12“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Pergamum. This is the message from the one who has a sharp two-edged sword:
13“I know that you live in the city where that great throne of Satan is located, and yet you have remained loyal to me. And you refused to deny me even when Antipas, my faithful witness, was martyred among you by Satan’s followers. 14And yet I have a few complaints against you. You tolerate some among you who are like Balaam, who showed Balak how to trip up the people of Israel. He taught them to worship idols by eating food offered to idols and by committing sexual sin. 15In the same way, you have some Nicolaitans among you—people who follow the same teaching and commit the same sins. 16Repent, or I will come to you suddenly and fight against them with the sword of my mouth.
17“Anyone who is willing to hear should listen to the Spirit and understand what the Spirit is saying to the churches. Everyone who is victorious will eat of the manna that has been hidden away in heaven. And I will give to each one a white stone, and on the stone will be engraved a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it. (Revelation 2:12-17, NLT)
The Daily DAVEotional
Though the book of Revelation is filled with figurative language describing apocalyptic events that will occur in the future, the first couple of chapters describe real events that were happening at the time the author penned his words.
In chapters 2 and 3, John is instructed to write down messages that were to be delivered to 7 different churches. These were real churches and the messages were a combination of praise for the things they were doing well and rebuke for those things they were failing to do as true followers of Jesus.
In this passage of Revelation, John is writing to the church at Pergamum. The people in that church had done some things that were worthy of praise, most notably, they had remained loyal to Jesus despite cultural pressures that existed in their city.
But there were some things that were not pleasing to the Lord. The text calls them complaints. The biggest issue in this church was that they were compromising on their moral values, particularly in the area of sexual purity.
The Lord references two obscure biblical characters to lodge His complaint. He mentions Balaam as well as a group referred to as the “Nicolaitans”.
Balaam was a prophet whose story is found in Numbers 22-25. Balak, the king of Aram had seen the vast people of Israel encamped near him and he sought the help of Balaam in bringing a curse upon the Israelites. The short story is that even though the king of Aram offered up an incredible amount of riches in exchange for Balaam’s curse, Balaam only blesses the Israelites instead.
A quick reading of the story might lead one to conclude that Balaam was a good guy who followed the Lord’s leading. However, we find out in subsequent chapters that even though Balaam did obey the Lord by not cursing the Israelites but blessing them instead, he also conspired against the Israelites by suggesting to Balak a way to do an end around God’s blessing of his people.
It was Balaam who suggested to king Balak that Israel would easily defile themselves if their men were encouraged to pursue foreign women as wives. Balaam knew that these men, in their physical lust, would forsake the Lord and worship the gods of these foreigners. Though Israelite men were forbidden to sleep with foreign women or take them as wives. Balaam urged Balak to take this course anyway, knowing that it would be the first step to leading the whole nation away from the Lord.
The other group also referenced in this passage is the Nicolaitans. This group was not praised and there are at least two passages that reference this group and warns about them.
So who are the Nicolaitans and what was wrong with their doctrine?
Most of what we know about the Nicolaitans is from early church fathers who wrote that the Nicolaitans were followers of Nicolas, who taught a doctrine of compromise.
One view is that because it was mentioned in Acts 6:5 that Nicolas was a proselyte from Antioch then he must’ve had a background in the occult and pagan religions. It’s speculated that he taught that one did not need to relinquish all ties to former religions when coming to Christ. He, and his followers, had one foot in Christianity and another foot in the world.
In other words, pagan practices were not discouraged or spoken against and therefore, there was a compromise of character and conduct that didn’t match Jesus’ teachings and the expectations of the early church.
One thing we know for sure, the church at Pergamum was rebuked because of their compromise in the sexual area. The Lord cites the example of Balaam, who showed Balak how to trip up the Israelites by enticing them to fall into sexual sin, as well as the example of the Nicolaitans, who according to this passage, committed the same sexual sins.
Many commentators believe that the 7 churches in these chapters, though real churches, are also representative of all churches throughout the ages. In other words, every church will generally resemble one of these churches in terms of the issues it struggles with.
We live in a culture that is very progressive in its views of sexuality and sex. Just about nothing is off limits any more. And some of these sexual views have crept into the church so that many Christians are no longer holding fast to traditional biblical views on sex and sexual immorality. In short, we are seeing quite a bit of compromise.
I recently wrote about “The Recipe for Salad Bar Religion”, in which I looked at a passage from 2 Kings 17 that showed that the people who had been transplanted in Jerusalem were taught how to worship the Lord but they never forsook their old worship practices. Hence, their understanding of God was simply added to the pantheon of religious views and practices they already held.
In a way, this is the problem for the church at Pergamum and for us today. We have some doctrinal views about God and Jesus and particularly salvation that we hold to but when it comes to our daily practices, we often adopt the practices of the world. We therefore end up with a faith in which we appear loyal to God intellectually and doctrinally but in our daily practices our lives often are more reflective of the culture around us.
The message Jesus has for us today is the same message He had 2000 years ago to the church at Pergamum. The Lord may well tell us the same thing He vocalized to His people then – that He is glad we are remaining loyal in the midst of a wicked culture but He is upset with how easily we compromise our moral standards, particularly when it comes to the area of sexual fidelity.
What are some moral areas in which you see Christians compromising today?
What are some of the ways you see the culture influencing Christians to compromise regarding their views and understanding of sexual immorality?
How would you summarize the biblical view of sex and sexual immorality to a new believer? What scriptural references would you use to support your views?
What steps can you take to ensure that you are not rebuked by Jesus for compromising your moral values?