Pergamum was a church that was flirting with the world.
This was easy to do in that first century city because it is described by the Lord Jesus as a place "where Satan's throne is" (ESV). Pergamum represented a particular concentration of evil. It was the center of Roman government in the area and of pagan religion in Asia Minor; an unholy blend of powers, interests and temptations that made life difficult for the believers who resided there.
Yet in spite of these challenges Jesus commends many in the church for holding fast to his name and not denying the faith even in the days of Antipas, a faithful witness, who was killed in the city. The majority had stood strong even in the face of intense persecution.
But all is not well; there was still a danger looming on the horizon. There were some who held to the teaching of Balaam who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. Here Jesus is referring to a wicked prophet whose story is told in the Old Testament (Numbers 22:5-25:3). His reference to this ancient character indicated that there is theological continuity between what Balaam did to the Israelites years before and what these new Balaamites are seeking to do in the church in Pergamum.
From what biblical scholars can gather they seemed to be encouraging participation in trade guild activities, emperor worship and religious festivals that compromised the believer's commitment to Jesus Christ. Although the church had stood strong against external pressure, it was in danger of capitulating to internal pressure and seduction. No doubt there were are kinds of "good" reasons put forth by the Balaamites as to why the rest of the church should take a more enlightened view of things. After all why should unbelievers get all the breaks and have all the fun! Why should Christians be socially or economically deprived because they refused to participate in something that was neither here nor there as far as they were concerned.
But Jesus will have none of it. He is looking for a pure and spotless bride. He calls on them to repent and warns them that if they do not he will come and war against them with the sword of his mouth. If they repent he promises to give them some hidden manna and a white stone that has a new name written on it that no one knows except the one who receives it. All this to say that they will enjoy intimate communion and fellowship with him. He will come to them in a personal way and bless them with his presence and comfort.
The church today needs to hear the words of him who has "the sharp two-edged sword." We live in a day when the differences between the "church" and the "world" are getting harder and harder to discern. This is not right! Something is profoundly wrong! Loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ demands that we stand apart from the corruption around us while we seek to communicate the gospel to those who are perishing. The Bible says that without holiness no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14b). Christians are described by the apostle Peter as living stones who are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:5). The level of intellectual, moral and spiritual compromise within the ranks of evangelicalism is scandalous. No wonder we have ceased to impact the world. No wonder we can hardly get people to attend the preaching of the word of God and prayer. The truth is that many who fill evangelical churches have probably never undergone the revolution of grace and therefore they have no appetite for those spiritual means of grace and disciplines that are born of the Holy Spirit.
May the Lord have mercy on us and revive us again before it is too late!