White Stone and Manna

The Promise for Pergamos Overcomers

Jesus mentions that the one who overcomes will receive the hidden manna. This “angels’ food” was the means by which God miraculously provided for His followers for forty years in the wilderness. It speaks of provision – a great promise to a church that was feeling the pressure to compromise.

Next, Jesus promises a – wait for it… – a rock! Not only would these believers receive the hidden manna, but also, they would receive a white stone. Let’s be honest, if you were facing certain martyrdom, how encouraged would you be by the promise of a white rock? We’re going to have to look at the historical setting to understand this one.

There are quite a few ways in which commentators and expositors have tried to understand this white stone. In the context, it’s more than just a rock – it’s a rock with a name engraved upon it.

Multiple theories have been put forth. A rabbinic tradition states that when the manna fell, precious stones also fell to the ground as well. The problem with holding this position is twofold: 1) the evidence is weak, and 2) the concept of the inscriptions is left unexplained.

Pagans sometimes used the phrase “white stone” to describe a happy, memorable day. This would be somewhat analogous to our use of “red-letter dates.” The problem here is after rebuking them for compromising with the world, why would Christ use a pagan ritual as a form of promised blessing? He would not.

Another idea was that a white stone was used as a ticket to a festival, thus making the reward an “all-expense-paid” trip to the marriage supper. This theory has many supporters and it could fit the context as a parallel with the hidden manna just mentioned. This would then be similar to our colloquial phrase, “I’ve got a ticket here with your name on it.”

Another thought is that this hearkens back to an ancient practice that has support from the New Testament. In Acts 26.10, Luke records Paul’s testimony of how he had ordered Stephen put to death. There’s a little expression there that I believe we often overlook: “I gave my voice…”

The statement by Paul is generally understood to mean something to the effect that he gave his approval. But, Paul uses quite descriptive language to make this point. The idiom he uses is something like, “I cast my pebble [my vote].” Hold that concept in check for a moment.

During this time, verdicts at courts of law were often dependent upon fate. A white stone and a dark stone were placed into a type of urn or vessel. If the “gods” expected an innocent sentence, then the judge would be directed to pull the white stone. If guilty, then the dark stone would be chosen. It is true that those in Christ have been declared righteous, acquitted from the charges of sin leveled against us. We have been declared “not guilty” forever.

We cannot be dogmatic on how John’s audience at Pergamos would have understood the promise. It may have even been ambiguous purposely to capture a whole array of blessings. In that regard, overcomes are declared righteous and have right to participate in the meal at God’s table while the ages roll on!

Suffice it to say, while we may not get excited about a gift-rock in our time, the church at Pergamos would have viewed the words of Christ as a great motivator and incentive. To receive the “hidden manna” – a reference that calls to mind provision as well as the Bread of Life – was a great promise. To receive a white stone, a pebble, from the Rock of Ages, with your name on it – a constant reminder that you were declared righteous and invited to His table – these promises would help you remain faithful in the face of certain death.

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