Who were the Nicolaitans?

Jesus hates compromise in moral and theological matters

What does Jesus hate? Read Revelation 2:6:

“Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.”

Bottom-line: We must avoid a cartoon Jesus that doesn’t hate anything.

But what does all this mean? Let's take a look!

The Nicolaitans are mentioned twice in the letters to the seven churches of Revelation 2-3, emphasizing their influence on the early Christian churches. Jesus commended the Christians in Ephesus for their rejection of the "works of the Nicolaitans" in Revelation 2:6. This demonstrates that Jesus himself, literally, hates certain behaviors, and as believers, we should do the same (in this case, false religion!). The Nicolaitans are mentioned again in Revelation 2:15, specifically addressing the church in Pergamum.

Early tradition, notably Irenaeus among the early church fathers, associates the Nicolaitans with Nicolas, who was appointed as one of the first deacons in Acts 6:5. However, this connection is highly unlikely.

The name "Nicolaitans" may have come from two Greek words: "nikos," meaning victory, and "laos," meaning people. This suggests the idea of their subjugation over or domination of the people. It is evident that they promoted licentiousness or a “free pass” to “live it up”, rejected moral standards, and advocated compromise with the pagan and idolatrous culture prevalent in Ephesus.

What about what they taught? The "teaching" of the Nicolaitans is likely to be linked with the "teaching" of Balaam mentioned in Revelation 2:14-15. The similarity in language suggests that Jezebel and her followers in Thyatira, mentioned in Revelation 2:20-24, were also part of this Nicolaitan group. All these individuals and groups are accused of leading God's people into idolatry and sexual immorality. In the book of Revelation, the word "fornicate" (porneuo) is often used symbolically to signify idol worship and spiritual apostasy.

The Nicolaitans' error doesn’t seem to involve a direct denial of the core tenets of the Christian faith, such as the incarnation of Jesus, Christ's atoning work on the cross, or his bodily resurrection. Instead, they perverted the grace of God into licentiousness.

So, unlike the Ephesian believers, who rejected the Nicolaitans, the church in Pergamum allowed them into their fellowship and tolerated their destructive ways. While the Ephesians endured persecution for their faith, they refused to tolerate perversion that the Nicolaitans brought to the church

The presence and influence of the Nicolaitans in Pergamum are emphasized in Jesus' words to them. He confronts the church for holding the teachings of Balaam and the Nicolaitans. He warns them to repent, or else he will personally come and confront them with the "sword of his mouth" (Revelation 2:14-16). The response to the Nicolaitans differs between the Ephesian and Pergamum congregations. The Ephesians "hated" their works and refused to tolerate their destructive behavior, while the Pergamum church welcomed them and allowed their teachings to spread.

The Christians in Pergamum had compromised the moral purity of their congregation for the sake of an ill-defined "love" and a fear of losing a superficial "peace." However, true purity often comes at a great cost, and we must be willing to pay that price. Confrontation is never easy, but it can lead to a bountiful harvest (Matthew 18!). While love should be pursued, it should not come at the expense of truth, nor should it allow overt sin to fester and spread within the body of Christ.

Their sin involved placing stumbling blocks before God's people, encouraging participation in idolatrous worship and sexual immorality. The Nicolaitans likely advocated, in the name of Christian freedom, the involvement of believers in both the local church and pagan temple worship. In the Old Testament, spiritual idolatry was often symbolically described as prostitution and sexual immorality. The Nicolaitans may have argued that forgiveness and freedom in Christ released them from obedience to moral standards regarding sexual conduct. Unfortunately, similar arguments are still made today in defense of immorality.

Jesus emphasizes the seriousness of the Nicolaitans' sin and the church's tolerance of them. He calls for repentance, warning that if they do not turn away from their sin, he will come and wage war against them with the "sword of his mouth" (Rev. 2:15-16).  The church must confront and address this sin rather than allow it to persist within their midst. Although discipline may be necessary, Jesus primarily focuses his judgment on the Nicolaitans themselves, indicating that their lack of repentance reveals a lack of genuine faith.

What do we learn from this?

1.    Jesus detests compromise in moral and theological matters. Justifying sin through appeals to grace is sickening to our Lord. And rationalizing immorality by citing freedom in Christ is even worse! True Christian love doesn’t tolerate wickedness, whether in beliefs or behavior. Being staunchly orthodox / right and biblically faithful means not only that we don't compromise our doctrine …  but that we don't compromise our love for one another.

2.    If we don’t love the things Jesus loves and hate the things that Jesus hates, we don’t want the real Jesus. We must hold fast to his word. God hates any religion that does not have Jesus Christ at the center. May our churches, homes, and lives be centered on Christ (1 Cor. 2:1-4!).


3.    By grace, we can always come back to Jesus. He is our first love and everlasting treasure. He is the One who makes everything worth it.