Pergamum, Part 2
Dec 11, 2015
Revelation 2:14 criticizes the church of Pergamum, saying,
14 But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit acts of immorality.
The Old Covenant church corresponding to Pergamum is the Balaam church in the time of Moses. For this reason, we find that Pergamum had its own Balaam teachers in its midst. Of course, it is hardly likely that those teachers would have claimed Balaam as their mentor. But the One holding the two-edged sword was able to discern the thoughts and intentions of their hearts.
The Counsel of Balaam
Balaam was a prophet who desired power and money. His story is recorded in Numbers 22-24. The king of Moab was terrified of the advancing Israelites, so he and the elders of Midian hired the prophet Balaam to curse Israel (Numbers 22:6). Balaam asked God for permission to curse Israel (Numbers 22:10, 11), but God told him, “you shall not curse the people, for they are blessed” (Numbers 22:12).
This should have been sufficient, but Balaam desired the favor of Balak, king of Moab. So when the king offered him greater rewards, Balaam again asked God if he could curse Israel (Numbers 22:19). God told him that he could go with Balak’s men, but that he could only speak the words that God gave him. Balaam then did so, “but God was angry because he was going” (Numbers 22:22). No doubt God’s anger was directed against Balaam’s motive, for he yet hoped to curse Israel and gain favor with Balak.
The angel of the Lord then stood in the path with a drawn sword. Balaam’s donkey saw the angel, but Balaam did not. The donkey turned off the path, and Balaam became angry and began to beat the donkey. Finally, the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth, and the donkey was the first in history to speak in tongues (Numbers 22:28).
Balaam then argued with the donkey before realizing that the donkey had saved his life. The prophet finally confessed his sin (Numbers 22:34). He confessed his sin of not seeing the angel, but he did not confess his real sin--that his desire was not God's desire. He was misusing his prophetic gift to establish things that were not the will of God.
This is a Pentecostal story that pictures a donkey being ridden by a prophet with carnal motives. In Scripture, donkeys represent Pentecostals, while horses represent Overcomers of the feast of Tabernacles. (See my book, The Wheat and Asses of Pentecost.) The story specifically applies to the church of Pergamum, where, in John’s day, there were prophets who followed the example of Balaam. These prophets should have listened to their “donkeys” (spirit-filled believers).
In the end, because Balaam was prevented from cursing Israel (and could only bless Israel), he counseled King Balak to take a different tactic. He told Balak to tempt Israel to sin by enticing them into immorality. Numbers 25:1-3 says,
1 While Israel remained at Shittim, the people began to play the harlot with the daughters of Moab. 2 For they invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. 3 So Israel joined themselves to Baal of Peor, and the Lord was angry against Israel.
As a result, God instructed Israel to destroy the Moabites and Midianites, and in the battle, Balaam was also killed (Numbers 31:8). We then read in Numbers 31:16,
16 Behold, these caused the sons of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to trespass against the Lord in the matter of Peor, so the plague was among the congregation of the Lord.
Here we are told that it was Balaam’s idea to corrupt Israel through immorality. Balaam understood that this was the only way to bring God’s curse upon Israel.
The Pergamum Church Adopts Balaam’s Counsel
It appears that the same counsel of Balaam had surfaced in the church of Pergamum. We do not know any details insofar as that individual church was concerned. More important, however, was how it affected the church in the Pergamum era from 313-529 A.D. There we find the spirit of Balaam manifesting in church history.
During the Smyrna period of persecution, Rome tried to curse the church, but it only grew faster. So a different tactic was taken. Rome (i.e., Constantine) blessed the church, but there were carnally-minded church leaders who set out to unite with pagans in the attempt to convert them to the Christian religion. In this way they repeated the story of Balaam. But instead of pagans being converted to Christ, the Christian religion began to adopt pagan gods and their practices. Pagan temples were converted to Christian churches, pagan gods were given the names of Christian saints, pagan statues were renamed, and pagan holidays were Christianized. Statues of Persephone were adopted as portrayals of Mary.
Under Constantine and his successors, it was politically advantageous to be a Christian, and to become a bishop in large cities meant having great power and wealth. Soon ambitious men were drawn into the ministry for the wrong motives. The teaching (or counsel) of Balaam was successful in seducing the church to forsake the word of the Lord. Christian leaders became increasingly carnal over the centuries, and idolatry took firm root, disguised as images of Christ, Mary, and the saints.
The counsel of Balaam was to induce Israelite men to engage in immoral behavior with the Midianite women if they would only bow to Baal-Peor. The tactic worked well, but 24,000 Israelites “died by the plague” (Numbers 25:9) when God judged the nation.
The marriage with paganism in the time of Moses was repeated in the era of the Church of Pergamum. This lends support to the view that Pergamum (or Pergamos) has to do with gamos, “marriage.” It is proven by the outworking of prophecy itself.
The Spirit of Counsel
The message to the church at Pergamum came from the Spirit of Counsel, one of the seven Spirits of the Lord. The Spirit of Counsel was meant to counteract the counsel of Balaam. So the message to the church at Pergamum counseled the believers not to take heed to those “who hold the teaching of Balaam” (Revelation 2:14).
The Spirit of Counsel also advised the church to refrain from eating things sacrificed to idols (Revelation 2:14). Israel had done this while committing fornication with the Moabite women, as we read in Numbers 25:2,
2 For they invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods.
This was prohibited in the law in Exodus 34:15,
15 lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land and they play the harlot with their gods, and sacrifice to their gods, and someone invite you to eat of his sacrifice.
In Acts 15:29 at the first Church Counsel, it was decided…
29 that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication…
It was probably for this reason that many believers thought it was a sin to eat meat that was being offered in the marketplace. The temples usually had far more sacrifices than the priests could eat, and so much of the meat was sold at the meat market. The question was whether it was lawful for a Christian to buy this meat and to eat it.
Paul did not believe that eating such meat constituted playing the harlot with other gods or making covenants with people worshiping foreign gods. It would have been a different matter if the people had gone to the temple with pagan friends to bow to other gods and eat a fellowship meal with them.
Hence, when Paul discusses Christian communion, he says in 1 Corinthians 10:18-21,
18 Look at the nation of Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices sharers in the altar? 19 What do I mean then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.
Nonetheless, buying meat in the meat market, even if sacrificed to idols earlier, was not a covenant-breaking act. To sacrifice meat to idols did nothing to the meat. The idols did not create those animals and therefore did not own them, for as verse 26 says, “the earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains.”
In other words, ignore the issue unless someone questions it, and if someone serves you meat that had been offered to idols, “eat anything that is set before you without asking questions for conscience sake” (vs. 27). The prohibition only applies if the meal is part of a pagan worship ceremony, for then it should be considered a false communion, or “the table of demons.”
Paul thus compares the Lord’s table with the table of demons. The Lord’s table is where we eat and drink Christ’s flesh and blood, according to the spiritual principle in John 6:54. Conversely, to eat at the table of demons is to eat and drink the flesh and blood of a false god or a false messiah. Since we are what we eat (and assimilate), it is evident that we ought not to become the manifestation of demonic activity, but rather to become the living word of Christ.
This, then, is the meaning of the prohibition given by the Spirit of Counsel in Revelation 2:14. It is connected to the story of Balaam. The church was counseled to refrain from doing all that the Israelites did in joining with the daughters of Midian in their worship of Baal-Peor.
Revelation 2:15 says also,
15 Thus you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.
Since this was already explained in our study of the Ephesus church, we will refrain from further comment, except to say that the same problem was found in the church at Pergamum. From a prophetic, historical standpoint, the seeds of Nicolaitan doctrine (lording over the laity) began in the first church era from 33-64 A.D., but by the time of the Pergamum era (313-529) it developed more fully as the church hierarchy rose to power.
This is part 20 of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Revelation." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones