E W Rogers, Oxford
As we have already seen, the Lord presents Himself to each church in a manner appropriate to its condition and His intention of action. Hence here He has the "sharp sword with two edges" with which He will come and fight against those who hold the doctrine of Balaam and of the Nicolaitanes. The sword of His word, Eph. 6. 17, will test their "doctrine" and judge it.
What were deeds at Ephesus, Rev. 2. 6, have now become an established doctrine at Pergamos, 2. 15. The principle was not merely existent, it was held as a doctrinal tenet. The simple scriptural method of church government by elders (otherwise called overseers, Acts 20. 28) was displaced, and a recognized caste of persons with grades of authority from the highest to the lowest was now substituted.
This was brought into being when Constantine terminated the persecutions and patronized the church. The union of religion with the state was, in principle, as old as the days of Balaam, when that false prophet, in order to gain the tang's honours and rewards, worked under the direction of Balak the king of Moab, both of them being bent on cursing the people of God, Num. chs. 22-24. A similar alliance is seen in the case of Ahab (the political power) and the dark sinister Jezebel, both of whom were criminally guilty of both the murder of Naboth and the confiscation of his property, 1 Kings 21. So it was with Herod, Herodias and her daughter; all three were responsible for the beheading of John Baptist, Mark 6. 17-29. So, too, the chief priests and elders, aided and abetted by a great multitude, arrested the Lord in the garden of Gethsemane. The book of the Acts commences with Jerusalem the religious centre and ends with Rome the political centre; both of these cities persecuted the early Christians. The principle is the same today with Rome who claims both imperial and religious powers. And in a break-away section therefrom there exists the union of the church with the state. Men sell their so-called spiritual services for stipends and honours bestowed by the secular power.
The seed was found at Ephesus, but the developed plant at Pergamos. This place is called "where Satan's throne is". Rev. 2. 13 R.v. It is said to have been the first city in Asia with a temple for the worship of Augustus (Octavius Ceasar), so that political and religious power were centred in one person. The Lord recognized the difficulty of the situation, the church being located in such a hot-bed of serpent worship - "where Satan dwelleth", 2. 13. It was specially commendable, therefore, that they had held fast His name, and had not denied His faith even in the days when a faithful witness named Antipas had forfeited his life for Christ's sake. They were not ashamed of the name "Christian" nor had they apostasized from the faith. It would have been all too easy to have done so, as the Epistle to the Hebrews shows.
But against them was the fact that they had in their midst those who had flouted the decree sent forth from Jerusalem forbidding fornication and eating things sacrificed to idols, Acts 15.23-29. Whatever Paul wrote to the Corinthians touching this matter was not a repudiation of the earlier decree, but rather a direction to the saints that they should not make needless enquiries as to the history of the food which they had purchased or which was put before them in the house of an unbeliever. The use to which the food had previously been put did not affect adversely the food itself. But if it came to light that it had been offered to idols the situation was different; it must not then be eaten. Thus the apostles at Jerusalem, Paul in writing to Corinth, and John here in the apocalyptic letters are in full agreement with each other,
Balaam's evil counsel after his enforced inability to utter curses against God's people, Num. 25, is here referred to. The doctrine which was both morally and religiously corrupt was condemned. Its counterpart today is the new morality which sets aside God's institution of marriage, Heb. 13. 4. It cannot be infringed with impunity; whoremongers and adulterers God will judge, though human authorities fail to do so.
This kind of thing should never have gained a footing in the Pergamos church. It called for quick action and suppression, Rev. 2. 16. Balaam could not turn God away from Israel so he sought to turn Israel away from God. In Like manner the persecution of Smyrna had not extinguished the light of testimony but had purified its shining. Satan would, therefore, adopt more cunning methods to put out the lamp.
Teaching and practice are joined together. Each is adversely or favourably affected by the other. If the teaching is corrupt the morals will be corrupted also. Whether in the spiritual or physical sphere, fornication is the antithesis of that which is demanded by espousal.
The doctrine of the Nicolaitanes is brought in here as a further aggravation of their faults. The evil seems to be almost identical, though viewed from slightly different angles, with that of Balaam. The etymology of the Hebrew word Balaam appears to be either that of lording or devouring the people, while that of Nicolaitane is conquering the people. We repeat that doubtless there are persons who hold ecclesiastical office in both Established and Non-conformist circles whose hearts are far removed from either of these two evils, they neither wish to dominate nor to fleece the people in their care. Yet the fact is that the very principle of their office has within it the germs of these two things, which in their fully developed state enslave their dupes.
Hatch in his Bampton Lecture writes: "The fourth century is important in the history of Christian organization as being the period in which church officers lost their primitive character and became a separate class". He adds "For this change there were two chief causes, (i) the recognition of Christianity by the state and (ii) the influence of monasticism".
The Lord warns of speedy action should they not repent; He will fight against them with the sword of His mouth. That He waits so long displays His longsuffering patience, but Revelation 17. 14 shows that He will implement His warning.
The overcomer is promised the hidden manna in contrast with the things sacrificed to idols. The provision for God's redeemed people in the wilderness, and which was put into the ark, is to become the specially enjoyed portion of those who refuse the blandishments of Balak. The manna contained in the golden pot, Heb. 9. 4, hidden from the eyes of men, speaks of Christ, the bread of life come down from heaven as the source of sustenance for His pilgrim people. The "white stone" or pebble was used for very many purposes and therefore to limit it to one thing would be unduly to restrict its significance. It might speak of acquittal, or special privilege, or an indication of the estimate by the donor of the person whose name appears on the stone. The recipient will have a special and private awareness of the character that he has formed and which has gained his Lord's approval. He will know what the Lord thinks of him, whatever may be the thoughts of others.