(Part 1 available at https://gospelherald.org/the-sword-of-his-mouth/)
Holding Fast Jesus’ Name
Jesus’ credits His people at Pergamum with holding fast His name.
Jesus’ name means so much, literally the Greek of Joshua, Yeshua, “the LORD saves,” Christ, the Messiah, Mashiah in Hebrew, God’s anointed Son: “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Jesus is the name in which we pray to our Father. Here Jesus uses a present participle to indicate their holding fast His name is ongoing.
Their holding fast Jesus’ name is the reverse of those in verses 14-15 who are holding to the teaching of Balaam and are holding fast to the teachings of the Nicolaitans. Unlike these, the Pergamene faithful are not denying Jesus’ faith in the face of opposition. They are also resisting the temptation to deny him to make life easier or in a situation like the one Antipas faced, being asked to deny Jesus altogether. Jesus’ faith has many dimensions. It is our total trust in Him as we noted in His admonition to those in Smyrna to be “faithful until death” – and – it embodies everything He and His inspired writers have taught us, “the faith once for all delivered (committed) to the holy ones,” God’s set-apart ones, that Jesus’ brother Jude wrote to us about in Jude 3.
Antipas, My Witness, My faithful One
Jesus’ words about Antipas are all God reveals of this faithful Christian: Jesus’ people, “‘did not deny My faith even in the days of Antipas, My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells’” (Revelation 2:13). We can observe that “even in the days” tells us there was a period of difficulty that challenged their faith, likely including pressure from pagan powers to deny Jesus. Antipas was a martyr in the original sense of the word, a witness to Jesus. He was faithful. The language of killing here likely indicates an intentionally violent death, the ending of his life by unnecessary and unnatural means. We remember all we learned about faithfulness in Smyrna. Faithfulness is actively believing in God, being reliable, trustworthy, inspiring trust in others, living with fidelity, being loyal to God. Faithfulness is ultimately expressed in obedience to God in all areas of our lives: worship, family, service, work, relationships. Antipas held fast to Jesus, to His name and his faith even where Satan lived and had his throne.
Today, Satan is still living, active and working all around us. The greatest liar of time and eternity does his finest work in religion, twisting the truth of Scripture in his efforts to undercut the gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection, deceive people and keep them from realising that Jesus is God. We must resist Him with the whole armour of God and the strength He gives us. We must hold fast to Jesus, to His name and His faith. We must stand up for Jesus and the wonderful faith He has given us. We must help and pray for those suffering for their witness to Christ. According to the International Bulletin of Mission Research, in 2019, 800,000 believers died for their faith in Jesus Christ.
The Teaching of Balaam
Not all in Pergamum followed the example of Anitpas. Jesus speaks these words of conviction in verse 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 sexual immorality.’”
Jesus has “a few things” against them. He taught in the Gospels that a little leaven can do much good like the kingdom of God itself, or much bad like the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. A few small things can change us for better or worse.
Whereas Jesus holds the seven stars, the angels of the churches, tightly in His grasp, the teaching of Balaam has infiltrated the minds and motives of some who are holding fast to them and practicing them. They were holding fast to false teachings which in turn got a grip on their lives and led them into idolatry and sexual immorality like Balaam taught Balak (Revelation 2:14; Numbers 31:16).
Balak was the king of Moab. He hired Balaam to curse Israel while they were on their journey up the east side of the Dead Sea in the Rift Valley to cross the Jordan near Mount Nebo in Moab opposite the Jordan River and Jericho. At the time, Balaam was not willing to speak anything but what God told him to speak. Balaam ended up speaking seven discourses, literally proverbs or parables, sentences of ethical wisdom blessing Israel in Numbers 23 and 24.
We learn more about Balaam’s true character in other books. Moses tells us in Numbers 22:5 and Deuteronomy 23:4 that “Balaam the son of Beor” was “from Pethor in Mespotamia.” Though Balaam was a Gentile, he knew of YHWH, the God of Israel. Though Balak hired Balaam because he considered him successful and sent Balaam two delegations of officials with large sums of money, in Numbers 22:18, “Balaam replied to the servants of Balak, ‘Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not do anything, either small or great, contrary to the command of the Lord my God.’” Balaam consulted God (Numbers 22:8). In Deuteronomy 23:5 (and Joshua 24:10) we learn that “‘Nevertheless, the LORD your God was not willing to listen to Balaam, but the LORD your God turned the curse into a blessing for you because the LORD your God loves you.’”
We learn in Numbers 25:1–3 that immediately after Balaam’s seven speeches Israel succumbed to idolatry and sexual immorality, (just as they fell into idolatry and revelry at Mount Sinai), “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.”
Numbers 31:16 confirms that Balaam was behind Israel’s immorality and idolatry at Peor, “Behold, they caused the sons of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to be unfaithful to the LORD in the matter of Peor, so that the plague took place among the congregation of the LORD!” Balaam met his demise when God had Israel execute his vengeance on the Midianites (Numbers 31:1–8).
About 1,500 years later, Peter and Jude reveal Balaam’s true character including how he was motivated by money. In his second letter, 2:15, Peter writes, “forsaking the right way, they have done astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness.” and Jude writes in his letter verse 11, “Woe to them! For they have gone the way of Cain, and for pay they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam, and perished in the rebellion of Korah.”
Jesus said Balaam “‘kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel.’” The stumbling block, the skandalon, lead them to “‘eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit sexual immorality.’” Jesus’ word for sexual immorality is the root of pornography, to engage in illicit sexual activity, to fornicate, to whore.
Repeatedly through Scripture and history we see a strong connection between false teaching, idolatry, and sexual immorality. It shows up in Corinth and the churches to whom Peter and Jude write and among religions of all kinds today. We see it among pagan gods and cults: Baal worship, Asherah, other fertility gods, the paradox of temple prostitutes, and the Bacchus / Dionysus cult.
Sexual immorality is a major problem in God’s mind for several reasons. It is contrary to His purpose and design for men and women at Creation. It is selfish. It puts self before God. This is idolatry. It is a major stumbling block in our time leading to the objectification of women and the abuse of millions of adults and children. It is contrary to God’s nature: His purity and His faithfulness. GOD is pure and faithful.
God’s Truth vs. False Teaching
God’s answer in our time as always is truth and righteousness, two of His main attributes which we access through the sound teaching of His Word, our immersion into Christ, His Spirit and our obedient walk with Him. We must avoid, refute and correct false teaching. We must flee from from the same timeless idols of money, materialism, fame, and promiscuity. The author of Revelation wrote at the end of his first letter, “Little children, guard yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21). His root word for guard is the same as for prison. We need to lock up ourselves safely away form idolatry and the dangers in which it would prefer to capture us. Jesus is our safe refuge and strength.
To be continued…