesus Christ spoke to the angel of the church of Sardis: "I know your works; you have a name of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death..." (Revelation 3:2). Alexander Whyte describes the messenger of the Sardian church as a prince of an orator. Christ however is addressing him in a censorious manner,
Of the fledgling church in Jerusalem Luke gives an arresting account in Acts 5:13: "None of the rest dared to join them, but the people held them in high esteem". The sense they put into the ordinary mind was one of fearful respect and awful comment, "Don't ever dare to join them; there is extraordinary power and authority in that body: It can kill you!" On the other hand, the church in wealthy Sardis was in the throes of death. Its sinful surroundings were mortifying the congregation.
Antipas the martyr generated fear and trepidation in those around him although he died in apparent helplessness, just as his Savior had undergone. Becoming a martyr for Christ was the highest order of defiance against those who disregarded his redeemer. In the Church calendar, Christmas Day is followed by St. Stephen's Day. Significant. A life born to save other lives was faithfully emulated by one committed to Him to the end.
Thomas S. Eliot (1888-1965), renowned Christian poet-philosopher, has a classical play, MURDER IN THE CATHEDRAL. It is about the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas à Becket (1118-1170), four days before his murder in the cathedral, on King Henry II's order on Christmas morning. The writer skilfully reactivates this historic injustice by ascribing to the Archbishop the following last sermon, which is among the classics in the annals of church history and martyrology.
"Beloved, we do not think of a martyr simply as a good Christian who has been killed because he is a Christian; for that would be solely to mourn. We do not think of him simply as a good Christian who has been elevated to the company of the Saints; for that would be simply to rejoice; and neither our mourning nor our rejoicing is as the world's is. A Christian martyrdom is never an accident, for Saints are not made by accident. Still less is a Christian martyrdom the effect of a man's will to become a Saint, as a man by willing and contriving may become a ruler of men. A martyrdom is always the design of God, for His love of men, to warn them and to lead them, to bring them back to His ways. It is never the design of man; for the true martyr is he who has become the instrument of God, who has lost his will in the will of God, and who no longer desires anything for himself, not even the glory of being a martyr. So thus as on earth the Church mourns and rejoices at once, in a fashion that the world cannot understand; so in Heaven the Saints are most high, having made themselves most low, and are seen, not as we see them, but in the light of the Godhead, from which they draw their being."
This leads our thoughts to the sequel of being an unshakeable witness:
II. A Life Geared to the Profundity of Unassailable Faithfulness.
The Lord Jesus Christ commended him with the words, "Antipas my faithful one." In Hebrew as well as in Greek and in English, faith and faithfulness derive from the same root word: emun, emunah, pistis, pistos.
In the beginning of Revelation, the Lord presents Himself in this manner, "And from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness" (the witness, the faithful) (Revelation 1:5). The writer of Hebrews in talking about Jesus says, "He was faithful to the One who appointed Him, just as Moses also was faithful 'in all God's house'" (Hebrews 3:2; cf. Numbers 12:7).
In the well-known maxim of the prophet Habakkuk, "The righteous lives by His faith" (Habakkuk 2:4), the word is emunah, i.e. faithfulness. In the epistles this verse is quoted three times (Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:38). Justification by faith is the cardinal truth expounded in the N.T. and one which could be detected throughout the O.T. But justifying faith which does not lead to absolute faithfulness, is like a child abnormally born and developed. Faith in God and in Christ produces total faithfulness to Him. It is through his grace alone that redemption has been effectuated and productively implemented.
Antipas was a God-pleasing witness because of his faithfulness. Who can claim to be an effective witness unless he or she is approved by the subject of his or her witness as 'My faithful one'? Being a witness of the Savior without being acknowledged by Him as 'My faithful one' is a contradiction in terms.
Other than in Habakkuk 2:4, one of the striking usages in which the word emunah appears is Deuteronomy 32:20. In this sad context we read, "He said, 'I will hide my face from them, I will see what their end will be; for they are a perverse generation, children in whom there is no faithfulness.'" This is a lamentable commentary on the concept of faith and faithfulness, as God looks at it.
The greatest of all witnesses for the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul the apostle, has something to say about this crucial issue: "It is required of stewards that a man be found faithful" (I Corinthians 4:2). Looking at the lives of effective stewards or witnesses, their faithfulness shines like the stars in the firmament. Start with Abraham. Move on to Joseph, Ruth, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Daniel, and the three Hebrew boys. Passing on to the N.T., consider the reliable stewardship of many. All these heroes of faith deserve to be called, 'My faithful ones’.
Again the Apostle Paul at the culmination of his ministry expresses his gratitude to Him who makes one faithful, "I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He judged me faithful and appointed me to His service" (I Timothy 1:12).
There can be no
faithfulness, without drawing it from Christ. Faith is one of the gifts of
the Holy Spirit
In the agonies he endured before his execution, Antipas could take time to ponder on Peter's reassurance if he had the epistle, "Let those suffering in accordance with God's will entrust themselves to a faithful Creator" (I Peter 4:19). Even if he had not read these words, he was confident of their actuality. He was also cognisant of who his Lord was: "Jesus Christ, the faithful witness...the rider of the white horse who is called Faithful and True" (Revelation 1:5; 19:11). Who wouldn't entrust himself to such a faithful Creator and Redeemer! Who wouldn't sing in His honor, "I die every day" (I Corinthians 15:31). Following all that has been said, we arrive with deep admiration to the triumphant death of the valiant martyr:
III. A Life Geared to the Certainty of Inconceivable
Antipas was probably a believer of the second generation. Nevertheless he fully comprehended the alarming conditions within the assembly. Some of his people had sadly lost the stamina to resist the onslaughts from within and without. Antipas or his parents came from a meaningless and low interpretation of life and the hereafter. Rejecting all that, he had joyfully submitted himself to the all-surpassing Christ. In Him he discovered every superlative ingredient of life, hope and truth. Everything about his blessed Savior bore the stamp of excellence. "O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens" (Psalm 8:1). "Sing praises to the LORD, for He has done gloriously: let this be known in all the earth... He is wonderful in counsel and excellent in wisdom" (Isaiah 12:5; 28:29).
Antipas discovered the sense of the holy and the perfect in his Savior. He went on celebrating his inmost joy and delight in his exalted Lord and Redeemer: "Because your lovingkindness is better than life, my lips will praise you" (Psalm 63:3). He must have died with this song in his heart.
The Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, gave him a fresh perception of the goal he was to pursue and the terminus he was to achieve. This discovery was more worthwhile than the sum total of his earthly life. "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48), commanded his Savior. This was an unimaginable thought in the milieu in which he was brought up! But He who is the first and the last put this noble purpose and high aspiration in Antipas’ once-unregenerate heart. With such words from his Savior, death was not a dark omen, but a joyful promotion to higher life.
Christ, the truth, had made it plain to him that the adversaries of truth would hate him, because the Good News denounces every lie and falsehood, (Luke 21:12, 13). He would remember the words of his Lord, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18). As persecution intensified and the prospect of death approached, Antipas' resolve became more determined: "The LORD appeared to him from afar; 'I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you'" (Jeremiah 31:3).
Resting on the reality
of specific promises, nothing on earth could cause Antipas to fear. He
triumphantly responded to his Lord, "Your lovingkindness is before my eyes
and I walk in faithfulness to you" (Psalm 26:3). His strength and support
emanated from that triumphant commander "on a white horse, who is called
Faithful and True, judging in righteousness and making war"
For Antipas and his peers in martyrdom, death is not the sad experience of the sailor whose vessel is adrift. The violence of the fierce storm tosses the ship aimlessly in the open ocean, ultimately casting the sailor to his destiny. Conversely, death for Christ's martyr is like the moment when the wind blows favorably, though this is often misunderstood. He cheerfully weighs anchor into the most delightful presence of the One who died a violent death, but conquered it with the mightiest of all triumphs.