This is the third letter from Jesus to the churches. In this series of essays the words of Jesus are pondered with a goal of maintaining the concepts that Jesus developed as documented in the Gospel of Matthew: the concepts of the Kingdom of Heaven.
This is the fourth essay in the series. Remember that there is a lot more reference material that needs to be known before reading this. It is suggested to read the first essay before reading this one.
This letter covers some unusual topics. Since this letter references Balaam, we will examine much about the Balaam story, seeking to understand what that was all about. After all, Jesus is expecting us to understand what he means.
Pergamum means spouse or wife.
Revelation 2:12-17 Write to the angel of the church in Pergamum: The One who has the sharp, double-edged sword says: I know where you live — where Satan’s throne is. And you are holding on to My name and did not deny your faith in Me, even in the days of Antipas, My faithful witness who was killed among you, where Satan lives. But I have a few things against you. You have some there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to place a stumbling block in front of the Israelites: to eat meat sacrificed to idols and to commit sexual immorality. In the same way, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Therefore repent. Otherwise, I will come to you quickly and fight against them with the sword of My mouth.
Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. I will give the victor some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name is inscribed that no one knows except the one who receives it.
Jesus starts by reminding his bride that he does hold the truth, the two edged sword.
Hebrews 4 speaks of the double edged sword as being sharp enough to divide between the soul and spirit, and between the joint and marrow. Hebrews identifies a double edged sword as the word of God. The Gospel of John starts with a powerful section clarifying the identity of Jesus, the word of God. The context of John 1 transfers great power to the context of Hebrews 4. The context of Hebrews 4 shows us that we are invited to enter into the Sabbath rest that is always awaiting as a long as there is a day called Today. “Rest”, or “laying aside all concerns”, is presented in Hebrews as the relief for the problems experienced at Massah and Meribah, where the wandering Israelites grumbled about trusting God to provide for them. And the use of “a day called Today” makes clear that this is a continuous pursuit. Any and every time you think of this subject, this rest, the day is Today. Today this rest is available.
You can follow the context in Hebrews to the context of the Psalms quoted in Heb 3 and 4. Then follow that context to the books of the Moses story referenced by those Psalms – the trouble at Massah and Meribah, where the followers of God did not trust God, nor God’s High Priest, for water, while their stomachs were full of miracle bread and meat. Hebrews goes on to say that we have a High Priest who has experienced every temptation and understands our WEAKNESS. So we can boldly go before the throne as it is MERCY that awaits us. This is another important concept to hold in mind as we read this letter.
The sword is called a “double-edged” sword. It cuts both ways. For me, this brings into focus the nature of the teachings of Jesus, including these 7 Letters. If your concepts are still rooted in the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, the sword that is the word that is Jesus makes clear that you must be better than you are to earn heaven, dividing the goal from the effort in one way, a hopeless way. But if your concepts are born again, again having access to the Tree of Life, the sword that is the word that is Jesus makes clear that your efforts are separated from your status. You are saved by believing. The double-edged sword is the Word bringing us to rest – Today.
The soul is clearly different from the spirit, else they could not be separated. My soul is who I am at the mortal life level: my thoughts, passions, and resulting actions. My spirit is who I am at the eternal life level: my eternal existence. All people know that their eternal existence is somehow tied to their mortal existence.
When the double-edged sword swings one way it breaks that connection with devastating results: you begin to be aware that you cannot earn your way to heaven. Jesus swings the double-edged sword one way and you see the hopeless gap between your mortal efforts and eternal life: justice will demand recompense – eternal death.
When the double-edged sword swings the other way it breaks that connection with glorious results, your mortal failures can no longer destroy your eternity. Jesus swings the double-edged sword and frees you from eternal justice. The Word of God paid the incomprehensible penalty, your mortal efforts are forgiven, simply believe and change to the mercy edge of the sword.
That is a concept to Rest in … Today.
So Jesus opens this Letter by establishing his identity as Living Word who is able to divide between the soul and spirit and has invited us to rest in his Mercy.
The Lampstands were discussed in the first essay. These are the localized groups of Jesus followers whose role is to illuminate the Bread of Life – Jesus.
The Merciful High Priest that walks among the lampstands and has the weapon of clear thinking built on Mercy is ready to speak to the church, his wife. We are listening.
Where Satan has his throne
Satan is a real being – a being best described with superlatives. Any attribute we observe is not simply present, it is present in a way that makes comparison weak. In this letter Jesus says that Pergamum is where Satan has his throne.
Humans love ceremony and grandeur. You can bet that the city of Pergamum had it in vast excess – great spectacles of tremendous glory, beauty and power. Real power, not Computer Generated deception. When Satan and his angels expose their power, awe is the common response. In a world of depressed apathy, such displays generate fervent, passionate worship, with followers going to any length to entice their gods to interact with them. The temples are fabulous and awe-inspiring, the activities are powerful and shocking.
In this society of greatness, spectacle and power lives the Pergamum wife. The contrast is extreme.
Juxtaposed to the lure of this spectacular society stood one Antipas, who was killed. In the eyes of Satan’s devotees at Pergamum he was a weak and powerless man falling before the exhibited power of the demon gods.
The wife of Jesus was resisting the lure of the society to join in as society exalts the name of Satan, in one of his many incarnations, as worthy of worship. The wife is choosing to cling to a socially unacceptable notion that the distant and un-glamorous peasant so ignobly killed in Jerusalem is the great King on the throne of Mercy.
Jesus praises his wife for remaining faithful even while such a powerful attractive force entices her.
Jesus says “But I have a few things against you”
It is important to note that Jesus does not need to correct the Wife about Love, which is the command Jesus gave his disciples. This brings some certainty that Pergamum is a church of Love, a group where people live by 1Corinthians13 as best they can.
Jesus explains the first thing he wants his wife to consider: “You have some who hold the teaching of Balaam“.
Be aware that Jesus is not referring to a story he simply read about in the Torah. Jesus is the being that gave Balaam instructions – Jesus knows Balaam, Jesus knows his thoughts and allegiances.
Since Jesus references Balaam, we should view that as an invitation to understand Balaam. And it is quite the story.
The account of the interaction of Balaam spans several chapters in the story of the journey and wanderings of the Israelites. I encourage you to read it and ponder the complexity that the story introduces in your concepts.
Background for the Balaam story:
The Moabites are a people group who tried to hire Balaam to curse Israel. The Moabites are relatives of Israel. They are descended from Abraham’s nephew Lot via an incestuous relationship with one of his daughters. But before you throw them all out based on the one sin, keep in mind a few things:
– God placed a specific protection on the Moabites, showing his great love. And on their cousins descended through the same type of relationship.
– After these events with Balaam and the treachery of the Moabites, God made some new rules about Moabites, excluding them from the Tabernacle.
– David was part Moabite and excluded by law from the Tabernacle, yet was in the Tabernacle often.
– The lineage of Jesus is through these relationships between these people.
These facts bring understanding related to Balaam, because the guy hiring Balaam is related to the Israelites through Lot’s daughter and related to Jesus through a later Moabite named Ruth, but, more importantly, these stories are also an inescapable illustration of one of God’s prevailing traits: mercy. Observing the Mercy of God is a clear trait of citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. The Mercy of God is why Jesus came to die on the cross, raise to life again, and then write this Letter to Pergamum.
For a longer look at this, there is another essay available that can help.
While Israel crosses the land towards their “Promised Land” they have to cross Moab land. The Moabites are worried they will eat everything because there are so many of them.
In another obscure reference, Paul refers to Jannes and Jambres in 2 Timothy. But it is clear from Paul’s letter that he expects the reader (Timothy, and all readers, including us) to know what he means. We have various references to Jannes and Jambres in various ancient extant documents, enough to know that they were the “magicians” or “sorcerers” that Pharaoh called on to duplicate the initial signs and plagues presented by Moses and Aaron. Interestingly, the Midrash collection contains references to Jannes and Jambres and here is where it gets pertinent.
It is stated that Jannes and Jambres are the sons of Balaam! Whether physical sons or spiritual sons is not significant, that they knew Balaam and were practicing powerful magic for another ruler is quite revealing. Think about it. Balaam has some clearly very advanced spiritual power and skills and his sons or disciples have followed suit and became the spiritual advisors of one of the most powerful, long lasting empires in history (Egypt).
Another very revealing statement is that they went with the Jews when they left Egypt. This makes sense if you think of them as men with deep knowledge of the spiritual realms: Moses was clearly powerful and they would want to know more, so they went with Moses.
It is also said that they died either at the Golden Calf event or in Korah’s rebellion. It is not much of an assumption that they would have been highly involved in those events, especially when considering other stories that have them fighting their way into the 4th or 5th level of heaven.
How this helps us understand Balaam:
Paul refers to Jannes and Jambres, making their story a basis for understanding that Paul expects from the reader (us).
Paul references their opposition to Moses. I would assume that this refers to the Golden Calf and/or Korah’s rebellion because Paul said their defeat would “make everyone aware of their folly”. If they had stayed in Egypt I can’t see that everyone would be aware of their folly – they would still be respected as very powerful spiritual men. So it is not too great a step to assume they were involved and destroyed in the exodus.
Learning these things about Jannes and Jambres brings order to our concepts about spiritually powerful humans – especially their concepts about their relationship to God Most High.
From this extra knowledge we see that Balaam was the same sort of person – powerful in the spirit realm but not dedicated to God alone.
Main Balaam Story
In the initial story of Balaam we should be impressed with his submission to God: he steadfastly refuses to go against what God has spoken. When God tells him to go, there appears to be undocumented thoughts in Balaam, as God is angry that he is going – after telling him to go. So God would not be angry simply because he went. There must be some other change in Balaam that is not recorded in the story in Exodus. Apply your Jannes and Jambres concept here. This is supported by 1Peter2:16, wherein the phrase “stopped his madness or bad thinking” is used. God sends an Angel to kill him but he has the famous exchange with his donkey, wherein Balaam again expresses his complete willingness to do all that God commands. God sends him on to Moab (Balak). In complete submission to God Balaam completely obeys God and refuses Balak’s requests. This is where the initial account stops.
Then, as Moses is given his last tasks before death, God commands them to attack the Midianites (neighbors to Moab and also descendants of Abraham) and take vengeance for the things they have done, specifically in luring some Israelites to worship other gods, specifically the Baal of Peor. Peor was a mountain in the region. In Moses last tasks, the Israelites kill all the Midianite men but they take captive all the women. God has them kill all the women except the virgins. When they kill all the men, Balaam is specifically listed among those killed. And here is where we are told that it was Balaam that gave advice on how to weaken Israel by luring them into worshiping other gods, using a lure of sexual immorality. Word study: im = negation; morality = a belief system about behavior; immorality = a lack of a belief system about behavior.
Balaam recommended a lure of removing the Israelite’s belief systems through worship of a demon god. In the statement in this Revelation Letter about sacrificing to idols and sexual immorality, many people will focus on the sexual IM-morality but the other part is always more significant – worshiping a being or entity other than God Most High.
Note that in Numbers 24, Balaam “saw that God was going to bless Israel” so HE DID NOT USE ANY MAGIC. From this statement the Bible makes clear that Balaam had other powers he could use.
Balaam is certainly familiar with God and quite submissive, like one who is in his presence regularly.
Maybe Balaam is too familiar – we know of another who is regularly in the presence of God and is so familiar that he has moved himself out of dependency – Satan. Read the initial scene in Job for an example.
Balaam never dares to directly disobey, but he is familiar with other spiritual techniques (e.g. did not use magic that one time).
His advice to weaken the Israelites is to use the other spiritual powers to entice them into true immorality guided by a very real experience with the real spiritual powers of demon worship. True immorality is a lack of morals, or lack of belief in rules governing behavior as opposed to regretted actions that were sourced in passion. When a person has regret for actions, that regret firmly establishes that the person believes that the actions were in opposition to that person’s beliefs. True immorality is shown by actions sourced in principles that deny the sovereignty of Jesus – God. Hence the example given in Numbers 25 wherein one man chooses to have sex with one of the demon worshipers in the full view of everyone. Do you think he was just having trouble resisting his passions? Any doubt about what he believed about God’s relevance to the culture of Peor?
The man was acting in more than simple sexual passion. There can be no doubt that he did not consider the worship of God Most High as set apart from all other things (holy). As is often the case through history and in modern times, humans express their self-determination through elevation of their thoughts and desires. The man in the Balaam induced spiritual rebellion story did not believe that God Most High was relevant to the culture of Peor. This should bring to awareness the ways in which God Most High is not considered relevant to your society. I am certain that there are many ways in which the thoughts of God Most High are despised.
So – in this Letter from Jesus, God, the Balaam reference may be wanting us to hold in our minds that Balaam was a high-powered spiritual guy that was leading people away from worshiping the God Most High.
The Pergamum wife is cautioned because she has people who “hold to the teachings of Balaam”. “Hold” here clearly is an intellectual assent to a set of principles. She has people who think as Balaam did. She is called on to deal with those who have been drawn into the environment of Love and Forgiveness but underneath hold themselves at God’s level or they hold to other forces they believe are at or above God’s level. Remember where this church is – where Satan has his throne. Is Satan’s throne now in your society? Would you recognize it?
The environment of true Love and Forgiveness can be taken advantage of by those that do not worship Jesus, the Messiah and Son of God. The Wife of Jesus must address this situation. But how?
Next Jesus addresses the other thing he has against them. Jesus says that the Wife also has the Nicolaitans. Note that the Wife is not a Nicolaitan, but the church at Pergamum has Nicolaitans among them. We already discussed this group of people in the initial essay and the first Letter essay. In those we exposed that the Nicolaitans are very likely people who attempt to enforce the rules without Love, in parallel to the Pharisees. Nicolaitans are living very respectable lives focused on obedience to rules, but having no evidence of Jesus. Jesus said the world would know his followers by their Love.
So our question here is the same as for the Balaam followers. What to do?
Jesus answers that question next, and his directive helps us understand the situation. Both the Balaam-ites and the Nicolaitans are referred to as “some among you” or similar, but the Wife herself is not identified as holding that view. When Jesus instructs the Wife to “Repent” (change her thinking), he clearly means that some issue with Pergamum’s thinking is why the two groups exist IN the church.
If a church is operating in 1Cor13 Love, they will be similar to Jesus in lovingly welcoming all, without prejudice against any particular sin.
When you are full of Love for people, it will be difficult to deal with people that associate with the church that have one of the 2 problems that are listed in this letter:
The Balaamites will be difficult because the loving church will be waiting to see if they repent while gently coaxing them towards worshiping the One True God.
The Nicolaitans will be tolerated in a similar but more subtle fashion. Since they are probably teaching Law (rules) to people, it may be difficult to decide when they have gone too far and need to be corrected as in Matthew18.
So when Jesus tells Pergamum to “Change Thinking”, it seems he is telling them to address these groups in the right fashion, in Love but needing correction to keep the Wife at Pergamum healthy.
This must be in keeping with the teachings from Jesus concerning dealing with conflict. Jesus taught directly on the subject in Matthew 18, and he lived by this in the conflict with the religious leaders. This principle, this concept of dealing with conflict in the Kingdom of Heaven, is also taught by Paul in various places. Then we have the examples of these issues in various places. For example, the often misunderstood teaching in 1Cor5 is applicable here. The “man has his father’s wife”. Paul scolds the Corinthian church since not even the pagans do such things. What did the pagans in 1 century Greece do? You do you own research, but my research shows they did almost every sexual sin EXCEPT taking another man’s wife. So Paul is not referring to using the Pagans as a standard, but just pointing out to the church that they should think a little, like Jesus is telling the Pergamum church. Paul then instructs them to “hand the man over to Satan” so that he might be saved. Saved? He needs to be saved, meaning he does not have Jesus as Lord. This is evidenced by the fact that he clearly is quite open about an ongoing relationship with the woman. The evidence for his open disregard for the thoughts of God is extended by the inferred fact that there are plenty of witnesses. It is apparent that the inappropriate relationship was well known. Let’s be clear here: the man did not have moments of weakness when he burned with passion and copulated with the woman, followed by the agony of “why did I do that? I am so stupid!”. No – he is one who is casually open about this copulation even though he knows God considers it a sinful situation. He does not believe his actions are subject to God.
In case you don’t buy this, Paul carefully continued on in 1Cor to instruct you to throw out 5 groups of sinners. You read the list. Are you supposed to throw out someone who slanders in the church foyer? How many would be left? How would that action align with 1Cor13? Does it not make more sense that you throw out those who slander claiming that such rules do not apply to them, that they are above God in authority? Using a mindset like that of the Bereans (able to see the Gospel in the Old Testament), continuing to read in 1Corinthians reinforces this point of view. You should pursue it.
Consider that Paul gave instructions like Matthew 18 to Timothy when instructing Timothy on practical issues with the ongoing complexity of dealing with a group of people. But in 1 Corinthians after the issues we discussed above, he continues to chastise the people for taking the issues outside the church. Paul states that it is a shame that they take the issues outside the church. While chastising them on taking each other to Law, he refocuses on the Kingdom of Heaven principle of mercy and forgiveness: “Therefore, to have legal disputes against one another is already a moral failure for you. Why not rather put up with injustice? Why not rather be wronged?”
From this we can see that the New Command of the New Covenant – Love One Another – applies to problems encountered inside the church, the Bride of Jesus. First with the mercy as shown us, the mercy advised by Paul “Why not rather be wronged?” instead of pursuing judgment against someone. But in those cases where something must be done, then the Matthew 18 approach is needed. Which again results, not in judgment but in a clear standing of the offender in relation to Jesus, God Most High. Outside the repentance that leads to naming Jesus as Lord – Supreme in Authority – there is no hope. This is a bad place to stand.
So to work these issues of Pergamum – Nicolaitans and Balaamites – we have been instructed to take Matt18 and work it through. The Matthew 18 approach is of vital importance in every accusation based activity. Believing and acting on all of the instructions in Matt18 includes the result of treating the person that refuses to change their mind as a tax-collector. Matthew was a tax-collector when called by Jesus.
Some in Pergamum hold to the teaching of Balaam or the Nicolaitans. We hold to the teaching of Jesus, so we see that Pergamum needs to do Matt18 for the Nicolaitans. The Wife needs to change her thinking about how to Love those within her group that forcefully elevate self-righteousness above the Kingdom of Heaven (Love and Mercy). The Wife needs to take them aside and explain the Kingdom of Heaven to them. If they insist on their view that perfect obedience is the highest goal, then bring witnesses (the teachings of Jesus, God , etc – a conceptual offense requires conceptual witnesses) to identify the discrepancy between their beliefs and the teachings of Jesus. Then bring the matter to complete openness before all. If they remain steadfast in their mistaken view of the nature of God Most High and his Kingdom, then treat them as a tax-collector, such as Matthew was. Loved by Jesus and called to a deeper relationship. But now it is an open acknowledgment of the crucial difference in Kingdoms. All parts of the Wife are aware of the difference. Those who continue with their beliefs negating the Kingdom of Heaven will likely leave as the contradiction of their belief has been brought to the whole group. In the heavens, they are recognized as outside the Kingdom of Heaven. They are operating in the other kingdom. They have been “handed over to Satan” as Paul advised in 1Cor5.
For greater context on applying Matt18 to these issues, consider the approach of Jesus working with the Pharisees. In private first, then seeking to teach in small settings, referencing witnesses (because Jesus is dealing with spiritual issues, he is using spiritual witnesses), followed by public confrontation, then publicly identifying the kingdom of the Religious Leaders (you speak for your father – Satan). Then the Son of Man left it for Father God to deal with.
For the Balaamites, it is very important to get the belief systems in the open. Those who do not worship Jesus or worship Jesus along with other gods must be gently exposed and invited to properly identify themselves.
Jesus dealt with the demons trying to mislead his followers by casting the demons out of the people. I am referring to the numerous instances of the demons telling everyone that Jesus is the Son of God, thereby weakening the Kingdom of Heaven message.
Paul dealt with the same type of issue at Philippi with the same technique. Casting the demon out, not the person.
But when there are belief systems that are being used to mislead, those must be addressed directly as Jesus did with the Pharisees and Paul did with the Pharisees outside and inside the church. Another good example is the letters called 1,2, and 3 John. These letters are very concerned about the infiltration of the belief systems that cause the church to lower the understanding of Jesus to anything less than who he is. Matthew 12 again becomes central. The John letters are entirely focused on this subject.
Please note that this essay is not a definitive guide for dealing with the situation. The Holy Spirit is the definitive guide. The written word of God is also our guide. These things written here are simply the ponderings of another disciple.
Also recall that these Letters in Revelation are to churches, groups of followers of Jesus. Dealing with these situations at the individual level will have differences. For example, if I encounter a Nicolaitan or Balaamite in my daily life, it is not my immediate response to confront. It is my immediate response to Love them like Jesus Loves me. Further action will be guided by the Spirit. I am his agent.
But I suspect that the solution to Balaam in the church, as discussed above, could get difficult. You are confronting the agents of Satan. In active spiritual environments and in modern western intellectual society, (where Satan is cleverly hiding at this time) I would expect that this would result in open spiritual warfare or direct suppression via intellectual means (government, law).
In intellectual churches, exposing the worship of Satan involves exposing the exaltation of the precepts of science, knowledge, and law above the precepts of God. Exposing such things will bring the full fury of Satan through his agents. Who are his agents in your society? The agents at Pergamum killed Antipas. Maybe in your society Satan’s agents are even more vicious, destroying people without the benefit of death – wherein the abuse stops and the Blessed Hope is achieved. I observe that many Jesus worshipers do not even recognize the agents, because they are lured by the culture of their respective Peor and their respective city of Pergamum.
Next Jesus says if his Wife doesn’t do it, he will. And again we have the sword reference, which, again using the connection to the sword of Hebrews and the direct references to Massah and Meribah, we see that for those who do not choose God’s Rest, the other path is rough. An important point to note here is that Jesus will do it. He is not calling on his wife to attack them. He calls on his wife to deal with them using the instructions he already gave them about operating in Love.
As in the other Letters of Jesus, and in his words recorded in Matthew etc, Jesus gives the invitation for all to hear and learn from this letter, if they have ears to hear the deeper meaning. And Jesus gives a promise to eat the hidden manna – another blessing from the desert like the Massah and Meribah water. These desert blessings are best enjoyed Today while Resting (Hebrews4). This letter ending also has a beautiful promise of a new name that is known only to you and God. A new identity, safe from your old one. Separated by the mercy edge of the sword. Satan and his vast horde of accusers cannot make successful accusations against your eternal identity.
Note: this is not a translation or even a paraphrased replacement for the actual letter in Revelation 2. This is intended to provide a conceptual understanding of the letter. Then re-read the real letter to allow the Spirit of God to speak to you through his living word.
Jesus reminds his Wife that he is the one that speaks important truth that leads to rest. He says the he knows that she is in a place of significant confrontation with lots of powerful bad guys that try to separate her from him by luring her and by hurting her. But Jesus knows her love is true. Jesus says to the Wife “there are a few house cleaning items that need attention: some of the bad guys trying to separate us have moved in our house, and some of the kids are not being loving, in fact, they are dangerously mean to the others. Please change the way you think about both of these issues and deal with them as I taught you, otherwise I’ll deal with it myself. You are my locked garden as I said in Song of Solomon: I reserve you for myself, my love.”