seven letters  pergamum part II

As we saw last time, Jesus gave a strong message of approval to the Christians in the city of Pergamum because they stood strong for Him in the midst of a very difficult situation. But that's not to say that everything that the Christians in Pergamum were doing was worthy of Jesus' approval...

"And 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" (Revelation 2:14 NLT).

As strange as it may seem, Balaam may be best known as the guy who once had a conversation with a talking donkey and you can read his complete story in the Biblical book of Numbers in chapters 22-25. 

Balaam was a prophet who was hired by an enemy king named Balak to curse the people of Israel. Balak promised to give Balaam a lot of money to speak a curse against the Israelites but each time he went to do it, God gave him a blessing to speak instead. So Balaam was unable to collect on his big payoff but he apparently came up with another plan that Jesus tells us about in the passage quoted above. This additional information provided by Jesus indicates that Balaam's plan was this: "If I can't get God to curse the people, maybe I can get the people to bring God's judgment on themselves." And that's exactly what happened according to Numbers 25:1-3.

So Balaam is an example of a religious person who is really only interested in making money. He represents someone who appears to be spiritual but actually has a hidden agenda and is willing to sell people out for a price. Balaam also illustrates the kind of person who teaches that it's OK to compromise on something that God clearly says is wrong. While there may be many people like this in the world, Jesus says that there should be no place for people with those kinds of attitudes in church (unless they repent but we'll get to that in a moment).

"In the same way, you have some Nicolaitans among you – people who follow the same teaching and commit the same sins" (Revelation 2:15 NLT).

As we saw earlier when we looked at Jesus' letter to the church at Ephesus, there are two basic theories concerning the Nicolaitans that Jesus speaks of here. According to one of the early writers in the church, the Nicolaitans were people who taught that it was OK to live a self-indulgent lifestyle and get involved in all kinds of sexual activities that the Scriptures say are wrong. There's also another view that believes that the Nicolaitans were leaders who overstepped their limits and took on a God-like authority over other people. 

In either case, the problem with the church at Pergamum was not necessarily that the Nicolaitans or people like Balaam existed- those kinds of people are always going to be around. The problem was that the people who held these views were tolerated and allowed to hang around in the church where they could be a bad influence on others. Apparently, no one in Pergamum went up to these people and said, Hey, what you're doing is wrong and you need to straighten out." So Pergamum wasn't a church that denied Jesus but they were falling into some bad teachings and some seriously unhealthy compromise. 

This led Jesus to give the church a very serious warning...

"Repent, or I will come to you suddenly and fight against them with the sword of my mouth" (Revelation 2:16 NLT).

This is bad. The "sword" that Jesus speaks of here was the kind of sword that was made to be worn over the shoulder and used for combat. This sword was not like a little dagger or a knife- this was the heavy-duty equipment that was designed to inflict some serious damage. So the basic idea behind what Jesus is saying here seems to be, "If you don't turn around and fix these problems I'm going to show up suddenly and take action myself." You see, just because there were good examples like Antipas in this church, it didn't mean that others who were compromising, selling out or misrepresenting Jesus were OK. Being in a "good" church won't help people like that unless they have a change of mind that leads to a change of behavior- that's what it means to repent.

"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" (Revelation 2:17a NLT).

After the people of Israel left Egypt in the Old Testament, God miraculously fed them through something called "manna" and you can find a description of it in Exodus chapter 16. The word "manna" literally means, "what is it" and God used it to feed everyone for 40 years until they were ready to go into the land that He had promised to give them. So how does all this tie in with the "hidden manna" that Jesus speaks about in the verse above? Well, it may have to do with something that Jesus once said in the Gospel of John...

"Yes, I am the Bread of Life! When your fathers in the wilderness ate bread from the skies, they all died. But the Bread from heaven gives eternal life to everyone who eats it. I am that Living Bread that came down out of heaven. Anyone eating this Bread shall live forever; this Bread is my flesh given to redeem humanity" (John 6:48-51)."

Since Jesus is the Bread of Life who provides eternal life for everyone who accepts Him, The Doctor believes that Jesus may well be speaking of Himself when He talks about this "hidden manna" that is stored away in heaven for those who are really serious about following Him.

"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 2:17b NLT).

Back in the Old Testament days, people who were on trial were given a white stone or a black stone to let them know if they were innocent or guilty. A white stone meant that the court's verdict was innocent and a black stone meant that the defendant was found guilty. White stones were also given as a sort of trophy for the winners of various sporting events. Finally, white stones were likewise used to represent acceptance. People used them back then just as we might use a ticket or a pass for an event today- anyone with a white stone was allowed to enter the event. Whatever the exact meaning of the white stone that Jesus speaks of here, it's clear that it refers to something that's really good!

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The Doctor is not a real doctor but he plays one on the Internet. E-Mail prescriptions are also available on an individual basis.

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Except as indicated, all Scriptural references taken from The Living Bible, 1971, Tyndale House Publishers


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