The Nicolaitanes and the Church at Ephesus (Revelation 2)
The church of Ephesus was commended for hating the deeds of the Nicolaitanes. The Lord said, “But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate” (Revelation 2:6). And He gave the promise, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God” (Revelation 2:7). The promise to the church at Ephesus belonged in a special sense to all “the churches” of the apostolic times.
The Nicolaitanes and the Church at Pergamos
The church of Pergamos was blamed by the Lord because, as members, they held the doctrine of Balaam: “But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality” (Revelation 2:14).
The false prophet Balaam influenced ancient Israel to commit “whoredom with the daughters of Moab,” to sacrifice to Moabite gods, and to “eat,” presumably of the meat sacrificed to these gods (Numbers 25:1, 2, 31:16). These two sins were a mix of paganism and true religion. When applied to Christian history, this referred to the period following the legalization of Christianity by Constantine in A.D. 313 and his nominal conversion 10 or 12 years later. He tried to blend paganism and Christianity to unify the Roman empire and achieve political strength.
John adds in Revelation 2:15, “Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, which thing I hate” (Revelation 2:14,15). Some of the members loved financial gain and have encouraged sensuality. The church gave place to licentiousness thus, abusing Paul’s doctrine. “They have forsaken the right way and gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness” (2 Peter 2:15).
History and the Beliefs of the Nicolaitanes
Irenaeus identified the Nicolaitanes as a Gnostic sect: “John, the disciple of the Lord, preaches this faith [the deity of Christ], and seeks, by the proclamation of the Gospel, to remove that error which by Cerinthus had been disseminated among men, and a long time previously by those termed Nicolaitanes, who are an offset of that ‘knowledge’ might confound them, and persuade them that there is but one God, who made all things by His Word” (op. cit. iii. 11. 1; ANF, vol. 1, p. 426).
A century later, there was also historical evidence of a Gnostic sect called Nicolaitanes. Some Church Fathers, who reported concerning this sect (Irenaeus op. cit. i. 26. 3; Hippolytus Refutation of All Heresies vii. 24), identified its founder as Nicolas of Antioch, one of the seven deacons (Acts 6:5). Whether the tradition concerning Nicolas the deacon is correct, we do not know, but the sect may be the same as the one mentioned by John.
According to the writings of the early church leaders, Nicolas taught a doctrine of compromise, implying that total separation between Christianity and the practice of occult paganism was not necessary. He did not teach the evil of mixing these belief systems with Christianity and why believers couldn’t continue to fellowship with those still involved in the black magic of the Roman empire. Compromise with the world always results in apostasy.
In the 2nd century, adherents of this sect taught that deeds of the flesh do not affect the purity of the soul, and consequently have no bearing on salvation. They gave the church a false freedom. But the Bible clearly teaches that good works are the fruits of the right kind of faith.
A person whose life is good will automatically display that character in his words and deeds (Matthew 7:17). “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, genteelness, and self control . Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:22, 24).
In His service,