And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write" 'The words of him who has the sharp two edged sword. -- Revelation 2: 12 (ESV)
As we continue in our series examining the letters written by Jesus Christ, through the Apostle John, to the seven churches in Asia, we come to the Church at Pergamum. As we have pointed out, these letters while written to churches long ago, have an abundance of application for the church today as we see Jesus Himself outline what pleases Him and angers Him regarding His bride. In each letter Jesus declares that he who has an ear should hear. These are not games beloved. The Bible is a slice of the mind of God almighty and here we have direct words from Jesus about how we are to behave as the church. Since we have an ear, we ought to hear.
Pergamum is often known as the compromising church, as we will soon see. With such a name, we can expect there to be many applications for the church today which is brash about the compromises it makes. Our key verse is the opening line of the letter and as we have seen, Jesus personalizes the openings to each church. For Pergamum we see He is the one with the sharp two edged sword, indicating impending judgment. This is an important starting point beloved. We will all be judged based upon the Word of God. No other source will matter. Not the world, not our own wicked interpretations of Scripture, and not the intent of our deceitful hearts. All will be laid bare before Him and the lies we convince ourselves of here on earth will fall like fragile clay when we stand before the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The compromising church of today has redrawn Christ to serve their own carnal desires. Using sloppy agape love and human wisdom, Jesus is rarely portrayed anymore in the role of Lord and we are rarely portrayed correctly as subjects to Him. The "friend of God" generation has produced a church that simply refuses to consider justice, wrath and judgment as part of the character of God. As we enter into Pergamum, let us not lose sight that He has the two edged sword by which we will be judged. He is the two edged sword.
"'I know where you dwell, where Satan's throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. -- Revelation 2: 13 (ESV
Jesus starts with what is admirable in Pergamum. This was a pagan city, surrounded by false gods and idol worship. It was home to the worship of Dionysus, Zeus and other pagan gods. It was a bountiful city, filled with the arts and society. It was a prosperous city, strategically located along two tributaries of a major river. In these matters we can see the correlation to America. Filled with the arts and society. Bountiful and prosperous. Pagan and carnal to the core however with rampant idol worship. Let us call it for what God calls it -- the throne of Satan. Wait a minute preacher! Are you saying the United States is the throne of Satan? Yes beloved. The entire world is technically under his rule but this country has so deftly mixed religion with nationalism that we have developed a church that thinks God has only blessed America. Be careful here too. I do not merely mean the unsaved. No, the vast majority of the heresies that infect this world are born, bred and spread right here in the U.S.A.; sadly enough. Under the rubric of missionary work, we have infected other continents with our own apostasy. The top five richest pastors in the world are all from Africa, one of the poorest on earth. We have indeed traveled to the ends of the world to make a single convert and by doing so have made them twice the sons of hell that we are.
Yet despite being in the midst of Satan's throne, Jesus recognizes a more faithful time for the Church at Pergamum. They held fast to the name of Christ in the middle of their pagan culture. They did not deny their faith. Note that Jesus makes no reference to Pergamum trying to influence their culture, one of the fatal hallmarks of the purpose driven church heresies. Their job was not to try and find relevance and compromise with the world. Their job was to hold fast to the name of Jesus and not deny their faith. We could take a long lesson from that. The church today wastes so much time worshiping the country that is America instead of simply holding fast to Jesus. Even unto death. Jesus references a man named Antipas, who church tradition says was a doctor who was secretly spreading Christianity. His medical guild accused him of disloyalty to Caesar and was put to death by being placed into a copper bull which was then heated over a fire until it was red hot. Let's see that preached as your God ordained purpose!
But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. So also you have some who hold to the teachings of the Nicolaitans. -- Revelation 2: 14-15 (ESV)
Now we move into the charges Jesus has against the church at Pergamum. There are two primary errors we need to address. The teaching of Balaam and the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Since we discussed the Nicolaitans in relation to the church at Ephesus, we will start there. While there is not a lot of history regarding this group, it is essentially agreed upon that the Nicolaitans teach licentiousness, immorality and idolization. Specifically they teach the error of Balaam and operate in the spirit of Jezebel. Such a spirit is one of control and sexual immorality. When we turn the spotlight on the church today the parallels are obvious. The church today is just as carnal and driven by the flesh. Jezebel was the Queen of Israel yet she led them into all sorts of abominations. Those that followed the Nicolaitans were led into their idolization and licentiousness as well. As it was, so it goes today. It is the leaders who lead the church into weekly idolization. The Seeker Friendly Industrial Complex model is built upon a cult of personality, pastor worship and church worship. This past election highlighted how quickly those who call themselves Christian will abandon Jesus for their petty politics. Why? Because it is not petty to them at all! It is everything to them. That is the definition of idolatry. That brings us to the teaching and error of Balaam.
So who was Balaam? For starters, he was not a false prophet in that he actually did hear from the Lord. The problem is that his heart was not right with the Lord. At the time of Balaam, there was a king of Moab named Balak. King Balak had sent for Balaam because he wanted him to curse Israel. Balaam actually inquired of the Lord who told him that he could not curse Israel because they are blessed. When Balak heard he refused to come to him, he sent even more impressive dignitaries with promises of an even greater compensation for his services. We see the struggle Balaam has with this early on:
But Balaam answered and said to the servants of Balak, "Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the command of the Lord my God to do less or more. So you, too, please stay here tonight, that I may know what more the Lord will say to me." - Numbers 22: 18-19 (ESV)
So Balaam "gets it" but is still drawn by the prospect of the reward being dangled in front of him. So even though the Lord has already spoken, Balaam continues to pursue a different answer from the Lord. God allows him to go to Balak if asked but he takes this as permission and leaves the following morning. The Bible says God was angry and dispatched an angel to stand in his way as an adversary. Balaam cannot see the angel blocking his path, ready to strike him down just like we fail to see what the Lord wants us to do when we refuse to focus on Him and His will. God speaks through Balaam's donkey after using the donkey to save Balaam by refusing to proceed to where the angel was blocking them, with drawn sword. The ironic lesson for us is that even the dumbest beast is wiser than a prophet who does not listen to the Lord. The Lord opens his eyes and he sees the angel and realizes that God has spared him. God instructs him to only tell Balak what God tells him to say. Balak tries three times to get Balaam to curse Israel but each time he can only bless them. Balaam is sent away empty handed but later on convinces Balak of a different strategy. He convinces Balak to have the Moabites tempt the Israelites with prostitutes and idolatry so that they might draw a curse upon themselves. Sure enough this plan works.
So what are the lessons from the error and teaching of Balaam? What was it that the Church of Pergamum was accepting and trafficking in that applies to the church today. Well, Jesus specifically spells out part of it by discussing the scheme to entice Israel with idolatry and sexual immorality. That may sound far off for today but it really is not. How many churches today essentially are teaching their congregations to be idolatrous? The prosperity gospel places the acquisition of wealth about God. The false signs and lying wonders churches such as Bethel and IHOP place personal mystical experience above the Word and thus above God. The Word Faith heresies place our own power above or equal to God. These are the mega church paradigms that constitute the vast majority of the Seeker-Friendly Industrial Complex and they are all idolatry. They are idolatry because they all place something ahead of God. Even on the matter of sexual immorality the modern church is guilty. First by avoiding the topic altogether, as the purpose driven church does with all sin topics. Then there is the casual nature they deal with adultery within their own leadership. Combined, we see the error of Balaam is alive and well at the church in Pergamum as well as the church today.
But perhaps the more subtle deception is found in the heart of Balaam. God does not stutter beloved. He is not vague. Balaam was told by God that he may not curse the people of Israel yet he continually seeks God for a different answer. Even when the dignitaries came for the second time with promises of greater rewards Balaam says two things as we saw above:
Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the command of the Lord my God to do less or more.
So you, too, please stay here tonight, that I may know what more the Lord will say to me."