“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16:11)
“But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth” (Rev. 2:14–16).
The church at Pergamum had done well against the hostility of overt persecution. Even when Antipas was killed, they stood firm. But that does not mean that the church was above criticism. The Lord had a few things against them, and it pertained to what they were willing to tolerate in their midst. We know the content of the false teaching that had some presence there, but there are two ways to read what we call it.
The Ephesian church had a commendation from the Lord in that he hated the deeds of a group called the Nicolaitans. In Pergamum, their problems was that they tolerated this same group. Now here are the two ways to read it. One would say that Pergamum had a problem with two false groups in her midst—those who followed the teaching of Balaam, and those who followed the teaching of the Nicolaitans (whatever that was). The other possibility is that the Nicolaitans were in fact the group that was promulgating the error of Balaam. That is how I am reading it here.
Balaam was not a Hebrew, but his prophetic gift was genuine. In the Old Testament outline of the story, Balaam was hired to curse the Israelites, which he refused to do. But there are hints that he then took Balak aside and gave him some “off-the-record” counsel on how to use their women as a weapon against Israel. This advice was taken, and for a limited time was very successful. The New Testament is more explicit about Balaam’s sin in this than is the Old, and this is one of the places. Balaam “taught” Balak what to do, and it was a way of luring the Israelites into idolatry by means of fornication. The women of Moab offered themselves as bait, and so Israel sinned at Baal-peor (Num. 25:3).
The church at Pergamum had some people there who were of the party of the Nicolaitans, who were essentially offering the same thing. The Lord declares that this is something that He hates. He summons the church at Pergamum to repent of their tolerance. If they do not repent, He will come to them “quickly,” and He will fight against them with the sword of His mouth. Notice that the Word of Christ, the double-edged sword that comes from the mouth of Christ, is a weapon that is deployed against a Christian church that has lapsed into a tolerance of sexual immorality. The word translated as fight here is polemeo, the word from which we get polemics. Jesus promises to fight the Christians.