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The Church of Pergamos, Part 2



But I have a few 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. Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. 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. (Revelation 2:14–17)


The church at Pergamos is essentially being held captive by two sets of ungodly but related doctrines. It is the intention of the Glorified Christ to intervene using the sword of His mouth to battle and defeat these doctrines and set His people free to enjoy the blessedness of salvation and living for God. The sword is more than just words and opposing doctrines; they will not work in the battle between good and evil, godliness and ungodliness because, as David saw in Palm 59, the opposers of truth will only fight back with their words saying, Who hears?

There are things about the doctrines of Balaam and the Nicolaitans that dull the hearing of people brought under their influence. It requires more than just reciting the gospel or certain doctrines to counteract the effects of these doctrines; it requires the actual presence and authority of Christ who IS the WORD.

As we place the letters to the churches side-by-side, we can see a gradual progression away from the true sense of the church as founded by Jesus Christ. In Ephesus, we saw the deeds of the Nicolaitans infiltrating the church. This was not the entire church, but a small group that professed Christianity without its intrinsic holiness. The church was faithful to excess in fighting this thinking, so much that the love of theological battle exceeded their love for Christ.

In Smyrna we saw a synagogue of Satan had taken root. Here we found a larger group of people that had become entrenched in the church. Their presence placed the church into a prison of a real trial: how can the real people of God continue to influence their community with Christ’s gospel while this large faction of hypocrites in its midst?

Now in Pergamos we find Satan’s throne. The battle has progressed beyond hypocrisy; it has progressed to doctrinal issues that were being embraced by the church and had become characteristic of its teaching.

These things had killed the influence of the faithful ministry and had weakened the faithful to the point where they held on to their testimony of salvation but were virtually reduced to a minority without a voice. The church of Ephesus had been infected with the deeds of the Nicolaitans; in Pergamos we find that the Nicolaitans have teamed up with Baalamites. So, who are these people? What are their doctrines?


Who is, or was, Baalam?


Balaam first appears in Numbers, chapter 22. He was a soothsayer who lived in the city of Pethor, located on the west bank of the Euphrates near the Hittite capital of Carchemish. The name of the city means “interpretation of dreams,” an ideal place for a soothsayer. Balaam’s name means “Lord of the people.” As the son of Beor, Balaam was a person of rank and distinction among the Midianites. He had some knowledge of the true God—just enough to make him dangerous. He had a reputation that people he blessed were blessed and people he cursed were cursed.

When the Israelites were camped on the plains of Moab on the east side of the Jordan River, just opposite Jericho, Balak, the king of Moab, sent for Balaam to curse them. God intervened several times to keep Balaam from doing this, once using the man’s donkey to talk to him. Each time Balaam would open his mouth to speak a curse on the Israelites, a blessing came out instead. Eventually, Balaam persuaded some of the Israelites to adopt many of the immoral ceremonies of the heathen tribes around them. Eventually Balaam was killed fighting alongside Balak against the Israelites.


The doctrine of Balaam


The doctrine of Balaam was one of the legs that propped up the throne of Satan at the church of Pergamos. The Glorified Christ calls this doctrine a stumblingblock. First, what is a stumblingblock? Dictionary: An obstacle or hindrance to progress, belief, etc. At Pergamos, these doctrines hindered the belief of the people with regard to the gospel and holiness and as such it kept those that followed the teachings from progressing in a saved life. Numbers 25:1–3 gives us the brief details of how Balaam affected Israel:


Now Israel remained in Acacia Grove, and the people began to commit harlotry with the women of Moab. They invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel was joined to Baal of Peor, and the anger of the LORD was aroused against Israel.


Baal Peor was a god of the Moabites that was worshipped with obscene rites. The name means “lord of the opening”. The rites of worship were conducted on Mount Peor in Midian, hence the name Baal Peor. Not a great deal is recorded in the Bible or other history about the worship of Baal Peor other than harlotry and eating things sacrificed to the heathen gods. Psalm 106:28, “They joined themselves also to Baal of Peor, And ate sacrifices made to the dead.”

In spite of the influence of Moses, the man of God, and the actual presence of God in the tabernacle, some of the people began associating with the pagan Midianites. Perhaps they thought they might influence them to repent and serve God. However, the opposite happened. The pagans influenced some Israelites to attend their church services and join in their carnal practices. Perhaps they fell for the lie that it doesn’t matter how you worship God as long as you are sincere. In a similar manner, the church people at Pergamos fell into the trap of carnal living draped with a Christian robe. Sin is still sin no matter how it is packaged or justified.

In verse 14 of our text, the Glorified Christ cites eating things sacrificed to idols and committing sexual immorality as the essential doctrines of Balaam and the object of His fight with the two-edged sword. Those things are sin and no professing Christian is justified practicing idolatry and sexual immorality—call it what you might. The materialism and lax sexual attitudes of our present culture have drawn many churches and professed Christians into the error of Balaam.


The doctrine of the Nicolaitans.


We encountered their behavior in the church of Ephesus which we found to be: the community of wives; adultery and fornication were held to be indifferent; and Eating meat that was sacrificed to idols. Do you see any similarity between the Balaamites and the Nicolaitans?

The similarity goes deeper than just these teachings and practices. The name Balaam is Hebrew and means “not of the people”. The name Nicolaitans (Nicolaus) is Greek and means “victorious over the people”. F. G. Smith wrote: “It is also a singular fact that the Hebrew signification of Balaam and the Greek of Nicolaus are the same—‘subduer of the people.’ Thus the doctrine of Balaam would stand as a representation of the principles taught by the Nicolaitans”.[1]

Another interesting fact about the name Nicolaus; in Greek it is Laodikeus, which is also the name of the last of the seven churches, Laodicea.

In reality, Nicolaus (the Nicolaitans) is the Greek form of the Hebrew word, Balaam. Almost all the Bible versions I use render the name in verse 15 as Nicolaitans, which is the actual Greek word. The Amplified Bible renders it “Nicolaitans” but inserts an amplification of the word that reads “those corrupters of the people”. In this we get the sense of both the Hebrew word Balaam and the Greek word Nicolaitans. The Living Bible paraphrase actually renders verse 15, “Yes, you have some of these very same followers of Balaam among you!” This version inserts a note at the word Balaam: “Literally, ‘Nicolaitans,’ Greek form of ‘Balaamites.’”


The doctrines of the Balaamites and Nicolaitans are not two different systems.


What we see with the doctrines of the Balaamites and the Nicolaitans is not two systems working in the church, but an evolution or the growth and victory of these false doctrines over this church.

First, the church was exposed to these doctrines and immoral behaviors by certain individuals that wanted to profess Christianity but did not want to live holy lives as that would deny them certain material and physical things they enjoyed in their lives. Christ knows where they dwell: He knows all the temptations to which they are exposed, all the enticements to sin that surround them, and all the rationalization and justification that was made for the ungodliness and error that had infiltrated the church. The church went into error when they tolerated these behaviors and the Christianized teachings used to promote them. Some in the church did not go along with these teachings and held to their true Christian experience. However, the worldliness and sensually oriented lifestyle that had become prominent in the church wore them down to where they ceased to be faithful in reading and following the Scriptures. Reading at this time would have been public reading in a church service as there were no common Bibles for people’s personal use.

The lack of Biblical understanding of the real Christians and the growing influence of the hypocrites totally undermined the influence of the pastor. Essentially, the church stopped preaching the Word of God and began preaching the cultural norm. Keep in mind, Pergamos was the religious capital of Asia.


Christ calls the Church to repent


The church needed to repent—have a change of mind and go in the opposite direction. They needed Christ to come to them with the two-edged sword, the sound teaching of the Scriptures that would put down the politically correct corruptions that were being passed off as Christianity.

Notice in the text that Christ would come to “YOU”, the Christians, and fight against “THEM”, the Balaamites and Nicolaitans. The people of God need to get into the Word of God and stand on the moral truth revealed in it. They need to encourage godly ministers to teach sound doctrine and to expose the ungodly behavior for what it is—and back them up. It takes courage to do this; and the Spirit has gifts that will help the church to overcome the presence and influence of the Balaamites and Nicolaitans.


Two gifts for the overcomers.


The two gifts for the overcomers are made possible through faithful obedience to the Word of God.

The first is the privilege of eating hidden manna. This is true spiritual food that nourishes the soul. It is hidden in the very presence of God and no one can enjoy this manna without going into the holy of holies. The hiddenness of this manna is seen in Exodus 16:32–34 when God sent the first manna for the Israelites and Moses took a pot of the manna and placed it in the Ark of the Covenant. Barnes comments on the hidden manna:


By the word “hidden,” there would seem to be an allusion to that which was laid up in the pot before the ark of the testimony, and the blessing which is promised here is that they would be nourished as if they were sustained by that manna thus laid up before the ark: by food from the immediate presence of God. The language thus explained would mean that they who overcome will be nourished through this life as if by that “hidden manna;” that is, that they will be supplied all along through the “wilderness of this world” by that food from the immediate presence of God which their souls require.


Jesus said in John 6:47–51,


Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.”


Jesus is the bread of life; He is the Word of God. To have spiritual life we must consume the Word of God—the bread of life. Jesus is not speaking of literally eating His flesh, as in transubstantiation, but to partake of the life of Christ that makes atonement for sin.

The second gift is a white stone with a new name inscribed on it. As to the new name, Jacob was given a new name when he prevailed with God (Genesis 32:28). Because Jacob overcame, his name was changed from Supplanter (because he supplanted or took away his brother’s birthright) to Prince with God because he prevailed with God.

We find that when the Israelites were to cross the Jordan into the promise land, God commanded them in Deuteronomy 27:2–3, “you shall set up for yourselves large stones, and whitewash them with lime. You shall write on them all the words of this law:—and very emphatically in verse 8, “you shall write very plainly on the stones all the words of this law”. (Bold added for emphasis)

Uriah Smith in his Thoughts Critical and Practical on the Book of Revelation quotes John Henry Blunt (D.D. 1823–1884) who writes about such a stone.


In primitive times, when traveling was rendered difficult from want of places of public entertainment, hospitality was exercised by private individuals to a very great extent, of which, indeed, we find frequent traces in all history, and in none more than in the Old Testament. Persons who partook of this hospitality, and those who practised it, frequently contracted habits of friendship and regard for each other, and it became a well-established custom among the Greeks and Romans to provide their guests with some particular mark, which was handed down from father to son, and insured hospitality and kind treatment whenever it was presented. This mark was usually a small stone or pebble, cut in halves, upon each of which the host and the guest mutually inscribed their names, and then interchanged with each other. The production of these stones was quite sufficient to insure friendship for themselves or descendants whenever they traveled again in the same direction; while it is evident that these stones required to be privately kept, and the names written upon them carefully concealed, lest others should obtain the privileges instead of the persons for whom they were intended. [2]


F. G. Smith quotes this same passage from Blunt in his The Revelation Explained, and adds his comment:


So those who have obtained salvation and are overcomers through the blood have received the sure pledge of Christ’s eternal friendship (which those who know not God can not receive) and are invited to partake of all of his hospitalities, even to “eat of the hidden manna,” which is experienced by the truly sanctified.[3]


The lesson learned


The lesson to be learned from the church at Pergamos is to be faithful to read, study, know, and obey the Word of God.

It is one thing to love people and accept them into the family of God, but do not let false doctrines and immoral behavior be accepted into the church.

Church, stand with godly ministers that faithfully preach the word of God; be sure you have that close abiding relationship with Christ that feeds and keeps your soul and most important, be a true friend of Jesus.



[1] Smith, F. G., The Revelation Explained,  The Warner Press: Anderson, IN,  1946,  ppg. 38–39

[2] Smith, Uriah,  Thoughts Critical and Practical on the Book of Revelation,  Steam Press: Battle Creek, MI,  1875, pg. 9

[3] Smith, F. G., The Revelation Explained,  The Warner Press: Anderson, IN,  1946,  pg. 39