What a mix of zeal and error at this church! Antipas had stood firm in faith to the point of death, yet others within the same fellowship were promoting unscriptural teaching.
A number of commentators understand the conjunction which begins Revelation 1:15 as an indication of an emphatic comparison made between Balaam and the Nicolaitans.1 It is thought that the doctrine of the Nicolaitans may have promoted licentiousness, in common with that of Balaam. Both are treated in our discussion of the Nicolaitans.
The teaching of Balaam was encouragement of corruption by intermarriage resulting in fornication and idolatry. No doubt in the city of Pergamum intermarriage with the pagan world was a real problem. Because civil and religious life were so intertwined, for believers to accept social engagements probably meant some involvement with paganism.2stumbling block
Σκάνδαλον [Skandalon] can be used to describe a trap, more specifically the trigger of the trap upon which the bait is laid.3 In the case of Balaam, the bait which brought about the downfall of Israel was the desire of the men for sexual relations with the women of Moab. And so we come upon the tragic pattern of temptation, brought about both by Satan and our flesh. That which God has ordained for His purposes is twisted in unnatural ways to become the means of our downfall. Sexual relations, designed as the means of procreation within the confines of marriage (1Cor. 1Cor. 7:2; Heb. Heb. 13:4), becomes the lure leading to fornication and adultery.
This warping aspect of ungodly desire is in view when Paul writes to the believers in Rome telling them to reckon yourselves dead indeed to sin (Rom. Rom. 6:10), for they had died with Christ (Rom. Rom. 6:8). The believer is to be dead to sin: dead things do not respond to stimulus. It is by stimulus of our ungodly desires that Satan and our flesh achieve their most damaging results. Satan is a master at providing what we desire, be it status, wealth, or a host of other wants so long as he is successful at getting us to compromise and participate in an ungodly activity.
Jesus did not succumb to the tempter because there was nothing within the desire of Jesus that was outside of the will of the Father (John John 14:30). Therefore, Satan lacked a handle by which he could manipulate the Son of God (Mtt. Mat. 4:3). Jesus warns us not to be the instrument by which bait is placed (Mtt. Mat. 18:7). Even our Christian liberty can become a stumbling block for others (1Cor. 1Cor. 8:9).
things sacrificed to idols
Εἰδωλόθυτα [Eidōlothyta] refers to sacrificial meat, part of which was burned on the altar, part was eaten at a solemn meal in the temple, and part was sold in the market for home use.4 This message was mainly to Gentile converts at Pergamum since Judaism prohibited this practice (Num. Num. 25:2; Ps. Ps. 106:28; Dan. Dan. 1:8). The church at Pergamum was integrated into the culture, rather than being set apart.
[Christians] were expected to pay their dues to trade guilds by attending annual dinners held in honor of the guilds patron deities. Homage to the emperor as divine was included along with worship of such local deities.5The dietary restrictions imposed upon Gentiles by the Jerusalem Council (Acts Acts 15:20, Acts 15:29) were out of concern for retaining Gentile fellowship with Jewish believers. Paul allows such meat sacrificed to idols to be eaten (1Cor. 1Cor. 8:7; 1Cor. 10:18-33), but only when it does not cause offense to brothers. Here the issue was one of compromising the witness of the church within the pagan culture and partaking of pagan practices which were associated with such banquets. These dinners included the eating of meat sacrificed to idols as well as licentious behavior. See Worldly Churches.
to commit sexual immorality
Πορνεῦσαι [Porneusai] : To give ones self to unlawful sexual intercourse.6 This may have referred either to physical relations connected with the pagan feasts or be a description of the idolatry practiced by the church at Pergamum which participated in pagan ritual.
1 What is the point of the emphatic comparison (ου῝τως . . . καὶ σύ . . . ὁμοίως [houtōs . . . kai sy . . . homoiōs] ) between Balaam and the Nicolaitans?Colin J. Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in Their Local Setting (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989), 88.
3 Richard Chenevix Trench, Commentary on the Epistles to the Seven Churches in Asia (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1861), 118.
4 Frederick William Danker and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2000).
5 Gregory K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999), 30.