We continue the teaching on Revelation 2 and the church in Pergamos. Our circumstances affect what our faithfulness looks like. They are an opportunity for us to make a choice. We examine the role of witness, martyr, and overcomer, the impact of our prayers, and the danger of false teachers. Revelation calls us to fight against the temptations of the flesh and pursue a life of faithfulness. This episode begins with a look at the story of Balaam.
Let’s look at Balaam, a very interesting character in the Bible.
Balaam was a prophet, and he was a prophet that was a real prophet. Now, what was the standard that you had to meet up to to be a prophet in the Old Testament? One hundred percent accuracy. That was the standard. One hundred percent accuracy.
Did you also have to be sin free? We know that’s not the case because we know these prophets, right?
We know Isaiah. When Isaiah got to see Jesus with the eyes of fire and the feet of bronze, what did he say? Woe is me! I am undone! I am a man of unclean lips.
When he saw himself in that holy presence, he realized, I’ve got all kinds of warts. But he was a real prophet because what he said was true.
Well, Balaam was a real prophet, and what he said was true; but he had a problem.
Let’s look at Balaam’s problem. Let’s look at 2 Peter 2, and we’ll get a little summary of Balaam and what his problem was.
2 Peter 2:15. They have forsaken the right way and gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; but he was rebuked for his iniquity: a dumb donkey speaking with a man’s voice restrained the madness of the prophet.
His problem was he liked the world, and he wanted some of it.
Let’s review Balaam’s life. Let’s go to Numbers 31:15. We’ll start at the end and work back to the beginning.
And Moses said to them: “Have you kept all the women alive? Look, these women caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to trespass against the Lord in the incident of Peor.
One thing we know is Balaam gave counsel that caused Israel to stumble.
Balaam, ultimately, was killed. That was his ultimate reward. Let’s go through the story now, and watch it unfold. We already know what happens. It starts in chapter 22.
Then the children of Israel moved, and camped in the plains of Moab on the side of the Jordan across from Jericho.
What’s happening here is the children of Israel are nearing the end of their forty years wandering in the wilderness, and they’re camping at Moab. And not long after this, Moses is going to go up on Mount Nebo, which is right above the plains of Moab. If you stand on Mount Nebo you see the plains of Moab. And he’s going to die, and Joshua’s going to take over. That’s right on the cusp of what’s happening here.
So they’re in the plains of Moab, and Balak, the king of Moab sends for Balaam. He goes to Balaam and he says, hey, I need you to come and help me. I need you to come and curse these people because they are threatening us.
So verse 7. So the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with the diviner’s fee in their hand, and they came to Balaam and spoke to him the words of Balak. And he said to them, “Lodge here tonight, and I will bring back word to you, as the Lord speaks to me.” So the princes of Moab stayed with Balaam.
So they took money, and they said we will pay you money if you’ll do a job for us. This is the way religion has worked for all of human history. We always want to make it transactional. And today, you can go to a service, and if you’ll bring a one-hundred-dollar bill, you’ll get your prayers answered, or that’s the promise.
Then God came to Balaam and said, “Who are these men with you?” So Balaam said to God, “Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, has sent to me, saying, ‘Look, a people has come out of Egypt, and they cover the face of the earth. Come now, curse them for me; perhaps I shall be able to overpower them and drive them out.’”
The people knew that Balaam’s prophecies were reliable, and they were willing to pay a big fee to curse these people because they’re afraid of them. They had heard of what had happened and all the miracles that had followed the children of Israel out of Egypt. They say, they’ve got supernatural stuff; we need supernatural stuff on the other side.
And God said to Balaam, “You shall not go with them; you shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.” So Balaam rose in the morning and said to the princes of Balak, “Go back to your land, for the Lord has refused to give me permission to go with you.”
So they go back, and Balak says, well, we just didn’t offer enough. So they bring back more money.
Verse 18. Then Balaam answered and said to the servants of Balak, “Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the word of the Lord my God, to do less or more. Now therefore, please, you also stay here tonight, that I may know what more the Lord will say to me.”
This reminds me of a story that Abraham Lincoln supposedly told. He was in his office, and a guy came and said, “We could give you $20,000 to make this happen.” And Lincoln said, “No, that’s not what I’m going to do.”
A little later, they said, “We could give you $40,000 if you could make this happen. And he said, “That’s not what I’m about.”
A little later he said, “You know we could give you $60,000 if you could make this happen.” And Lincoln stood up. And [the visitor] said, “I’m sorry, Mr. President, I didn’t mean to offend you.” He said, “No, no, you didn’t offend me. You’re just getting close.”
And the saying goes: All of us have a price. So they’re getting close here to Balaam’s price.
Verse 20. And God came to Balaam at night and said to him, “If the men come to call you, rise and go with them; but only the word which I speak to you—that you shall do.”
Balaam really wanted to go.
So Balaam rose in the morning, saddled his donkey, and went with the princes of Moab.
He’s got the gold and silver in mind.
Then God’s anger was aroused because he went—
So, He told him he could go; but He’d already told Balaam these are people that are blessed. “I do not want you to do what these people are wanting.” But Balaam was like, “Arg! Maybe there’s a loophole in here! Maybe if I just go—who knows? There’s all this money!”
So, the thing goes on. He goes, and he stands, and he looks at one viewpoint; and he prophecies and blesses the people. And Balak’s like, “Man! No! No, that’s not what we want!”
Then he goes to another position, and he blesses the people again.
And Balak says, “No! That’s not what we want! We want you to curse them! Let’s try from over here!” And they do that four different times.
And then finally, in 24:10, Then Balak’s anger was aroused against Balaam, and he struck his hands together; and Balak said to Balaam, “I called you to curse my enemies, and look, you have bountifully blessed them these three times! Now therefore, flee to your place. I said I would greatly honor you, but in fact, the Lord has kept you back from honor!”
I could have made you rich! You better get back to your place because now you’re in trouble. I would have made you rich, but now you get nothing because you didn’t do what I wanted you to do.
Well, apparently, that really stung. So Balaam went back to his home, and he said, “Man. Can’t curse the people. But there’s all that money. I know what I’ll do.”
So, this is kind of putting the pieces together. I can’t read you the text that shows you this. But apparently what he does is he goes back to Balak and says, “Look, I’ll tell you what you do. I know God. And if the people commit sexual immorality, he will blitz them. So here’s what you do. You get the women of Moab, and they go over and seduce the Israelite men. And get them to be involved in the Moabite religious stuff—” which is the Baal worship and all that. Baal worship and sexual immorality are completely intertwined. It was a fertility cult. So going to church and going to a strip club was the same thing for them.
So they do. They go get them entrapped. And it starts to spread throughout Israel, and there’s a plague. And so, presumably, Balaam got paid. “I got paid! And I didn’t say anything wrong. I kept my prophetic track record in place. And I got paid too!” All this and Jesus too! Isn’t that great?
Now, we would never do anything like that in our culture, would we?
I’m going to go to the church service as a college student. I’m going to raise my hands. I’m going to soak in the worship. And then I’m going to go back to my apartment where I cohabit with somebody. Or go hook up. And I’m going to go, and I’m going to completely feed my appetites. But not to worry because next Thursday, I’ll be back in worship again. Because I have all this and Jesus too.
We go to our business. We go to our social circles. How do we stand? What do we say? Do we have “all this and Jesus too”?
Category one: To eat things sacrificed to idols
Now, why does he say who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to do two things: to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit sexual immorality? I’m going to suggest to you that these two categories of things are the categories of our fundamental problems as people.
To eat things sacrificed to idols means that I have entered into a relationship with idols. And idolatry is really simple: You pay the money, you get the stuff. That’s all it is. It’s a transactional belief system where the ultimate power in the universe is you. The ultimate power in the universe is me.
If I do this thing, then I will get what I want. I may need to give an offering. I may need to pay a bribe.
In these pagan religions, you get to go commit multiple sexual promiscuity as part of your offering.
I’m in control. That’s category number one. I’m in control. I just need to figure out the thing to do to get what I want.
Category two: Sexual Immorality
The other category that’s our fundamental problem is I can create my own fulfillment. I have appetites. I will find a way to have those appetites met. I have a desire for something. You see how they’re connected? I have an appetite, I have a desire to see something met, and I will go to my cosmic vending machine and look for the right letter, M16, put in the dollar, out comes the thing, and now I have my appetites met. Because ultimately, I’m in control.
What actually happens is when we think we’re in control, we become a slave to the things we’re pursuing. And when we live a life where we’re trying to get fulfilled through satisfying appetites, we become a slave of those appetites.
God says, “Look. I delivered you from slavery in Egypt. Why do you want to go back into it?”
Egypt is a picture of sin, and when we go back to Egypt, we go back to slavery. And what God wants us to do is be delivered from it.
So in this church, they had people who were teaching things that would cause people to be in control and to seek fulfillment through their appetites being satisfied.
Fighting with truth
What God is ticked off at them about, what he wants them to do is repent and go fight that! Fight it with truth.
Let me tell you: If you fight this kind of thing with truth, people won’t like it. We don’t have enough time for me to give you my personal examples of this. But let me just tell you, they don’t like it.
And when they don’t like it, they do not fight back with philosophy. They do not fight back by saying, “Let’s sit down and reason about this.” Why? They don’t have truth on their side, so they don’t use truth. What they use is criticism. Maybe coercion. And the goal now is to destroy your credibility, to undermine you as a person so people won’t listen to you. Which means what you have to do is elevate your game significantly by not responding to their attacks and continuing to speak the truth.
Now can you see how you can become an overcomer in this circumstance? Because this is being a faithful witness. This is hard. It’s hard to listen to the criticism of you and say, “I don’t matter.” Now you’re stepping aside from me being the center, from being the control person. And you say, “I’m going to speak the truth because it’s what you need to hear.”
Now you’re not making it about yourself, and you’re not having your appetites fulfilled. You’re actually stepping away from both of these categories in order to be a faithful witness. And we have to put self to death in order to do this.
You can do this with your children. I remember having my kids slam the door and say, “I hate you.” I knew this stuff well enough to know, “OK. That’s your choice. You can hate me all you want to, but you’re still not going to get dessert.”
What they’re doing is trying to enter into with me a transactional situation where they’re saying, “I will do for you what you want. I will give you the love and affirmation as a parent you desire, if you will feed me Reese’s Peanut Butter cups.”
And, what I’m doing if I give in to that is teaching them to be Balaam. I’m turning into Balaam when I do that.
We have all kinds of people who know how to bribe us to get what they want. And our job is to learn how to say, “That’s not good for you.” This isn’t about me, and it’s not about my appetites. I prefer to be loved by people. I prefer warm-fuzzies to cold-pricklies. It makes me feel better when people say nice things about me. But that’s not what I’m going to live life for.
I’m going to live life to be a sword, to tell people the truth.
Now, we saw in Ephesus our goal should be truth and love. And, the loving thing to do to these people who had been captured with the false teaching of Balaam was to deliver them. But doing so is not always a warm fuzzy thing to experience.
Got hates the doctrine of the Nicolaitans
Revelation 2:15. Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which things I hate.
Nobody knows what the Nicolaitans were. It means people destroyer. I have a hard time believing that they took a name for themselves that means people destroyer. So, I would guess that this is a pejorative term for somebody. All I can tell you is, because it says “thus you have,” it must be connected somehow to this idea Balaam has of living a transactional life seeking satisfaction of your own appetites.
And what God says about that is, what we do know is God hates it.
Is hate always a bad thing? Obviously not. God hates things that destroy people. Is that any surprise? Because he made us and he loves us, wouldn’t he hate things that destroy us? So should we.
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat
Each one of these seven letters has this same formula: If you have an ear, hear. Because, remember, what he told us to do is read, hear, do. Real simple. Read, hear, do. Those are the things that were, that are, and that are to come. Learn from the past. Learn from the present. Learn from the future. Same thing. Learn and do. Be a faithful witness. Be a faithful martyr.
Being an overcomer
Overcoming is doing what Jesus did. When we get to Laodicea, Jesus will say, “If you overcome as I overcame, I will give.” Jesus did not overcome not being a Christian. Jesus did not overcome not asking Jesus into his heart. What Jesus did is he overcame temptation. He was tempted in all things as we are. He learned obedience even to death on the cross. So he’s inviting us here.
And you say, “Well, how do I know if I’m an overcomer or not?” You don’t.
You can know that you’re one of Jesus’ children because he said if you’ll believe, you’re my child. Overcomer, he says, make it to the finish line and then God will decide. But he will decide for each one of us based on our circumstances because we all have different lives to live.
The hidden manna
To him who overcomes I’ll some of the hidden manna to eat. At the time of Balaam, Israel had a tabernacle. Inside the tabernacle was a Holy of Holies. Inside the Holy of Holies was an ark. In the ark was a jug. In the jug was manna.
This manna did not spoil at the end of the day. It was always there and always hidden.
Just think, if Balaam, instead of advising the Moab leadership how to put a stumbling block in the way of Israel had instead been invited by Jesus to walk right into the Holy of Holies, open up the ark, grab a piece of that jug, and reach in and have himself a big slab of manna. What would that have told all the children of Israel? What happened to them if they go into the Holy of Holies? Instant death. You were not allowed in there because that was the holy presence of God.
And, I think what God is saying here is if you will speak truth for me in this world, if you’ll put to death self in this world and elevate my word when you see problems, the world will reject you. The world will hate on you. They will criticize you. But I’m going to invite you in to my inner most presence; and you and me, we’re going to have intimate fellowship no one else can experience.
A white stone with a new name
He goes on, and he says I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.
Apparently white stone was used for all sorts of things in the Greco-Roman world. They used it for voting. If you vote yes, you put a white stone; if you vote no, you put a black stone. They used it as an admission ticket. You get to the place and instead of a ticket, you’d give them the white stone.
But the one, I think perhaps, most opens a picture of what’s going on here is if you were a special guest at an event, and you had your white stone, if you were a special guest, sometimes they would engrave your name on it.
So, I think perhaps what’s being promised here is, if you will speak my truth and be rejected by all the events of the world, I will invite you to my event. And you will not just have an invitation to come in. You will be a special guest. And the special-guest level will be such that only you and I understand how special it is.
In Ephesians 5, Jesus tells us we are the church; we are his bride. And we, as men, have a job to use truth, words to wash our wives with those words so that they can elevate to be all that they can be.
It promises if we will do that, what we’ll receive back is an awesome partner in life.
It ends by saying this is a great mystery, because he’s really talking about is Jesus and the church. What Jesus is doing here is telling us if we will use truth when the circumstances demand it, that what we’re doing is becoming the bride he really wants. And we’re going to have the same kind of intimacy with him as a reward that only husbands and wives can understand the depths of.
Behold I’m coming soon Jesus says. And my reward is in my hand. And he’s going to give it to those who are overcomers. May we be the kind of witnesses and overcomers that Jesus wants us to be and use truth when the circumstances demand it.