Revelation 2:12-17 — The Compromised Church in Pergamos

As we study the Book of Revelation, those of us who are teaching it (five of us) do not understand everything the same. Some of us may emphasize one thing; others something else. There are some theological subjects that we certainly do not fully understand, and there are still some open questions about “the things which must shortly take place” that we are not completely settled about.  Our hope is that we are learning and teaching by the Holy Spirit, who is guiding all of us into all truth, and that we will live in the truth that we know.  None of us knows all of the truth, and even what we do know is only in part, and that part is known as through a foggy glass.  We must be humble, even as we may become more certain.  Each of you is responsible for searching the Scriptures to see if what we teach is of the truth. (1Cor 13:6-123Jn 1-4Dan 11:33-3512:1-3)

Rev 2:12-17

v 12  Whoever the angel is, he is being called to account for the spiritual health of the believers under his authority in the church in Pergamos (also called Pergamum).

v 13  Yeshua/Jesus describes Himself to this church as the one who has the sharp two-edged sword.  The Word of God goes forth from His mouth, and gets to the depths of our hearts, distinguishing both what He knows is good, and what He does not accept in each of us.  Jesus, not the worldly authorities in our cities, has the authority to judge who will live, and who will die. (Heb 4:11-13Jn 12:44-50)  Jesus knows their works, and that they do them where Satan’s throne is (these churches were in today’s Turkey).  He commends them for holding fast His name and for not denying their faith in Him, even in the face of persecution and of another believer being martyred.

We, too, could be faced some day with holding fast Jesus’ name for our faith, and under threat of death, knowing that others have been killed because of making the good confession of faith in Him.  Our love for Him will be key, as the Holy Spirit strengthens us for just such a time as that.

Satan is the prince of this world, and he wants all people to believe that there is no hope beyond this life, and that true satisfaction can be found in this life.  Believers in the truth of Jesus, who alone gives life and healing and eternal life in a perfect creation that God, who can not lie, has promised, are a testimony against the lies of the devil.  Yeshua came to destroy the works of the devil, who is the prince of this world.  By His death, shed blood, and resurrection, Jesus sets believers free from the power of the devil and of sin in our lives.  If we excuse our sins in the “name of” the grace of God, or by saying that our country or culture allows, even encourages, what God says is sin, then we are still serving Satan and rebelling against our Father and our Savior.  We can not serve both YHVH and Baal; we can not have one foot in the Kingdom of Light, and the other in the kingdom of darkness. (Ja 4:4-5)

v 14 (Num 25:1-1631:15-161Cor 10:8-142Pt 2:15Jude 1:11Rev 2:6)

Yeshua says to the angel that He has a few things against him, because there were some in that church that held the doctrine of Balaam.  The name of Balaam in Hebrew means to “swallow the people”; i.e., to destroy them (without having to be cannibals!)

Many of us in Israel and the “Christian West” have made “health” an idol of our times and generation:  ha-eekar ha-breeute!  No!  The main thing is not our physical health – however good and important that is to us all.  This is an out-growth of self-love more than of the love for God. (2Tim 3:1-5)  Knowing God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ is the main thing!   How much money and worry do we spend – do we sacrifice – to satisfy this idol of health?

And this, like any idol, can weaken our faith in God and in His word.  So many special diets and methods of physical and emotional “well-being” (I do not necessarily mean those who have existing health issues.)  The very Jewish Apostle Paul writes by inspiration of the Holy Spirit that any food can be eaten, with thanksgiving and prayer to God, and that bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness profits a lot, both in this world and in the world to come. (1Tim 4:1-11)

The lust of sexual immorality (2Pt 1:1-121Thes 4:1-8) is greatly damaging the testimony of the holiness of our God, the one true living God.  Balaam, who loved money, taught Balak, the King of Moab, to send the girls of Moab to seduce the boys of Israel – God’s chosen people — and to eat food being sacrificed to their god.  Sexuality has become an idol that demands to be served and worshipped:  it is promoted almost everywhere in the world, and tempting even very young children and teens today.  It “calls” to the people by all means, including by another potential idol – smart phones – as a false prophet.  Parents, are you paying attention?  Brothers and sisters of all ages, are we listening to the voice of strangers, or to the voice of our Great Shepherd?

Our Father in Heaven is against all forms of sexual immorality, so the devil is for every kind!  The Holy Spirit is against all forms of sexual immorality and abuse, so our flesh – our sinful nature – is susceptible to it, and we, as believers must fight against it.  We have used the members of our body for sin, but now we are to use them for righteousness and for holiness. (Rom 6Gal 5:16-26)  Those who approve of or practice sexual immorality will not inherit the Kingdom of God! (1Cor 6:9-11Rom 1:28-32)  The Lord Jesus Christ – and His apostles  — is speaking to professing believers in the churches!  He is speaking to us!  We can not eat things sacrificed to demons, and also to God.  This is to have a “high place”, fellowshipping in the Lord’s name where everyone worships his gods-demons with everyone else theirs, as if the true God is on the same plane as the false gods of this world. (1Cor 10:6-22Dt 12:2-71Kg 11:1-8)  Do you have an ear that is listening, and a heart after His?!  Our hope and love for each of you is that you will have part in the first resurrection and inherit the Kingdom of God.

I know of pastors who approve of people living together as a couple before being married.  You know:  see if you get along well and like each other before making your final decision, or, because you are engaged and already certain, so it’s okay.  No!  This is not the way our Good Shepherd is leading His flock.  There are believers who think that if they have sex with an unbeliever that they like, maybe the unbeliever will become a believer.  You know:  share the “gospel” through sex!  No!  These are the deeds and doctrines of Balaam, and they will destroy the holy people of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!  We must control ourselves (part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit), and we must fear the Lord and love Him above all!  We want to please Him and inherit the Kingdom of God to live forever with Him.

v 15 (Acts 20:29-31)  The word “Nicolaitans” in Greek means victory or rule over the people. (This, as compared with the word “Laodicea”, which means rule or judgment of the people.)  I have read of other definitions, and there is clearly some disagreement over the best one.  The one that I have decided on is in agreement with “lording over the people”, what Yeshua told His disciples Gentiles are used to doing, but not what He wants us to do if we are leaders.  (When YHVH gave His “dominion mandate” to Adam and Eve, He did include ruling over and subduing people.)

(Laodicea is comparable to democracy, which has “no king”, and the will of the people is theoretically supreme.)  The Lord does give positions of leadership, oversight, and authority in the local churches, but we are not to lord it over those in them, or enrich ourselves by you, but to serve as brothers, being an example, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry for building up the Body of Christ until full spiritual maturity and unity of the faith, knowing the Son of God. (1Pt 5:1-4Mt 20:24-28Eph 4:11-16)

To the church in Ephesus, the Lord commended the angel that he hated the deeds of the Nicolaitans. (Rev 2:6)  In this church in Pergamos, there were those who compromised their faith and walk with the Lord. They mix and justify the things of the flesh with the things of the Spirit (perhaps in the hope of avoiding persecution?). There are many “natural” believers who think that homosexuality is okay for others, even though God’s word is clear about that.  When church leadership, ministers of the truth of God, compromises to becoming “democratic”, with the will of the people influencing those supposedly given authority from the Lord Jesus Christ, they begin to serve in the fear of man and not of God, and want to be “culture-friendly” in order to grow and become more popular by becoming more like – or, at least approving of — the sinful society rather than grow in sanctification as a new creation in Messiah Yeshua.  Jesus, the Holy One of Israel, never sinned in order to attract sinners!  It is probably because the lusts of the flesh and of the eyes are still not condemned by them in themselves. (Rom 8:1-9)  (The church in Thyatira actually brought these teachings into the church.)

As Aaron, in the incident of the golden calf, or King Saul, in the incident of not killing all of the Agagites and their animals – they feared the people rather than obeyed the Lord, and brought sin and judgment into and upon God’s people.  Saul was the people’s choice, which YHVH God gave them when they rejected Him to be King over them.  “Give us a king like the Gentiles have!”  The LORD told Samuel the prophet to tell them what such a king would be like.  Jesus tells His disciples what Gentile rulers are like.  This is what the deeds and doctrine of the Nicolaitans are, which the Lord hates.  This is the way of Diotrephes, who loved to have the preeminence among the leaders of the church, and did not even receive the true Apostles into his congregation! (3Jn 9-10)  Who are we looking for to rule in God’s house?

When church leaders place their own opinions above the Word of God, they replace Jesus as Head of the churches with imperfect human beings, even if saved.  As elders and overseers of a church, we are responsible to live righteously with faith to please God, and not to satisfy ourselves.  We are to hold one another to God’s standard, and not to exchange His with our own, whether high or low. He will judge all of us who believe by His way and not by our way. (2Cor 5:9-11)  Becoming like the world in our congregational governance and judgment will lead us to become like the world, and approve, and then do, and then teach the doctrines of Balaam and of the Nicolaitans, which is idolatry and sexual immorality.

v 16  repent, or else I will come to you quickly and fight against them with the sword of My mouth!

The fact that Yeshua calls us to repent (like all of the Prophets did before, including John the Baptizer, and the Apostles afterwards), means that we are not freed by grace and forgiveness to live however we please.  As those who say that we believe in Yeshua, our old behavior and lifestyle must be examined, and what is not appropriate for a disciple of Yeshua/Jesus must be “left behind”. (Ja 2:17-18)   If we do not repent of our sins as the Lord has spoken of in this letter to the church in Pergamos, He Himself will come and fight against us with the Word of God – the Sword of the Spirit — which is how we know what He approves of, and what He does not!  The requirement to repent of our sins and of our approval of the sins of society or of our church governance is a witness against the deeds and the doctrines of the Nicolaitans, which Jesus hates, because it “swallows the people”, and defiles and weakens our life and testimony for the glory of God and of His name.

v 17   The Lord promises each overcomer a new name, that He gives, and somehow only each of us will know what it is.  Each person is responsible to hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches:  let him/her who has an ear….  Each one of us is responsible what we hear, and what we do with what the Spirit is saying to the churches, including Kehilat Nachalat Yeshua.  Yeshua loves you.  Let us love Him who first loved us.  If we do, then we will listen to and do what He says.

This article originally appeared on Streams in the Negev, March 25, 2022, and reposted with permission.