KEY TEXT: Revelation 2:12-17 "And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: 'The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword. I know where you dwell, where Satan's throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.'
KEY THOT: The church in Pergamum dwells in the midst of the temple of Asclepius, a pagan god of healing represented by a serpent. Jesus calls this temple "Satan's throne... where Satan dwells" (v.13). Apparently, Satan rules from the altar in this temple. So the believers at Pergamum were literally dwelling in the realm of Satan. Nevertheless, despite such challenging spiritual environment, they "hold fast to my name, and did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells" (v.2). But there were some in the church who were holding on to the "teaching of Balaam". If we check the story of Balaam and Balak in the OT (Numbers 24:25-25:3), we read how Balaam was unable to curse Israel at the behest of king Balak. However, he advised the king to get the daughters of Moab to seduce the sons of Israel, and thereby led them into idolatry. So, apparently, some members of the church were teaching that inter-marriage with idol-worshipping wives were okay, resulting in believers engaging in temple worship with their pagan wives.
This was exactly the same reason Paul advised the Corinthian believers not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers: "Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God" (2 Corinthians 6:14-16). In the Corinthian social/religious context, Paul's concern about mixed marriage is the pagan spouse's idolatry. When a believer is yoked to an idol-worshipper, he or she is also yoked to the idols in fellowship and worship.
Another teaching that was highlighted was that of the Nicolaitans. Apparently, it was an antinomian (against Law) heresy. He taught that believers have been set free from the law and therefore "free" to sin. Apparently, sexual freedom was part of his teaching, encouraging sexual immorality in the church. The early church fathers mentioned the teaching of Nicolaitans and the general consensus was that it was some kind of antinomian heresy that resulted in sexual immorality. Perhaps our modern Nicolaitan equivalence to this Nicolaitans' teaching is that homosexuality is not a sin because under grace, we have been set free from the law condemning homosexuality. This teaching proclaims sexual freedom in "love" - even sex outside God's defined place for sexual love within the heterosexual marriage of a man and his wife.
Jesus calls for repentance or else He will "come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth" (v.16), a reference to God's Word as a double-edged Sword of the Spirit. God's word is double-edged because it cuts both ways. It can bring life or death for believers or unbelievers alike, depending on whether they repent.
Jesus' challenge to all churches is the same: overcome sins, not live in sins, for grace is God's power to become victors, not victims: "To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it."
Whatever may be our theological understanding of grace, what it cannot mean is that we can continue to sin--that would be in the spirit of Balaam and Nicolaitans. Grace is not God's permission to remain free to sin but grace is God's power to be set free from sin. Any teaching that allows believers to continue to sin is heresy that is from the same Satanic spirit that inspired the teachings of Balaam and the Nicolaitans.
Abba-Father, deliver us from false teachings and false teachers. Amen.