Last post we began our study into the third church mentioned in the Book of Revelation, Pergamum, (Revelation 2:12-17). The church was known and commended by Jesus for its faithfulness to the truth of the Gospel despite living in the midst of rampant paganism. In fact, the city was so notorious for its worship of pagan gods that Jesus says it is “where Satan’s throne” reigns. (v. 13)
Though the church is commended by Jesus, still He has something against it, “you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, (v. 14), and “some who hold the teachings of the Nicolaitians.”(v. 15) Most scholars believe that the two heresies that had entrapped some of the congregation of Pergamum, following the Nicolaitians and holding to the teachings of Balaam, were identical in scope.
So, our question is what was the sin of Balaam that has come back to haunt the church of Pergamum by infecting some of the believers with its poison? The story of Balaam can be found in Numbers 22 to 24. Balak the King of Moab had summoned the prophet Balaam to come and curse Israel who was about to cross the Jordan River and take claim of the Promised Land.
Balaam filled with greed (2 Peter 2:15) agreed to the plan, but each time he opened his mouth to curse Israel God caused him to bless Israel instead. Seeing that cursing wouldn’t work he plotted with Balak to gather up the young girls of Moab and have them seduce the men of Israel into immorality and the eating of meat that had been sacrificed to Idols. “Baalam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice immorality.” (Rev. 2:14b)
The Nicolaitians were the Balaam to the Christian community in Pergamum. They tried to convince the church that since they were free in Christ and no longer under the constraints of the Jewish law system, they could do anything they liked and it would be forgiven. They perverted grace into licentiousness. The reason it gained such popularity was because it was so insidious in its infiltration into the hearts of Christians. What started out as small things with the Christians soon turned into larger and much more serious rebellion against God.
Remember, God commends the church at Ephesus for “hating the works of the Nicolaitions, which I also hate,” (Revelation 2:6) but the Pergamum church tolerated the heresy. (2:15)
An important element to this teaching of Balaam that had slid into the church is that it comes from Satan. That is why there can be no compromise with its teachings, no overlooking its power on the people, and no ignoring its soul wrecking influence on the church. The church at Pergamum made excuses for the people who fell under the spell of the Nicolaitions teachings under the guise of tolerance.
The church was called to battle the principalities and powers of this world but instead compromised with them. It is Satan who blinds the minds of unbelievers and leaves believers in confusion and indifference towards the Gospel message. The work of false prophets like Balaam continues to work their destructive power in later chapters of Revelation as well as in the hearts of contemporary believers.
In verse 16 the church is called to repent of its compromise with the Balaam’s of this world. How is it possible to resist the compromising influence of Satan on the church? The answer is found in verse 12 where Jesus is “The words of Him who has the sharp two-edged sword” and in verse 16 where He calls for repentance or “I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.”
The Roman short sword was shaped somewhat like a tongue and was sharpened on both sides for hacking and chopping the enemy to pieces. The two edged sword is non other that the word of God that can keep us from error and compromise. It either leads us to the foot of the cross in repentance or it fights against all who would belittle Jesus and compromise with the world.
The imagery of the sword as the word of God swims throughout the Scripture. Isaiah wrote “He made my mouth like a sharp sword” (49:2) and in Hebrews it is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (4:12; also see Ephesians 6:17)
I would like to conclude the blog by quoting once again from John Stott’s, What Christ Thinks of the Church. This writing of Stott should give us pause as it opens the door towards the great conflict issues found in the rest of Revelation.
“God’s way to overcome error is the proclamation of the gospel of Christ which is God’s power of salvation to everyone who believes. Falsehood will not be suppressed by the gruesome methods of the inquisition, or by burning heretics at the stake, or by restrictive state legislation, or even by war. Force or arms cannot conquer ideas. Only truth can defeat error.”
“The false ideologies of the world can be overthrown only by the superior ideology of Christ. We have no other weapons but this sword. Let us use it fearlessly, and by the open manifestation of the truth storm the strongholds of Satan.” p. 63
I love the idea that we have not been called to compromise with our culture but instead to defeat the strongholds of Satan, and we do that through allowing the word of God to dwell within our hearts.
* Please remember to pray for the Christians who are suffering at the hands of evil for their faith in many countries around the world. Some of their stories can be found at http://thebeggardanced.com/nine-oclock-club/