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 Pergamum - Christ's Rebukes

John Hoole February 25, 2007


Today we continue in our study of the letter written to the Church at Pergamum. This is the third of 7 churches mentioned in Revelation. Last week we investigated the commendations made to this congregation by Christ. There are two main commendations in Revelation 2:13:

1. You hold fast to My name.

2. You did not deny My faith.

But Christ also had some things against this congregation. These are listed in the next two verses.

Revelation 2:13-15 (NKJV)

13 "I know your works, and where you live, where Satan's throne is. And you hold fast to My name, and you did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan lives.
14 But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality.
15 Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.*

I want to review just a small portion of what we addressed in our last lesson. What the Pergamene congregation was commended for was the fact that they firmly held on to the name of Jesus. This church was not ashamed of the name of Jesus.

I know of a woman, Susan Lockwood Wright, who was interviewing with a progressive church in the Northeast (Not Assembly of God). The Pastoral Search Committee of the church asked her if she ever used the "J" word in her sermons. Susan was confused. Did they mean "Jerk?" "Junk?" "Justice?" What 'J' word she asked them. "Jesus," they said. "Do you ever mention 'Jesus' in your sermons?" "Well, we are Christians," she said. "I try to work him in every once in a while." She didn't get a call, but then she didn't mind.

There is a movement in some circles of the church these days to avoid the 'J' word. It is too unsophisticated - it is too awkward - it is too simplistic. They prefer to speak of the "Christ event," - whatever that means. This is part of what Christ is warning us about in this Passage.

Like I stated last week, when you come to this church - to this class, we will make much of the name of Jesus. We will sing it, shout it, teach it and tell it. When folks come here, they ought to hear about Jesus. We cannot defeat Satan in our own strength. But we can go forward in the name of Jesus Christ.

The congregation at Pergamum lived in a city where Satan's throne was located. They lived face to face with the enemy of the church. They understood that Christ's name stood for Himself. To remain true to his name is therefore to hold firmly to our conviction that Christ is both Lord and Savior. They never let go of that name. We should do likewise.

Frederick Buechner was driving in Manhattan when he saw the word "Jesus Saves!" scrawled on the side of a building along with the other graffiti. It embarrassed him. If offended him. It made him angry. But Buechner said, "the more he thought of it, the more he realized what bothered him the most was the whole point of the gospel." --- that is, it required him having to admit he needed saving and that some guy named "Jesus" was the only one who could do it.

People like myself, who have grown up their entire lives in the church, like to think that wherever the church is, there Jesus is. But, unfortunately, the opposite is too often the case. And some of them are being led by people who have rejected the Christ of the Bible.

WHAT IS CHRISTIANITY?

C. S. Lewis

"I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else."

Christianity Defined: A faith based on the belief that Jesus Christ is the son of God, sent to earth to save mankind from the consequences of sin.

Christianity is a spiritual belief system open to all, regardless of age, religion, sex, color, or economic status. Christianity is faith that Jesus Christ took our place and paid the price for our sins. Christianity is also an acceptance of the Bible as the Word of God. It has been rightly said that Christianity is Christ. Jesus Christ himself is the rock on which the structure of Christian theology is built. To be a Christian is to accept Jesus Christ as God and Savior.

The irreducible minimum of Christian belief is that Jesus of Nazareth is the unique God-man who died for our sins, and was raised from death to be the Savior of the world. We may not - in fact, we do not - fully understand how Jesus could be fully God and man. But, as Christians, we believe it and act on it. And if Jesus is truly the divine Lord, we must submit to him as our Lord.

All of this is implied in the two phrases we studied last week.

1. You hold fast to My name.

2. You did not deny My faith.

These commendation need to be said about us. These are things we, as followers of Christ, should practice.

Now we come to some things Christ had against this congregation.

Over as year ago, during the introduction to these letters to the seven church, I gave you two-word phrases that describe each of the seven churches. As I give them again, this time think not only of what is described about each church, but also of how it might be describing you personally

o Ephesus: neglected priorities.
o Smyrna: satanic opposition
o Pergamum: (let's skip this for a moment)
o Thyatira: immoral practices
o Sardis: spiritual apathy
o Philadelphia: lost opportunities
o Laodicea: material prosperity

...and o Pergamum: religious compromise

These are issues that all Christians and churches struggle with. Religious compromise - let's look at this aspect of the church in Pergamum.

To introduce this subject and also to illustrate it, let me take you to a place we visited on our last trip to the Holy Lands. Although this was a trip to the Holy Lands, the place I bring to you now is not mentioned in the Bible. We had already visited 11 biblical places - the 11th being the city of Alexander Troas. Here are some ruins of Roman bathhouses in ancient Troas.

In 1871, an American named Heinrich Schliemann began excavating an ancient city in western Turkey. To the amazement of many, this retired businessman had discovered the lost city of Troy. Here is a reconstructed model of the citadel - the fortress - of Troy. As you can see, there 9 different cities built on top of the previous.

The Greek poet Homer wrote about this ancient city in The Iliad. It is located in western Turkey near the entrance of the Dardanelles strait which connects the Aegean Sea to the Black Sea by way of the Sea of Marmara. For more than 2,000 years, people considered this place as mythical - not real. And the things that were said to have happened there were considered good stories, but fiction. Homer was born in the 8th century B.C., and lived at the time of the 6th civilization here at Troy. Today, you can see the ruins of its towers and its walls, which were 16 feet thick. Here is a picture of a model of the entire city, not just the hilltop fortress. Here is a picture of the steps leading to the valley and the rest of the city from the fortress. This picture shows the archaeologists designations for which history city is represented. In this picture you see their labels of city 2 through city 5. This is a picture of the sanctuary of city #8. And here is a model of the Trojan Horse, which kids can climb up into.

Do you remember the mythical story. According to Homer, the Greeks had besieged Troy for 10 years, without success. After the death of Achilles, many of the Greeks wanted to give up the fight. But the king of Ithaca, Odysseus, came up with a plan - a clever trick. Odysseus built an immense wooden horse, and leaves it at the gate of Troy, seemingly left as tribute by the Greeks who made out like they were fleeing and giving up. The Greek army boarded their ship and sailed away. But the horse really contained Odysseus and his warriors in its belly. The Trojans, thinking the Greeks had given up and had left, accepted the horse as a gift and brought it inside the gates. That night, while the city of Troy slept, the Greek army slipped out, and opened the gates. And at night the Greek ships also quietly came back and those aboard entered the city. They started fires all over the city. The Trojans awoke to find their city in flames. As they tried to flee, they were killed by the waiting Greeks. And, thus, we now know the source of the cliché, "beware of Greeks bearing gifts."

I bring you this story to show you that what the Greeks could not do from the outside in, they were able to do from the inside out. The story of the Trojan Horse and the fall of Troy have come to represent the subversion of anything from within.

And that is what was happening to the church at Pergamum. Whereas Satan was trying to crush the Christians at Smyrna by persecution from without, He was trying to collapse the congregation at Pergamum through corruption from within. That is the way our enemy operates. He either tries to crush us with hardship and hostility from the outside, or He tries to corrupt us from within by getting us to compromise. And we need to take heed to the fact that what ten years of outward assault on Troy was unable to accomplish, was done in one night when the enemy was brought within the city.

The Trojan Horse at Pergamum found itself in two areas of great concern. Let's read the verses of rebuke by Christ.

Revelation 2:14-15 (NKJV)

14 But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality.
15 Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.*

The Doctrine of Balaam

The first Trojan Horse mentioned by Jesus was the "Doctrine of Balaam." Christ said, "you have in your midst those who hold the doctrine of Balaam."

WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THIS PERSON, BALAAM, AND HIS DOCTRINES?

Balaam was the son of Beor, and was from Pethor on the Euphrates River in Mesopotamia (Deut 23:4). He was an Aramean prophet or soothsayer. Although he was aware of the true God, he seems to have made his services available on a freelance basis.

Near the end of Israel's 40 years trek in the wilderness, also near the end of the life of Moses, the Israelites were advancing north into Moab country. King Balak or Moab sent for the prophet Balaam, and asked him to put a curse on the Israelites, stopping them from entering Moab. You can read this incredible account in Numbers 22 thru 24. Balaam tried to put a curse on Israel, but every time Balaam opened his mouth, the words the Lord put there were not cursing but blessing. He tried three times to curse Israel, but was unable.

But because Balaam was greedy, he suggested a way for the king of Moab to get God to curse Israel. He suggested to Balak that his Moabite girls should seduce the Israelite men, by inviting them to take part in their idolatrous and immoral feasts. Balaam knew, and knew rightly, that this would provoke anger of the righteous Jehovah.

Our Passage here in Revelation 2 spells out what Balaam caused.

Revelation 2:14 (NKJV)

14 But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality.

Here we see the doctrine of Balaam condemned by Christ. His doctrines was idolatry and sexual immorality. And over and over again, Balaam is mentioned as an example of a false prophet.

2 Peter 2:15-16 (NIV) speaks of those who…..

15 ...have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Beor, who loved the wages of wickedness.
16 But he was rebuked for his wrongdoing by a donkey-- a beast without speech-- who spoke with a man's voice and restrained the prophet's madness.

Notices that Peter says Balaam "loved the wages of wickedness." This may indicate that those who practiced these doctrines in Pergamum, did so motivated by money and power.

Jude 4 (NIV) says that...

4 For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.

Of these Jude says, in verse 11:

11 Woe unto them! for they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Core.

To summarize:

Peter warned against "the way of Balaam."

Jude warned against "the error of Balaam."

And John, to Pergamum, warned against "the doctrine of Balaam."

Yet, in his day he had been a genuine prophet, and possessed great knowledge concerning God. He received direct revelations from God.

What were his way, his error and his doctrine?

"The way of Balaam" was a readiness to prostitute his high spiritual gifts for the "the wages of unrighteousness." He was willing to preach something contrary to God's Word for personal gain. "The error of Balaam" was evidently his willingness to compromise his own standards of morality and truth in order, through his greed, to accommodate his pagan patrons. "The doctrine of Balaam" was infiltrating the church even in John's day.

He had used his own teaching authority to persuade God's people that it was all right for them also to compromise these standards, even "to commit fornication" with their idol-worshipping enemies.

The Doctrine of the Nicolaitans

There is another group, whose doctrines Jesus hated. They were known as the Nicolaitans. Jesus makes reference to them twice among the seven letters, both in Revelation 2.

First, there are those who say that the doctrines of Balaam and the doctrines of the Nicolaitans are one and the say. They say that the Nicolaitans are the New Testament version of the Old Testament Balaamites. I couldn't, in all my reading, find reasons as to what brought them to this thought. But, as I got further in the studying of the root of the words used in our text, I came across a possible reason. The two names - Balaam in Hebrew, and Nicolaitans in Greek, mean exactly the same thing.

Let's look at the name, Nicolaitans. The name comes from two root words in Greek. Nicos or Nicao means "to conquer, to destroy." It is the word from which "Nike" is derived. In Greek mythology, Nike was the goddess of victory. The second Greek root word is Laos. The Greek word means, "People." This is also the word from which our English word, "LAITY" comes from. I am speaking of laity as compared to clergy. So a good translations of the name, "Nicolaitan," is: "those who conquer or destroy the people." And that is exactly what the name, "Balaam", means.

The second part of the name, Nicolaitans - Laos - will come up again in the name of the last of these seven churches - Laodicea. There has been much speculation as to who this group was, concerning their origin and what they taught. I won't spend too much time on them, but, the fact that this group finds themselves mentioned in the Scriptures gives us motivation to at least know something of their doctrine.

Jesus says, in verse 15, that He hates the doctrines of this group. The other time the Nicolaitans are mentioned is in the letter to the church at Ephesus. In Revelation 2:6 (NKJV), Christ says.

6 But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

Christ says to the church in Pergamum, "I hate the doctrines of the Nicolaitans." In Ephesus, He says, "I hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans." So, once again, if Christ hates something, then we need to be aware of what it is, so that we will not be caught up in that activity and lifestyle.

During the last two-thirds of the first century, the church was experiencing a dynamic time. Some of the apostles were still alive, having been eyewitnesses of Christ's resurrection, and the church was walking in the power we desperately need today. Despite the enthusiasm and ardent fervor that characterized the 1st-century Christianity, there was also a deadly force at work. I can be said that at any time you see God moving mightily among the church, you will also see Satan plotting a strategy to destroy the church.

Many of the attacks on the church came from the outside. Persecution was a normal experience to the early church. It was not uncommon for people to lose their life for their testimony of Christ, as the church in Pergamum experienced in the death of Antipas, one of their own. Jesus and the apostles had warned that the followers of Christ would be brought before rulers and authorities. But as always, sometimes the greatest threat to Christians does not come from "without" but from "within."

As mentioned a moment ago, the subject of the Nicolaitans is mentioned first in the letter to Ephesus. I find it interesting to compare to the Nicolaitans with what we read in Acts 20. In Acts 20, the apostle Paul is near the end of his 3rd missionary journey. In Acts 20:6, Paul is said to have traveled by ship from Philippi in Macedonia to Troas in Asia. They stay in Troas for 7 days. From there, Paul send the rest of the group by boat to Assos, but he wants to travel there by foot by himself. In Acts 20:14, we find Paul traveling by ship from Assos stopping at Mitylene on Lesbos Island. The next verse tells us that on the next day, the ship takes them to Chios. After a night's rest, they travel on to the island of Samos, off the coast of Ephesus. The next day, they arrive at Miletus.

At Miletus, Paul sends for the elders of the church in Ephesus to come down and meet with him. So he is in this city for just a few day, as he makes his way back to Jerusalem for the Jewish Holy Days. When the elders of Ephesus arrive in Miletus, he gives them a message of warning. He warns them about "savage wolves" who would be coming following his departure speaking false things (Acts 20:28-30). Here is what Paul said.

Acts 20:29-30 NKJV

28 Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God* which He purchased with His own blood.
29 For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.
30 Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.

Now the wolves had come. Sinister Nicolaitan false prophets were teaching their dark and dangerous doctrines as God's truth. The church in Ephesus sifted what they heard and "tested the spirit" behind it. Then they did what Paul instructed them to do - they absolutely rejected what the Nicolaitans taught. They remained faithful to the Lord.

I quote Ignatius, one of the earliest church leaders in the generation following the 12 apostles. We know that Polycarp, the leader in the church at Smyrna, was a disciple of the apostle John. We also know that Ignatius was a friend of Polycarp. That has led some to think he also was a disciple of the apostle John. Ignatius wrote to the church in Ephesus, and said:

"You heed nobody beyond what he has to say truthfully about Jesus Christ...I have heard that some strangers came your way with a wicked teaching. But you did not let them sow it among you. You stopped up your ears to prevent admitting what they disseminated."

But, in the case of the church in Pergamum, they had allowed them to infiltrate the congregation. So, what did they teach as their doctrine? What did they practice as to their deeds? In the letter to Pergamum, they are linked with the doctrines of Balaam. This may imply they were guilty of the same, which, as we have already noted, was idolatry and sexual perversion.

I did some research into whether or not the early church leaders, after the apostles, mentioned them. Ignatius says in a letter to the church in Philadelphia: "the Nicolaitan sees the end of all as pleasure and sees unlawful unions as a good thing." The phrase, "unlawful unions," is referring to fornication and adultery.

What the Nicolaitans taught was that mankind had two natures - spirit and body. The believed the body was inherently evil, and only the spiritual part of a person could be made holy. Therefore, you could defile the body any way possible without spiritual consequences.

Irenaeus, one of the disciples of Polycarp, stated:

"The Nicolaitans...lead lives of unrestrained indulgence...teaching that it is a matter of indifference to practice adultery, and to eat things sacrificed to idols."

Jesus holds it against the congregation for allowing teachers of false doctrine to remain in their midst. Jesus does not say the majority of the church practiced idolatry or committed sexual sin. It was that they weren't condemning the sins. They had tolerated the sins to continue. Some within this church were beginning to compromise their faith. And compromise is the first step to apostasy. We cannot court the world and what it considers acceptable morality and remain true to God. The Pergamene church was commended for waging war against the devil in the world. But they were not awake to the compromising with the devil taking place within the church.

We will continue our examination of the subject of "Compromising our Faith" in the next lesson.

   
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