In Part 3 of The letter to the church in Pergamum, we’ll look at the “But …” section. Usually, this is not good news for the receiving church. Often, it’s a caveat that goes along with the Divine Knowledge. In this case, it has something to do with Jesus saying, I know where you live — where Satan has his throne … — where Satan lives. Is that as bad as it sounds? Let’s find out!
I know where you live — where Satan has his throne … — where Satan lives
Before we resume with the letter to the church in Pergamum, here’s the breakdown for this particular letter.
|To||the angel of the church in Pergamum|
|From||him who has the sharp, double-edged sword.|
|Divine Knowledge||I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.|
|But -||Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality. Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.|
|So -||Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.|
|Hear||He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.|
|To those who overcome||To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.|
So what is it that Jesus says about this compromising church in Pergamum? There are two things specifically mentioned in the letter.
The first thing Jesus has against the church in Pergamum
You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality.
Since Jesus mentioned Balaam and Balak, we should go back and look at that. It’s quite long, so we won’t do the whole thing here. However, if you want to read all of it, it starts at Numbers 22:1 and continues through chapter 25.
Here’s what was happening at the time:
Num 22:1 Then the Israelites traveled to the plains of Moab and camped along the Jordan across from Jericho.
So they were on their way to Moab, during the Exodus. Balak was the King of Moab. Balaam was an Israelite who had the gift of prophecy. And it plays out like God holding a double-edged sword, with Balaam getting to decide which side of his double-hearted desires will dictate what God does with His double-edged sword.
We have to follow carefully what plays out. It’s important for the church in Pergamum. And for us as well, when we examine our own motives for doing things. Due to time constraints and trying not to make this too long, the details will be in the series mentioned above.
For now, let’s just say that Balak entices Balaam to do something wrong. Balaam pretends, to Balak and to himself, that he’s following what God wants him to say. All the while, he’s trying to get a higher price for what he’s doing.
Ultimately, the best source for knowing what Balaam really did is the passage below. It’s quite long, so we’ll only look at the relevant portion.
2Pe 2:1 But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. 2 Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. 3 In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.
2Pe 2:13 They will be paid back with harm for the harm they have done. Their idea of pleasure is to carouse in broad daylight. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their pleasures while they feast with you. 14 With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed—an accursed brood! 15 They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Beor, who loved the wages of wickedness. 16 But he was rebuked for his wrongdoing by a donkey—a beast without speech—who spoke with a man’s voice and restrained the prophet’s madness.
2Pe 2:17 These men are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them. 18 For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of sinful human nature, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. 19 They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him. 20 If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. 21 It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. 22 Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud.”
Scholars don’t agree on whether Balaam was actually affected by his encounter with the angel while on his donkey. Some say yes. Others point to the passage immediately after the ones in Numbers where he’s clearly involved – and say no.
Regardless, the lesson is there for false teachers and prophets.
For the church in Pergamum, being where Satan lives and has his throne means there will be plenty of false teachers and false prophets. The question remains for this study though – were Jesus’ words a reminder, a warning or a wake-up call?
The same is true for us. In a way, these words are for all of us. Remember what Jesus said about Satan and this world. The entire passage is important for us to remember and to live out. It’s full of important things for us – the Holy Spirit, living as Jesus taught us, not being afraid, having peace. And for this topic, especially verses 30 and 31 at the end, regarding the prince of this world – Satan.
Jn 14:15 “If you love me, you will obey what I command. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”
Jn 14:22 Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”
Jn 14:23 Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.
Jn 14:25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
Jn 14:28 “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. 30 I will not speak with you much longer, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold on me, 31 but the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me.
“Come now; let us leave.”
Yes, Satan is the prince of the world. This world. For now. However, he has no hold on Jesus. The same can be true for us, but only if we live as Jesus taught.
So yes, people in some areas will be more likely to encounter false teaching and other things to draw them away from God. However, as prince of the world, or ruler of the world, at this time – there is no place where Satan’s impact will not exist. As we’re seeing here, even in our churches.
And let’s be real. “Churches” aren’t affected by evil. “Churches” aren’t tempted. Because “churches” are either buildings or groups of people, depending on how we use the word. But temptation affects people. And individual people then affect groups of people. So it only takes one person to have a negative impact on a church. So we all have to be on guard, as Paul wrote in the section titles The Armor of God from his letter to the Ephesian church.
The second thing Jesus has against the church in Pergamum
You may remember that in the letter to the church in Ephesus, Jesus said: But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. Not so here in Pergamum. To this church, Jesus said:
Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.
As we just saw, the entire church doesn’t have to be led astray in order for trouble to come to the entire group. Jesus specifically says – you also have those who hold to …. So it wasn’t everyone. or was it?
Looking at the Greek words, there’s a bit of a question as to how many people were involved.
How widespread was the problem in Pergamum?
Let’s compare …
Rev 2:14 … You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality.
… with …
15 Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.
It seems like both instances are referring to some people. But let’s look at the Greek before we run with that thinking.
First, verse 14:
And then verse 15:
Let’s deal with that big dot at the end of verse 15 first. It actually closes the thought from the very beginning of verse 14, which isn’t shown here because it would make the graphic too small. But here’s the entire verse 14 in English: Rev 2:14 Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam. That last Greek word, represented by a dot and not translated into English closes the thought that began with “Likewise”. It’s like bookends around the things that Jesus has against the church in Pergamum. It makes it easier to understand in the Greek – but is lost in the English translations, because we have no such construct in our language.
So – let’s move on to some among you from verse 14. Notice that there’s only one Greek word. One. Not a phrase like we read in English. Here’s what it means.
1563 ἐκεῖ [ekei /ek·i/] adv. Of uncertain affinity; GK 1695; 98 occurrences; AV translates as “there” 86 times, “thither” seven times, not translated three times, and translated miscellaneously three times. 1 there, in or to that place. Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.
Interesting. It’s more like, you have there a hold on the teaching of Balaam. Everyone? Most? Many? Some? The translators put some. But is that realistic? Hold that thought and let’s keep going.
In verse 15, we have those who hold to. What’s the difference between “some among you” and “those who”? The Greek word we read as “hold” is the same in both cases, so if there’s a difference, it must be in those two words: some and those. And that’s where things get interesting.
There is no Greek word to go along with “those who”. They are implied from the Greek word we read as hold. While there was at least a word for “some among you” – there’s nothing for “those who”. It’s just not there.
The difference between something and nothing.
So how do we evaluate the reasonableness of the interpretation? I suggest two ways. First, look at what “hold” actually meant and what the impact could be on the church. Second, look at what Jesus says next to confirm what we come up with in the first analysis.
Hold – what is being held and by who?
So here’s the Greek word we read as hold:
2902 κρατέω [krateo /krat·eh·o/] v. From 2904; TDNT 3:910; TDNTA 466; GK 3195; 47 occurrences; AV translates as “hold” 12 times, “take” nine times, “lay hold on” eight times, “hold fast” five times, “take by” four times, “lay hold upon” twice, “lay hand on” twice, and translated miscellaneously five times. 1 to have power, be powerful. 1a to be chief, be master of, to rule. 2 to get possession of. 2a to become master of, to obtain. 2b to take hold of. 2c to take hold of, take, seize. 2c1 to lay hands on one in order to get him into one’s power. 3 to hold. 3a to hold in the hand. 3b to hold fast, i.e. not discard or let go. 3b1 to keep carefully and faithfully. 3c to continue to hold, to retain. 3c1 of death continuing to hold one. 3c2 to hold in check, restrain. Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.
You may remember, we already looked at this word a bit earlier. It was related to Yet you remain true to my name. Remember which word it was? It was remain. And what I wrote at the time about it was:
We see things like hold and lay hold on. But just how strongly were they holding? This is one time when the NIV maybe gives a better idea than the Authorized Version as to what’s going on here.
In the 1984 NIV, the word was translated 13 times as either “arrest” or “arrested”. That’s pretty strong. More so than”hold”.
And then, to reinforce what He said, Jesus essentially repeats the remaining true theme when He immediately adds You did not renounce your faith in me. Renounce means pretty much what we expect.
So how is it that we have the same word now, with the same repetition, but it’s in the negative sense? And why is it that the first instance was translated as a generic “you”, implying everyone – while the second one was translated as being only some of them?
If there’s any way at all to know, then it will have to come from the words Jesus has after this.