The Dangers of Compromise
The next two churches were those in Pergamum and Thyatira. These two churches were located in cities where “getting along” was difficult if one was outside the cultural boundaries – which is exactly where a church is supposed to be. Pergamum was a city of rank paganism and emperor worship. Indeed, Christ refers to the city as “Satan’s throne.” Martyrs were already made, one whose name was immortalized by Christ himself – Antipas, the faithful witness. Whoever he was, he redeemed what had been an otherwise scandalous name in the New Testament.
But the church at Pergamum had some who held “to the teaching of Balaam.” Balaam was a false prophet whom Balak, king of Moab, hired to curse Israel many centuries before. The entire account may be found in Numbers 22-25 and 31. Balaam, who was prevented by the LORD to curse the Israelites, convinced Balak to have Moabite women seduce Israelite men, and in the process lead them to worship the Moabite god. It worked. The analogy is that there were false teachers in the church at Pergamum who were encouraging the people to eat food sacrificed to idols and engage in sexual immorality, probably at the local pagan shrine where cult prostitution was widely practiced. The Niocolaitans probably offered similar advice. From the best we can tell, matters were largely the same at Thyatira. There, some self-styled prophetess whom the Lord called “Jezebel” was teaching people to engage in the same activities. Jezebel will be remembered from 1 Kings 19:1-3; 21:1-16 and 2 Kings 9:30-37.
James tells us that pure religion involves keeping oneself “unstained from the world” (1:27). Unstained from the world – it is very difficult. The world pressures us to conform, and rewards or punishes us accordingly, using ostracism or financial hardship intermittently. When all else fails, it will use outright persecution, as these ancient Christians met. Going to a temple to eat food sacrificed to an idol seemed harmless enough; after all, we know that an idol is nothing. But the demon behind the idol isn’t nothing. This is Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 8-10. And the slide into sexual immorality was easy enough in such “temples.” The general teaching throughout Scripture is that idolatry and sexual immorality go hand in hand (Romans 1:18-27; 1 Corinthians 10:7-8). For an idol is really nothing other than a projection of myself, and the worship I offer it is nothing other than the fulfilling of my sinful desires. God’s word won’t let us do this.