Ephesus, Smyrna and Pergamos: Part 2

Revelation 2:1‑17  •  11 min. read  •  grade level: 8
In Pergamum, we shall see, keen judgment of evil was called for, and the character which the Lord assumes is consistent with that. “These things says He that has the sharp two-edged sword.” But, nevertheless, His gracious way is shown in praising everything He can, before commencing to deal with what was wrong.
“I know where thou dwellest, where the throne of Satan [is]; and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in the days in which Antipas my faithful witness [was], who was slain among you, where Satan dwells. But I have a few things against thee; that thou hast there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a snare before the sons of Israel, to eat [of] idol sacrifices and commit fornication. So thou also hast those who hold the doctrine of Nicolaitanes in like manner. Repent therefore; but if not, I come to thee quickly, and I will make war with them with the sword of my mouth.”
There is a change here, and a marked contrast with Smyrna. Smyrna was overwhelmed with tribulation and persecution—and more was yet predicted for her. To Pergamum, instead of “I know thy tribulation,” it is, “I know where thou dwellest, where Satan's throne is.” The Christian's calling is to be a stranger and a pilgrim, so that “DWELLING” where Satan's throne is, may imply very different relations with the world of which Satan is the prince. Probably the reference is to the time, the fourth century, when, under Constantine, Christianity became the public, accepted religion of the Roman Empire—that is, of the world. True, there had been martyrdom; but this was in the past. The Lord, however, is able to acknowledge—to their honor—that they still held fast His name, and had not denied His faith even in the days when Antipas, His faithful witness, was slain.
An important principle is shown in this epistle; that of assembly-responsibility. This, in some quarters, is not known; in some, not admitted; but Christ says, “Thou hast there those who hold the doctrine of...” And again, “So thou also hast those who hold the doctrine of...” If challenged as to evil doctrine held amongst them, those who would evade assembly-responsibility, generally answer, ‘We do not trouble as to what Mr. X holds.' But we cannot deceive Christ; His eyes are as a flame of fire. He knows everything that goes on, and He says: “Thou hast there those who hold the doctrine of...”
The Lord finds against Pergamum that they had there those who held the doctrine of Balaam. Balaam's case illustrates more than one kind of evil. One is, prostituting his prophetic office to the world for gain. In this he was a type of many in these last days—as Jude says of them they have “run greedily after the error of Balaam for reward” (Jude 1111Woe unto them! for they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Core. (Jude 11)). In this aspect, the “doctrine of Balaam” typifies the evil of clericalism-the ministry of Christ turned into a polite and desirable profession, carrying worldly rank and honor. Ephesus had been commended for resisting this in its incipiency; but in Pergamum it had developed into a system; there was the “doctrine of Balaam.” To what dimensions it has since grown is common knowledge. There are Princes of the Church in Rome, and Lords, Spiritual and Temporal in England, with how many minor degrees of honor and wealth, who shall say? —though, indeed, to many of the clergy but little of the latter reaches. Worse, however, than worldly benefits, is that an official clergy too often cringes to the opinion of the day—superstition, when that is superstition; and rationalism in a day of rationalism. This is at its maturity in our time, when we see the professed ministry of Christ giving itself over to discredit Holy Scripture, and undermine Christianity in its essential doctrines.
God in His love for His people frustrated the designs of Balak against Israel, so far as that Balaam was not allowed to curse the people; and hence, after the failure of various attempts, “Balaam rose up and returned to his place, and Balak also went his way” (Numbers 24:1414And now, behold, I go unto my people: come therefore, and I will advertise thee what this people shall do to thy people in the latter days. (Numbers 24:14)). But what followed? “The people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab. And they called the people unto the sacrifices of their gods; and the people did eat and bowed down to their gods” (Numbers 25:1, 21And Israel abode in Shittim, and the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab. 2And they called the people unto the sacrifices of their gods: and the people did eat, and bowed down to their gods. (Numbers 25:1‑2)). The narrative does not give details of this latter effort of Balak and Balaam, further than to say that it was “through the counsel of Balaam” (Numbers 31:1616Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the Lord in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the Lord. (Numbers 31:16)); and in one chapter the Lord Himself states that “Balaam taught Balak to set a snare before the sons of Israel, to eat of idol-sacrifices, and to commit fornication"(Revelation 2:1414But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. (Revelation 2:14)). Now this is the other evil of the teaching of Balaam referred to in the Epistle to Pergamum. What, then, is this teaching? IT IS UNION WITH THE WORLD; giving up the Christian position of separation from the world (Romans 12:22And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (Romans 12:2); 2 Cor. 6:14-1814Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? 15And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? 16And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 17Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, 18And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty. (2 Corinthians 6:14‑18), etc.), abandoning that separation, as no longer to be maintained; joining in closest union with the world, and bowing down to the idols that the world bows down to. This is the antitype of eating things sacrificed to idols, and committing fornication, with the daughters of Moab. And this received the sanction and encouragement of teaching in Pergamum.
There was another evil in Pergamum: “So thou also hast those who hold the doctrine of Nicolaitans in like manner.” Ephesus has been commended for hating the DEEDS of the Nicolaitans. But this is an advance in evil. The “deeds” were followed by doctrine which justified the deeds, and deliberately taught things which Christ hated. Satan felt his way warily with Ephesus; but at Pergamum the evil is admitted and taught. There is nothing to show that the Nicolaitans were a sect, separating from the flock. At first, in the Ephesian stage, they simply adopted vile practices; while later, in Pergamum, they taught their views, and were tolerated in so doing; but still not a sect. The Lord holds the assembly responsible for having them there, so that they were not separated as a sect, nor had the assembly put them away as evil persons. The Lord's language is extremely strong, both in approval of the Ephesians, and in condemnation of the evil doers.
The silence of scripture as to what Nicolaitanism was, is significant; possibly it is left so, that we may be able to fill in the blank with other evil doctrines which may arise, and which may be tolerated by an assembly. That the Lord holds the entire assembly responsible for what it allows in its midst is clear, whether deeds or doctrine. In the extended view of the seven churches, it is not difficult to surmise what Nicolaitanism probably typifies; that it is not clericalism is evident; for clericalism is dealt with under two other heads, as has been shown; neither is it licentious mingling with the world, for that is the doctrine of Balaam. But there is another evil that has blotted Christianity, enormous in dimensions, but the nature of which explains the reticence of Scripture about it. In the early centuries, asceticism infected the church; this developed into attaching a special virtue to celibacy. Instead of holiness being the result, in the end of the second century and subsequently, unnamable corruption was the fruit of it; that corruption has continued since, and survives today. How well this suits the language of our Lord to Ephesus: “But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans which I also hate” (Revelation 2:66But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. (Revelation 2:6)). The doctrine of Balaam and the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, both tended to fleshly indulgence, but in totally different ways; one was in mingling with the world; but the other was a deeper form of corruption, licensed and allowed within the circle of the so-called church. Especially appropriate to this condition is Christ's character in the epistle: “He that hath the sharp sword with two edges.” “For the word of God is living and operative, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and penetrating to the division of soul and spirit, both of joints and marrow, and a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is not a creature unapparent before him; but all things are naked and laid bare to his eyes, with whom we have to do” (Hebrews 4:12, 1312For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. 13Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do. (Hebrews 4:12‑13), New Translation). Following comes a solemn call to REPENT, addressed to that which represents the assembly. Not merely the evil-doers are held responsible, but the whole assembly—for the assembly is defiled by evil which it tolerates in its midst. Failing repentance, Christ threatens the evil-doers that He will come quickly, and fight against them with the sword of His mouth. This does not mean Christ's second coming—but that He would be turned into an adversary to the sinners. In the state of things such as at Pergamum, the word ministered by His faithful servants in the assembly would be as a sharp sword with two edges; normally, Christ's word to the saints is cheering, comforting, teaching, encouraging; but where evil exists, it is stern and sharp, and would be exceedingly uncomfortable, except to those who have a good conscience. If the word in the assembly be still resisted, Christ, Who is in the midst of the golden lamps (chap. 1.), will act in judgment in His solemn character as revealed in that vision-and this may be even to death (1 Cor. 11:29-3229For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. 30For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. 31For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. 32But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world. (1 Corinthians 11:29‑32)).
The promises to the overcomer are especially sweet and encouraging. They are two-
1. To PARTAKE OF THE HIDDEN MANNA. The manna in the wilderness was a type of Christ in His life as man down here, and a golden pot of it was placed in the ark of the covenant for a memorial (Ex. 16:33, 3433And Moses said unto Aaron, Take a pot, and put an omer full of manna therein, and lay it up before the Lord, to be kept for your generations. 34As the Lord commanded Moses, so Aaron laid it up before the Testimony, to be kept. (Exodus 16:33‑34); Hebrews 9:44Which had the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron's rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant; (Hebrews 9:4)); it was hidden there. Of this mystical store we shall partake in heaven. In the glory we shall have blessed communion with Jesus, in respect of His path of humiliation in this world. The angels cannot have, with Him, that mutual sympathy respecting the trials of the godly here, which we shall be privileged to enjoy.
“There on the hidden bread
Of Christ-once humbled here-
God's treasured store-forever fed-
His love my soul shall cheer.”
But not only in heaven; even here, the spiritual, the faithful, they who overcome while corruption spreads around, are given to partake of this secret delight.
2. “And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written, which no one knows but he that receives [it].” The word used here (ψῆφος) signifies a stone or pebble which, in ancient times, had two well-known uses. In criminal cases, a white stone was given denoting acquittal; or a black, signifying condemnation. Thus Paul, referring to his pre-converted days when he persecuted the Christians, says, that when they were put to death, he gave his voice against them—literally, it is, he gave his stone against them; the word is the same (Acts 26:1010Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them. (Acts 26:10)). But there was another signification; the white stone meant a token given to victors in the public games. Either of these two senses would suit the present case, though probably it is the latter which is intended for the overcomer in the Revelation. The white stone of our chapter, however, had a rare and precious attribute; it contained, and conferred on the possessor, a name which no one knew but he that received it. How sweet, amid the thronging myriads in heaven, for an individual to enjoy a secret shared only by himself I and the Lord of glory! Personality and private acquaintance with the Lord Jesus will not be lost in the numerousness of the glorified hosts. How compensative will this be for any toil or loss or adversity into which, down here, faithfulness may have led the overcomer!
“Called by that secret name
Of undisclosed delight
(Blest answer to reproach and shame),
Graved on the stone of white.”
(Concluded from page 159)