Tuesday, 15 September 2020
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. Revelation 2:14
Jesus, the One who “has the two-edged sword” (verse 12), began his words to the church at Pergamos with a note of approval concerning their conduct. That was because of their previously having held fast to His name and not denying His faith. He now will speak to them of their failings. He begins with, “But I have a few things against you.”
In this, He is showing that past deeds cannot cover over present failings. This is an important point because it is reflective of many churches throughout the ages. “This church is 147 years old and was started by the great pastor Ermine Evangelist.” Or, “This church was the first church to send missionaries to the Amfalula Islands in the South Pacific.” Such things are irrelevant if the present church has moral failings.
In the case of Pergamos, the Lord continues with, “because you have there those who hold to the doctrine of Balaam.” Balaam is a figure first found in Numbers 22. Being a diviner, he was summoned from his home located near the Euphrates River to come to the land east of Canaan in order to curse Israel.
In the story, he first refuses but eventually comes. When he arrived, he was unable to curse them, but instead blessed them several times. After this, it appeared his presence in the biblical narrative had ended, but it was not so. He reappears in Numbers 31 and is found to have been behind a scheme to seduce Israel, weakening their morals and causing a disruption in the allegiance of many toward the Lord God.
This is where Jesus picks up the narrative concerning Balaam, saying that he “taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel.” The word translated as “stumbling block” is skandalon. One can see the modern word “scandal” in it. It can signify a snare, an occasion to fall, an offense, and so on. The idea of a stumbling block is something that causes a person to trip.
In the winter, frost heaves up rocks in the fields. They may push up just an inch or two, and the grass makes them unnoticeable. But, a person walking in the field will catch his toe on it and tumble over. It is something that seems insignificant, but which can cause great offense (a scandal).
However, a person (or a group of people) who stumble are in a different category than those who fall. To stumble signifies needing correction. To fall will often mean one is beyond remedy. The situation in Pergamos is that of stumbling, but it is not too late for them to correct their deficiency. And so, Christ defines what they are doing which is similar to what Balaam did. It is “to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality.”
The instruction for avoiding or eating things sacrificed to idols is a subject which is too long to fully explain here, but it is first set forth in Acts 15, at the Council in Jerusalem –
“For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: 29 that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.” Acts 15:28, 29
The “things offered to idols” is speaking of consuming such things. This was an intermediate step concerning these things during the early establishment of the church. Paul’s letters will qualify this order, explaining the matter is to be based on a person’s conscience. He discusses the matter of foods in great detail in Romans 14. He then specifically refers to things sacrificed to idols in 1 Corinthians 8, and again in 1 Corinthians 10.
To get a fuller understanding of what is and what is not allowed, and what the importance of those things are in relation to others – both within and without the church – one can refer to the Superior Word commentary on those passages.
The second issue, that of “sexual immorality,” is prohibited throughout Scripture. Sex is intended to be between a man and woman within the bonds of marriage. If that limitation is maintained, nothing unfavorable will result in regard to impurity or judgment. As Hebrews says –
“Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.” Hebrews 13:4
To go beyond that is to be considered inappropriate. So firm is the Lord in this regard that sexual immorality is noted even on the very last page of Scripture –
“Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. 15 But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie.” Revelation 22:14, 15
Life application: In Numbers 25, the harlotry of Israel is recorded. At that time, it says that twenty-four thousand died in the plague sent by the Lord. After that, in Numbers 31, vengeance was taken upon the Midianites, and Israel destroyed them along with Balaam who was the instigator of what happened. As it says –
“And they warred against the Midianites, just as the Lord commanded Moses, and they killed all the males. 8 They killed the kings of Midian with the rest of those who were killed—Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur, and Reba, the five kings of Midian. Balaam the son of Beor they also killed with the sword.” Numbers 31:7, 8
The question is, could Pergamos expect any less if they failed to handle the situation? No! And this is certainly the reason why the particular symbolism of Jesus was presented to the congregation – “These things says He who has the sharp two-edged sword” (2:12).
In other words, the sword was the chosen description of Christ for this church indicating that the same judgment of Balaam was destined for those who failed to repent of their misdeeds. Jesus is not the “cosmic pushover” that He is often portrayed as being. He is the Lord God Almighty and will punish disbelievers and those who arrogantly put His grace to the test. He is holy, He is just, and He is righteous. He is Jesus.
Lord Jesus, you know each one of us intimately and you know the secret faults of our hearts and our deeds. Turn our hearts to You and away from that which is dishonorable and wicked. Especially Lord, please help us with our personal struggles, be they drug, alcohol, gambling, sexual, or other addictions. Through You we can gain victory. Amen.