Last Sunday, the message in a church I attended zeroed in on Revelation 2:12-17. The Book of Revelation has often been cryptic, more so to the average person who have read it only a few times. For instance, the Seven Churches of Asia are sometimes interpreted symbolically. One time, I recalled hearing from some radio advertisement that the Philippines is the Church in Laodicea mentioned in Revelation 3. Be that as it may, focusing too much on the cryptic aspects of the Book of Revelation makes it extremely easy to go beyond what the Book says, risking judgment therefore, to those who misrepresent it.

It is an absolute necessity to first consider that the chief audience of every book in the New Testament has the first century Christians in mind. Thus, one has to interpret Revelation from the first century lens [a]. Three important personalities are involved in this short segment in the oracle to the Church in Pergamum.

ANTIPAS

First, we read about Antipas [1]. We know very little about this person. We know from tradition that are not put in the writings of church fathers that I know of, that Antipas was the Bishop of Pergamum in the time of Emperor Domitian. We also know from tradition that this Antipas was martyred during the Christian persecution in Pergamum by burning, which likely to have happened in 92 A.D. [2]

Here we see a viable connection between the oracle to the church saying that Christ is pleased with them for not denying their faith in the midst of Satan’s throne.

BALAAM

We know from the book of Numbers that Balaam was a prophet from Pethor (Now a certain town in Jordan named Deir Alla) [4]. What is interesting is that we were told nothing in the Scriptures about Balaam’s wickedness until the advent of the New Testament saying that the events in Numbers 25 was a result of Balaam giving the advice to use women to seduce the Israelites to sacrifice to the Moabite gods and to commit sexual immorality.

NICOLAITANS

Now the Nicolaitans were a very special group. They were mentioned in the Book of Revelation but we are told of nothing else about them in the Scriptures. The interesting thing here is that we can know FAR MORE about the Nicolaitans than what we can know about Antipas or Balaam. This is because we have a great deal of writers outside the New Testament that talks about this group.

The Nicolaitans received their name from Nicolas of Antioch who was mentioned in the Book of Acts [5]. Now this is extremely important to know because Calvinists who hold on to the view of Eternal Security will have to deal with this peculiar event. In Acts 6:1-6, we learn that Nicolas was counted with Stephen as among those who are men of good repute, full of the Holy Spirit, full of wisdom, a recipient of the apostle’s prayer, and laying of hands.

Here’s what we know about Nicolas. We know that he was a follower of Christ who was placed on the same pedestal as the protomartyr Stephen. Now see what Irenaeus, a disciple of Polycarp who is a disciple of John, wrote about Nicolas:

The Nicolaitans are the followers of that Nicolas who was one of the seven first ordained to the diaconate by the apostles. They lead lives of unrestrained indulgence. The character of these men is very plainly pointed out in the Apocalypse of John, [when they are represented] as teaching that it is a matter of indifference to practice adultery, and to eat things sacrificed to idols.

Against Heresies 1.26.3

A Short Diversion

Consider this. The same Nicolas whom the Apostle John laid his hands on in the Book of Acts is known to be the leader of the Nicolaitans whom his oracle in the Book of Revelation rejects. How can a man like Nicolas, whom we know from the Book of Acts to be a genuine believer and follower of Christ fall away if Calvin is right about Eternal Security? Calvinists would argue that Nicolas was not a Christian in the first place. But if so, why did the apostles and their coworkers think that he was full of the Holy Spirit, a man of good repute, and full of wisdom? Does Calvin have a better scale to judge Nicolas over the Apostles who lived with Jesus and Nicolas? One interesting thing to note is that there is absolutely no church father from the first two hundred years who understood the Scriptures to be in keeping with Calvinism. If any, the only Doctrine of Salvation taught by the early church fathers were in line with the Catholic view. In other words, true orthodoxy on the Doctrine of Salvation is the Catholic View. A caveat is this: I do not belong to the Catholic church, but I must say that an honest, objective investigation of the Scriptures and the early church fathers show that the Catholics are right on this matter. I may consider writing about this in the future but here’s a good resource to begin.

Back to the Main Point

Apart from Irenaeus, we also read from the Church fathers that Nicolas taught that one should copulate everyday [6]. One silver lining for Nicolas comes from Clement of Alexandria, who, in his famous work, Stromata, wrote that Nicolas was a pure and wonderful man who often quoted the sayings of Matthias [7]. In any case, such can be reconciled in one way that Clement was writing about the Nicolas prior to his fall while Irenaeus and the rest talks about the actual situation of Nicolas after his fall.

On Licentiousness – A Brief Reflection

This post is summarized on how we see the Church in Pergamum was praised for their keeping of their faith in light of the persecution that comes their way. From Antipas, who chose to reject the world rather than Christ, we see a martyr honored by Christ as to be branded as ‘His faithful withness’ by no one less than the Son of God himself. From Balaam, we see the immorality that comes from a Prophet, who placed stumbling blocks to others for his benefit. We see plenty of Balaamites in the church today where members are mass produced like Chicken McNuggets. An environment of shallowness is a poison waiting to sting the church of its venom if not yet. People who practice selfishness, willing to exchange the pleasures of the world for the kingdom of God, and not only do they do so, they bring others along, and set up stumbling blocks not only to those who are near them but also to those who are watching from afar. Finally, we learn from the Nicolaitans, that Christians are not called to be of this world but of the next. Those who feast on indulgences and hedonism will one day come face to face with Jesus where the King of Kings will reject them in the same manner as He rejected the Nicolaitans of Pergamum.

This calls for a deep reflection on the final oracle spoken to Pergamum from the Scripures, one which every Christian should think about regularly: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches”

[1] Revelation 2:13 (ESV) - I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.

[2] Saint Antipas of Pergamum. http://catholicsaints.info/saint-antipas-of-pergamon/ Retrieved 2016-01-01.

[3] Revelation 2:14 (ESV) But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold 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

[4] Balaam Son of Beor Inscription at Tell Deir Alla, Succoth: 1406/750 BC. http://www.bible.ca/archeology/bible-archeology-balaam-son-of-beor-inscription-tell-deir-alla-succoth-1400-750bc.htm Retrieved 2016-01-01.

[5] Acts 6:1-6 (ESV) - Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.

[6] Panarion, by Ephipanius of Salamis. Attested by Hippolytus of Rome.

[7] Stromata Book 3 Chapter 4, by Clement of Alexandria. Also quoted by Eusebius in Church History.

[a] Since the Book of Revelation is written likely after 92 AD, it can be said that its audience were Christians from the first century who lived through the second century.

 

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