Who Were They? What Did They Teach?
by Christine Egbert
In Revelation 2, Jesus (Yeshua) praised the assembly of believers in Ephesus saying, “I know your works, your labor, and your patience, and that you cannot bear evil ones. You tested those who call themselves emissaries, and are not, and found them to be liars. You have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and you have not grown weary.” Then the Messiah told them He held one thing against them. They had forsaken their first love. “Repent,” He warned them, “and do the deeds you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your menorah from its place.” But what the Messiah said next, in Revelation 2:6, is what I want to focus on in this article. Let’s read it.
Revelation 2:6 – “Yet you have this going for you, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.”
Further on in Revelation, Chapter two, this time addressing the congregation in Pergamum, Jesus (Yeshua) mentions the Nicolaitans again.
Revelation 2:14-15 – “But I have a few things against you, that you have those who hold to the teachings of Balaam, who taught Balak to throw a stumbling-block before the sons of Israel, to eat idol sacrifices and commit fornication. You also have those holding the teaching of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.”
In Chapter two of Revelation, the Messiah mentions the Nicolaitans twice, declaring in verse 6 that He hates their deeds and in verse 15 that He hates their teaching. It would therefore behoove us, as the Messiah’s disciples, to find out just who these Nicolaitans were, what they taught and what they did.
Irenaeus Wrote About Them
Irenaeus lived between 130 to 202 C.E. He grew up in Smyrna where he studied the teaching of Polycarp, the Bishop of Smyrna, who was a disciple of John the Apostle. Like Polycarp, Irenaeus taught against heresy, including that of the Nicolaitans, whom he described as “men who led lives of unrestrained indulgence.”
In his book, Against Heresies, Book 3, Chapter 11, Irenaeus wrote the following: “John, the disciple of the Lord, preaches this faith (the deity of Christ), and seeks by proclamation of the Gospel to remove that error which, by Cerinthus, had been disseminated among men, and previously by those termed Nicolaitans…”
Borrowing a phrase from one of Paul’s letters to Timothy (1 Timothy 6:20-21) in which Paul penned the phrase “knowledge falsely so-called,” Irenaeus linked the teaching of the Nicolaitans to Gnostic teaching.
Gnostics, who claimed that salvation came by way of secret knowledge, were divided on what they believed about Jesus Christ (Yeshua Messiah). One group believed He only appeared to be human but was actually a spirit. The other group taught that a divine spirit came upon His human body at baptism and departed before His crucifixion.
Faith, in both heretical groups, was an intellectual belief, therefore, deeds of the flesh had no effect on one’s soul. Thus, God’s Laws did not apply to them. This unbiblical doctrine made the Nicolaitans the antinomians of the Asiatic Church. Antinomians taught that the Law was of no use or obligation to them because faith alone brought salvation.
I will close with the Messiah’s warning to the Church in Pergamum.
Revelation 2:14-16 – “But I have a few things against you. You have some there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who was teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before Bnei-Yisrael, to eat food sacrificed to idols and to commit sexual immorality. Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent then! If not, I will come to you soon and make war against them with the sword of My mouth.”