He describes Himself in verse 12 as "He who has the sharp two-edged sword." Back in Revelation 1:16, John we that, "He had in His right hand seven stars" and "out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength." What is this two-edged sword? I mean, is there a literal sword coming out of the mouth of the Lord? Of course not. Hebrews 4:12 says, "For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." The sword is the word of God (also see Eph. 6:17). In Revelation, a picture is painted of the glorified Christ whose primary weapon is the word of God. Think about it. Christ was not physically attacking these congregations, but He was attacking their sin with the word!
Back in Revelation 2:13, Jesus again says, "I know your works," and He goes on to say, "and where you dwell, where Satan's throne is." Some might take this to mean that Pergamos was more wicked than the other cities in Asia, but that is not necessarily the case. Apparently, some of the Jews had a maxim that where the law of God was not studied (where there was no religious academy or synagogue), there Satan reigned. In any event, the point is that the saints in Pergamos were surrounded by wickedness and moral corruption. The saints in Smyrna had to deal with the blaspheming Jews who were "a synagogue of Satan" (2:9). Satan had a lot of influence in Asia.
What is encouraging to me is that the saints in Pergamos, despite their living conditions, faithfully held fast to the name of Christ. "And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells." If Christians can hold fast to Christ even in the place where Satan is said to reign, then certainly we can remain faithful today.
Who was Antipas? Christ indicates here that he was a martyr, but do we know anything else about him? No. All we know is that he was a Christian who died for the cause of Christ.
So the saints in Pergamos were commended for their endurance and faithfulness in these aspects of their service to God...but they had faults as well. In verses 14-15, Jesus said, "But I have a things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality. Thus you ALSO have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate." I'll try to describe these two doctrines in just a moment, but first I want to make a critical point...
Notice that the Pergamos church was not rebuked for actively teaching these doctrines, but for tolerating these doctrines among its members. "You have there those who hold..." Here's the lesson: we must oppose doctrinal error, whether it is taught from the pulpit or taught among the members of the church. Any and all error must be opposed!
Now, what are the doctrines of Balaam and the Nicolaitans?
The doctrine of Balaam is named after Balaam, the prophet of the Old Testament. Balaam was called by Balak to curse the Israelites. Balaam refused to curse the Israelites and in fact, he said, "How shall I curse whom God has not cursed? And how shall I denounce whom the Lord has not denounced?" (Num. 23:8). Again, in Numbers 23:20: "Behold, I have received a command to bless; He has blessed, and I cannot reverse it." But despite Balaam's refusal to curse Israel, he later advised Balak on how to bring God's curse upon Israel. Numbers 31:16 says, "Look, these woman caused the children of Israel through the counsel of Balaam, to trespass against the Lord in the incident of Peor..." As a result of Balaam's counsel, Balak sent down the idolatrous women of Moab to entice the Israelites. The Israelites succumbed to the temptation and as a result God's wrath reigned down on the congregation.
That's the story of Balaam. While he professed the name of God, he subtly promoted idolatry and sexual immorality. Among the saints at Pergamos, there were some who promoted these same sins. And the church did nothing about it!
Regarding the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, Adam Clarke says, "These were, as is commonly supposed, a sect of the Gnostics, who taught the most impure doctrines, and followed the most impure practices. They are also supposed to have derived their origin from Nicolas, one of the seven deacons mentioned in Acts 6:5. The Nicolaitans taught the community of wives, that adultery and fornication were things indifferent, that eating meats sacrificed to idols was quite lawful; and mixed several pagan rites with the Christian ceremonies. Augustine, Irenaeus, Clemens Alexandrinus, and Tertullian, have spoken largely concerning them."
As a result of their tolerance of sin and error, the saints in Pergamos were told to "Repent..." (vv. 16). They had to change their ways by putting an end to these false doctrines! In another place, Paul told Timothy to "charge some that they teach no other doctrine" (1 Tim. 1:3). This needs to be our practice today. Is this the practice in your church? Does your church refute error or does it tolerate all the different beliefs and practices of its members?
As Christ concludes His address in Revelation 2:17, He says, "To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it." The reference to hidden manna is comparable to the references to the tree of life (2:7). Jesus is saying that in heaven, our needs will be met; we will be surrounded by God's blessings.
The reference to white stones is a little more difficult, and there are different opinions.
- Some say that these white stones represented pardon. It is said that the judges of ancient times gave white stones to those whose tresspasses were absolved, or forgiven.
- Others contend that Christ is speaking of the victors in the public games. It is said that they were given a stone with their name written on it and that, because of their triumph in the games, they were maintained at the public's expense.
This is one of those things that I have trouble pinning down, and either conclusion seems to be reasonable. Something is certain, however, and that is the reality of newness in heaven. Despite our difficulties here, all the atrocities and difficulties of this life will be left behind when we enter that prepared place.