A mysterious group of wicked religious imposters were the “Nicolaitans.” Who were they? What did they teach? Do they still exist today? Why should they even concern you? In the warnings to the seven churches of Revelation, we are told to beware of them. Why are they dangerous and how would you recognize them, today?
In Revelation, chapter 2, we read of an enigmatic sect or group called the Nicolaitans who post a great threat to the churches of God. Jesus says to the Ephesus church: “But this you have, that you hate the DEEDS of the Nicolaitans, which I also HATE” (Rev.2:6). Notice that they hated and rejected the doctrines, works, and doctrines of the “Nicolaitans.”
The Ephesus church was historically a type or antitype of the first and second century churches of God – essentially, the first generation of the church and their early descendents. But Christ said, “He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to [all] the churches” (Rev 2:7).
Then, to the Pergamos church, who existed in a succeeding period of the church, Jesus declares again: “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. Thus [i.e. therefore] you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. REPENT, or else I will come to you quickly and wyeshill fight against them with the sword of My mouth” (vs.14-16).
Doctrine of Balaam
Notice that their teachings are comparable or the same as the doctrine of Balaam, the arch apostate deceiver and prophet who tried to divine magic against Israel when they came out of Egypt. When God would not allow him to place a curse on Israel, he later taught the Midianites and their allies to “seduce” Israel from their faithfulness to God, by sending their daughters and wives to use their sexual charms on them, and to entice them to commit immorality and the partake of pagan festivities and idolatrous worship, combining paganism with the worship of God – something which God abominates and thoroughly detests! The blending of the truth of God with paganism and wicked pagan festivals and practices is an abhorrence to God. It is called religious “syncretism.”
The word “Nicolaitans,” in Greek, means “followers of Nicolas.” The name “Nicolas” means “victor of the people.”
Peloubet’s Bible Dictionary says of them, “They seem to have held that it was lawful to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit the immoral excesses of the heathen, in opposition to the decree of the Church rendered in Acts 15:20, 29. Mingling themselves in the orgies of idolatrous feasts, they brought the impurities of those feasts into the meetings of the Christian Church. And all this was done, it must be remembered, not simply as an indulgence of appetite, but as a part of a SYSTEM, supported by a “doctrine,” accompanied by the boasts of a prophetic illumination” (p.449).
Early Church Syncretism
The Nicolaitans, therefore, were the early Christian-pagan syncretists, the false teachers that crept into the church, who disguised themselves as followers of Christ – who professed to be His ministers and servants – but who led the people astray.
Peter wrote of them, saying, “But there were also false prophets among the people [such as Balaam], even as there will be FALSE TEACHERS among you, who will secretly bring in DESTRUCTIVE HERESIES, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed” – by the world around, which will paint all true Christians with the same brushstroke, as being corrupt, immoral, and evil, because of the shenanigans and wicked works of these “Nicolaitans” or false Christians, false teachers who claim to represent Messiah and His truth (II Pet.2:1-2).
Peter goes on, “By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words” (v.2). He says of them, that they “despise authority. They are presumptuous, self-willed,” and like brutish beasts “speak evil of the things they do not understand” (verse10, 12). “They are spots and blemishes [in the churches], carousing in their own deceptions while they feast with you . . . They have a heart trained in covetous practices, and are accursed children. They have forsaken the right way and gone astray, FOLLOWING THE WAY OF BALAAM the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness” (verses 13-15).
These are the ‘Nicolaitans.” Halley’s Bible Handbook tells us of them, “Sexual vice was actually a part of heathen worship, and recognized as a proper thing in heathen festivals. Priestesses of Diana and kindred deities were public prostitutes. The thing had been a troublesome question for Gentile churches from the start. . . Meantime great multitudes of heathen had become Christians, and had carried some of their old ideas into their new religion. . . Naturally there were all sorts of attempts to harmonize these heathen practices with the Christian religion. Many professing Christian teachers, claiming inspiration from God, were advocating the right to free participation in heathen immoralities. In Ephesus, the Christian pastors, as a body, excluded such teachers. But in Pergamum and Thyatira, while we are not to think that the main body of pastors held such teachings, yet they tolerated within their ranks those who did” (p.694).
Ancient Pergamos was a city where the worship of Zeus and Asclepios were endemic, whose symbol was a serpent entwined around a rod or staff. It was a city where paganism and politics were closely entwined and allied. Nicolaitan pressures were very strong in this city where pressures to “compromise” would have been very heavy.
“Sacrificed to Idols”
The Nicolaitans seduced God’s people to “eat things sacrificed to idols” – that is, participate in heathen, pagan festivals, including sexual immorality – in other words, to commit spiritual fornication and adultery – which is IDOLATRY! This convergence of Christianity with pagan beliefs and practices was sheer APOSTASY in the eyes of God!
The Interpreter’s Bible Dictionary tells us, “Since the same practice and teaching of immorality and of idolatry appear in the church of Thyatira, the Nicolaitans, though not named, were probably present also in this church (Rev.2:20-25)” (p.547). By the time of the Thyatira church age, the problem had grown into a much greater state or condition, for at that time a woman, “Jezebel,” represented the group of apostate heretics and their heresy – a powerful church in conflict with the true Church, masquerading as the true Church. John wrote, to Thyatira, “Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because YOU ALLOW THAT WOMAN JEZEBEL, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce my servants to commit sexual immorality and to eat things sacrificed to idols” (Rev.2:20). God says of that heathen “church,” which inculcated massive pagan practices and festivals into its church calendar, “Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit ADULTERY [idolatry!] with her into GREAT TRIBULATION, unless they repent of their deeds” (v.22).
Down through Church history
It is clear from the evidence that this heresy, which began as a small group, in the first century, mushroomed and became a strong, dominant CHURCH by the third and fourth centuries, and became the foundation of the Church of Rome and the papacy. It is described in Revelation 17 as a “woman sitting on a scarlet beast” with the name: “Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots and of the Abominations of the Earth” (Rev.17:3-5).
By the Middle Ages this church became the great persecuting church and was guilty of spilling massive amounts of the blood of the true saints and servants of God (Rev.17:6).
What was the main crime of this church? Spiritual fornication – or spiritual adultery! Combining pagan practices and doctrines with the Word of God, or replacing the teachings of God’s Word with corrupt, pagan deceptions and lies, straight from the bowels of Satan the devil!
Says The Interpreter’s Bible Dictionary, “Pagan feasts might thus foster immorality, which is understood literally as licentiousness, or possibly in an allegorical way as unfaithfulness to God. . . . At Thyatira followers of Jezebel claim to know the deep things of Satan. . . . This claim to special knowledge of deep mysteries marks the incipient Gnosticism which flourished a century later (Iren.Her.II.2.2). The Nicolaitans may be taken to be a heretical sect, who retained pagan practices like idolatry [such as image worship, observing pagan holidays like Christmas, Easter, Halloween, etc.] and immorality contrary to the thought and the conduct required in Christian churches” (p.548).
The early church fathers also spoke of the Nicolaitans. “Tertullian reports the lust and luxury of the Nicolaitans, cites evidence from Revelation, and adds that there was another sort of Nicolaitans, a satanic sect, called the Gaian heresy [worship of Mother Earth, which has reared its ugly head today] . . . Clement of Alexandria knows of followers of Nicolaus, ‘lascivious goats,’ who perverted his saying that it was necessary to abuse the flesh . . . Clement undertakes to show that Nicolaus [the deacon mentioned in Acts 6:1-6, a faithful servant of God] was a true ascetic and that the later, immoral Nicolaitans were not his followers, though they claimed him as their teacher . . . Later their name flourished as a designation for heretics.”
The “Synagogue of Satan”
When the Nicolaitans become powerful and the apostasy becomes full blown, and matures, then it changes into a whole Church – but no longer in any degree or sense a part of God’s true Church but an entirely apostate Church body! When Satan the devil takes over the church body, it becomes literally a “synagogue of Satan”!
This was prophesied to happen during the course of history, and a vast parallel church would be formed of people who think they are Christian, but they are far removed from the original true teachings of the apostles during the first century.
John, in the book of Revelation, spoke of it in the message to the Philadelphia church. He wrote, to this faithful and true body of believers, who held fast to the truth, and did not deny His Name, “You have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name. Indeed [for this reason] I will make those of the SYNAGOGUE OF SATAN, who say they are Jews [spiritual Jews or true Christians] and are NOT but LIE [they are deceived frauds, impostors, phoney as a $6 dollar bill] – indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you. Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth” (Rev.3:8-10).
Christ warns this church body, the genuine “Philadelphia” church, called that because God names things according to their dominant characteristics, and this church is characterized by “brotherly love,” for the Greek word philadelphos literally means “brother love.” He warns it, “Behold, I am coming quickly! HOLD FAST what you have, that no one may take your CROWN” (verse 11).
This church does not slip into the apostasy of the Nicolaitans. In fact, it has conquered them and their full-blown image – the “synagogue of Satan” by remaining faithful to God’s Word and doctrine!
But many, not knowing or understanding, fall victim to the “conquerors” – the “victors over the people.” Speaking of such religious leaders, Paul declared, “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works” (II Cor.11:13-15).
Church history has been replete with such splinter groups, heresies, sects, denominations, cults of all bizarre types and sizes and beliefs. They are all part and parcel of the “great apostasy” that developed over the centuries from the original church of God.
Paul warned the brethren in Ephesus, “For I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves” (Acts 20:29-30).
He was especially concerned about the church in Galatia, and wrote to them, exclaiming, “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to PERVERT the gospel of Christ” (Gal.1:6-7).
This was already beginning to occur during the very FIRST generation and Age of the church! The apostasy and heresy has developed and grown massively since that era, with thousands of Octopus-like tentacles reaching throughout the world.
How did it all begin? When did the real apostasy really start?
The Real Nicolas Identified: Who was the original founder of this apostasy? There is no evidence to support the idea that an early deacon in the church named Nicolas was the one who began this heretical movement. The New Testament nowhere says that he later went astray. Rather, he was a man who was chosen for a special task, along with Stephen, one of “seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom” (Acts 6:5).
However, God calls things what they are – He names people according to their major characteristic. A look at the name “Nicholas” will be helpful. It literally means “victor of the people.” A synonym of “victor” would be “one who vanquishes an enemy; a conqueror” (The Winston Dictionary).
Who was the great conqueror, who first led the world into APOSTASY?
“Cush began Nimrod; he began to be a mighty one in the earth. He was a might hunter before [or, Hebrew, “against”] the LORD” (Gen.10:8-10). He was the first world despot or tyrant upon the earth after the Flood. Alexander Hislop, in The Two Babylons, tells us, “He [Ninus] was the first who carried on war against his neighbours, and he conquered all nations from Assyria to Libya, as they were yet unacquainted with the arts of war” (p.23, Hislop quoting Justin’s “Trogus Popeius”). Ninus was Nimrod, the most ancient king of the Assyrians and Babylonians.
Nimrod “began to be mighty upon the earth.” He was a great dictator, autocrat, and ruled with an iron hand. He was very contentious and brooked no insult or disobedience to his iron-fisted rule. He was also the religious leader of the world, leading mankind away from the worship of the true God and into incredible idolatry. He was the founder of the “Babylonians Mysteries” (compare Rev.17:1-5).
Cush and religious “chaos”
Says Hislop, “Cush [Nimrod’s father] is generally represented as having been a ringleader in the great apostasy” (p.25). Cush was also known as Hermes [“son of Ham”], or Mercury, and was “the great original prophet of idolatry; for he was recognized by the pagans as the author of their religious rites, and the interpreter of the gods” (ibid., p.25-26). Cush was also known as Bel, “The Confounder,” who confounded the truth with his replacement lies and deceptions. He was also called Janus, “the god of gods,” who said of himself, “The ancients . . . called me Chaos.” He was the one who brought ‘Chaos’ into the world after the Deluge.
Nimrod: the original “Nicolas” and arch apostate
Cush’s son Nimrod (or “Ninus”) “inherited his father’s titles, and was the first king over the Babylonian Empire, which he created by conquest. Nimrod also led the great rebellion against God by building the tower of Babel, in an attempt to unite all mankind under his rulership and in defiance of the ordinances of heaven.
Hislop goes on to say that when the deification of mortals began, “the ‘mighty son’ of Cush was deified, the father, especially considering the part which he seems to have had in concocting the whole idolatrous system, would have to be deified too, and of course, in his character as the Father of the ‘Mighty one,’ and of all the immortals that succeeded him. But, in point of fact, we shall find, in the course of our inquiry, that Nimrod was the actual Father of the gods, as being the first of deified mortals” (p.32).
Josephus, in Antiquities of the Jews, tells us, “Now it was Nimrod who excited them to such an affront and contempt of God. He was the grandson of Ham, the son of Noah – a bold man, and of great strength of hand. He persuaded them not to ascribe it to God, as if it was through his means they were happy, but to believe that it was their own courage that procured their happiness. He also gradually changed the government into a tyranny, — seeing no other way to turn men from the fear of God, but to bring them into a constant dependence upon his power” (Bk.I, iv, 2).
Nimrod was the first great “victor of [or over] the people.” He was the first “Nicolaus.” He is the one for whom the WHOLE SYSTEM is named! His name is stamped on the forehead of this “Mystery, Babylon,” religious system which seeks to bring the whole world into one unified religious system of belief, doctrines, and religious globalization.
To compromise with that entire system or any part of it, God says He HATES – He is passionately against it – it is utterly idolatrous, the horrendous religious system inspired and created by Satan the arch-enemy of God – the devil who deceives the WHOLE WORLD by masking truth of God and replacing it with his nefarious, devious, enticing doctrines (see Rev.12:9)!
Where Are the Nicolaitans Today?
The Nicolaitans today comprise all those people who DEPART from the truth of God, and jettison the true teachings and doctrines of the Bible, for the substitute “mush” from the churches of “nominal, mainstream” Christianity, which has over the centuries, plunged back into a religious system originating in ancient Babylon, and from there to Rome, and from there to Protestantism, and the wide-ranging cults, sects, and denominations of our current generation.
The world is full of them! They are everywhere – like dandelion seeds, wafting on the winds, blown about and scattered all around us. “You will know them by their fruits,” Jesus declared (Matt.7:20).
The vast, overwhelming number of churches in the world today would fall into the category of the infamous “Nicolaitans”! The deception is global. And it is getting much, much worse, and stronger!
The apostle Paul wrote, about the last days, before the coming of Christ, “Let no man deceive you by any means for that Day will not come unless the FALLING AWAY comes first, and the man of SIN [lawlessness] be revealed, the son of perdition [destruction], who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped [such as Nimrod himself!], so that he sits in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. . . . For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until He [or “he”] is taken out of the way. And then that lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming” (II Thess..2:3-8).
An end-time “Nicolas” – victor or tyrant over the people – is soon to appear on the scene!
The end-time resurrection of this evil apostasy and deception is fast falling into place and coming together before our very eyes, at this moment in history!
False Doctrine – a Mark of the Nicolaitans
What are the identifying “marks” of this vast, deluded apostasy? How do you know that you personally have not to some extent fallen into some form of this adulterated subspecies which broke off from true Christianity?
First, look at their teachings and doctrine. Compare them with the Scriptures very carefully, taking nothing for granted. Believe nobody, but check up on everey7body, and then believe your Bible! The apostle Paul wrote, “PROVE ALL THINGS; HOLD FAST THAT WHICH IS GOOD” (I Thess.5:21). Isaiah the prophet wrote, “To the law and to the testimony [the Old Testament and the New Testament – the Word of God]! If they do not speak according to THIS WORD, it is because there is NO LIGHT in them” (Isa.8:20).
Paul praised the Bereans because “they received the word in all readiness, and SEARCHED THE SCRIPTURES DAILY to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). Paul wrote to Timothy, exhorting him (and all of us), “Be diligent to present yourself to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, RIGHTLY DIVIDING the word of truth” (II Tim.2:15).
Nicolaitans are those who have departed from the faith, in some degree or completely. They have been led astray by false teachings and doctrines. Most have rejected the true Sabbath. Most have rejected the TRUE holy days of God, the annual festivals of His Word (Lev.23), and some THINK they observe them, but have been misled, and keep a false “Passover,” a false “Pentecost,” and even the wrong days for the other holy days, and reject specific commandments of God when they do so! Most reject the TRUE calendar of God, the New Moons, and the proper calculation of the Hebrew months, and therefore the holy days. Many accept a false, “fixed’ Jewish calendar when replaced the true calendar in 357-58 A.D. in the time of Hillel II.
And these are only SOME of the false teachings of modern day, end-time “Nicolaitan” influenced churches which claim to be the true remnants of the Church of God and assure the people that they have the bona fide “TRUTH”!
But Jesus declared, “Thy Word is truth,” (John 17:17), and “The Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35), and asserted also, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matt.4:4; Luke 4:40.
The Second Fatal Identifying Mark – False Form of Church Government
The Nicolaitans are also like their original founder, Nimrod the apostate, guilty of not only compromising the truth of God, and adulterating it, and mixing it with PAGAN beliefs and doctrines and practices, but they possess a wicked, deceptive, deceitful form of CHURCH GOVERNMENT. They are often in the form of religious tyrannies, authoritarian, totalitarian, abusive ministers, and very quick to discipline and disfellowship recalcitrant or slow-to-conform members of their churches. They are very intolerant and autocratic – and rule their congregations like a “god” or a Hitler with a Gestapo-like ministry.
Jeremiah the prophet prophesied of them: “ ‘WOE to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of My pasture!’ says the LORD. Therefore thus says the LORD God of Israel against the shepherds who feed My people: ‘You have scattered My flock, driven them away, and not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for the evil of your doings,’ says the Lord” (Jer.23:1-2).
Speaking of the churches of God, and the religious leaders of His people, God says, “ ‘For both prophet and priest are profane; Yes, in My house I have found their wickedness,’ says the LORD. ‘Therefore their way to them shall be like slippery ways; in the darkness they shall be driven on and fall in them; for I will bring disaster on them, the year of their punishment,’ says the LORD. And I have seen folly in the prophets [ministers, pastors, preachers] of Samaria [the modern United States, Britain and house of “Israel”]; the prophesied by Baal and caused My people Israel to ERR” (Jer.23:11-13).
God is very angry at these end-time preachers, ministers, and their lack of true conversion, humility, fear of God, and arrogance! He thunders, “ ‘Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you. They make you worthless; they speak a vision [or doctrine, teaching] of their own heart, not from the mouth of the LORD” (v.16).
God is going to punish. He declares, “The anger of the LORD will not turn back until He has executed and performed the thoughts of His heart. In the latter days you will understand it perfectly” (v.20).
Do you understand? Do you fear and tremble before the Word of God? (see Isaiah 66:1-2). Do you humble yourself before His Word?
God goes on in His severe warning: “I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran. I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied [preached]. But if they had stood in my counsel, and had caused My people to hear My words, then they would have turned them from their evil way and from the evil of their doings” (vs.21-22).
God would even forgive them, for their preaching in His name, if only they would preach the TRUTH! But they don’t, and they won’t. So God declares, “I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy LIES in My name, ‘I have dreamed, I have dreamed!’ How long will this be in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies? Indeed, they are prophets of the DECEIT [deception, false teaching, false doctrines] of their OWN heart” (vs.25-26).
God thunders, “ ‘The prophet who has a dream, let him tell a dream; and he who has My word, let him speak My word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat?’ says the LORD. ‘Is not My word like a fire?’ says the LORD, ‘And like a hammer the rock in pieces? Therefore behold, I am against the prophets,’ says the LORD, ‘who STEAL MY WORDS everyone from his neighbor” (vs.28-30).
The warnings of Yahweh God are very explicit. He declares, “Behold, I am against those who prophesy false dreams [false ideas, teachings of their own heart – see verse 26],’ says the LORD, ‘and tell them, and CAUSE MY PEOPLE TO ERR by their LIES and by their RECKLESSNESS. Yet I did not send them or command them; therefore they shall not profit this people at all,’ says the LORD” (Jer.23:32).
And in verse 36 God warns, “For every man’s word will be his oracle [“burden”], for you have PERVERTED the words of the living God, the LORD of hosts, our God” !
Very serious charges, these are! Don’t you agree?
The LORD Yahweh says He is going to forsake utterly those who pervert His Word, and preach the deceit of their own hearts, make His people to err and go astray by their LIES, and their “RECKLESSNESS” regarding His divine Word, His TRUTH!
Modern-day “Nicolaitans” and their followers should get a real “HEADS UP” and WARNING from Jeremiah’s message in chapter 23. He is speaking to THEM!
The Final Mark – Abuse and Cruelty
Ezekiel the prophet was inspired to continue this awesome, power-packed indictment against the shepherds of Israel during the end-time. He wrote, “And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God unto the shepherds; Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! should not the shepherds feed the flocks? Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool, ye kill them that are fed: but ye feed not the flock. The diseased have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither have ye bound up that which was broken, neither have ye brought again that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost; but with force and with cruelty have ye ruled them. And they were scattered, because there is no shepherd: and they became meat to all the beasts of the field, when they were scattered.” (Ezek.34:1-5).
Notice! These churches, regardless of their posturing and posing, and dubious claims, persecute the flock under them. They mistreat God’s people, cause them to grovel in the dirt before their imagined authority, rule them with CRUELTY and hardness, harshness, and overbearing authority.
They do not love the flock; they are not loving or good shepherds, who would even give their lives for the sheep (see John 10:11). Rather, they are mere ‘hirelings,” who have their own agenda, their own motives, for being ministers, teachers, and pastors! Jesus said, “But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep.” (John 10:12-13).
These “hirelings” rule the flock with “force” and “cruelty.” The Hebrew word for “force” is #2394, chosqah, meaning “vehemence (usually is a bad sense), force, mightily, repair, sharply.” Gesenius says, “might, violence, very, mightily.” The Hebrew word for “cruelty” is #6531, perek, and means “from an unused root meaning ‘to break apart,’ fracture – i.e. severity – cruelty, rigor” (Strong’s Concordance). Gesenius states: “oppression, tyranny, from the signification of crushing.”
Do we get the picture? Do you know ANY ministers or churches like that? How does your minister or church handle it when or if members DARE to ask questions concerning doctrines, teachings, beliefs, or Scriptures which seem to conflict with the church’s teachings and doctrines?
A true minister of God will handle questions in a gentle, loving, patient manner. As Timothy was told by the apostle Paul, ”Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren.” (I Tim.5:1)
Paul declared, “And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.” (2 Tim 3:24-26)
Peter tells the true servants of God, the true ministry, “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being EXAMPLES to the flock” (I Pet 5:1-3).
And to the church members, God says, “Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation. Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever. Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines. For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace; not with meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein.” (Hebrews 13:7-9).
Paul adds, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.” (Hebrews 13:17)
And to the Thessalonians, Paul wrote, “And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; And to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. And be at peace among yourselves.” (I Thess.5:12-13).
Warning for the End Time
The problems with false teachings, false doctrines, and the spirit of Nicolaitan ministers and teachers, was foretold to become very serious and extreme in the “end of days.” The apostle Paul warned, “Now the Spirit expressly [explicitly] says that in the LATTER TIMES some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron” (I Tim.4:1-2).
In his second letter to Timothy, Paul issued the same warning, only more explicit He wrote, “But know this, that in the LAST DAYS perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a FORM of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the TRUTH. Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth” (II Tim.3:1-8).
The Nicolaitan condition is like a spiritual cancer, that spreads and poisons cells and creates tumours and metastasises until it spreads its lethal cargo throughout the whole body. If it is not purged, it leads ultimately to death.
Therefore, God tells His true ministers, and servants, to be on their guard. “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables” (II Tim.4:2-4).
Each one of us is responsible for our own salvation. We dare not trust any man to do our work, study, prayer, or research for us – we must work out our own salvation, “with fear and trembling” (Phil.2:12-13). Paul also declared, “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.” (Eph.4:14)
Salvation is serious business! The spirit of Nicolaus/Nimrod and religious deception is alive and well, and thriving in this end-time generation.
Now that you know what the “Nicolaitans” are, what are you going to do about it?
by William F. Dankenbring
[For more information on this and related subjects, write for our articles: “The End-Time Apostasy,” “The Great Apostasy,” “Crisis in the Church of God,” “Where Did the Church Go Wrong?”, “Back to Babylon,” “How Have the Mighty Fallen!”, “The Son of Perdition,” “How Should God’s Ministers Be Ordained?”, “The Plain Truth about Church Government,” “Church Authority – The Truth about Totalitarianism,” “How To Study the Bible,” “What Is Moses’ Seat?”, “Anointing and the Laying on of Hands,” Prophetic Errors of Herbert Armstrong,” “Which Church Is God’s True Church?”, “40 Differences – a Statement of Beliefs”.]
What is the difference between a believer and a disciple? Or the teaching of the Nicolaitans which Jesus hates?
Nicolaitan literally means “conquest of the laity” in Greek. Translated into terms we see in the Church today, it refers in the author’s opinion to a system in which professional clergy hold unquestioned authority over the laity—that is, the common people who are non-clergy. In much of the Church today, although certainly not all of it, there is a wall of separation between the professional clergy with their ecclesiastical titles and theological degrees and the ordinary people who lack expertise and training in the area of theology.
Professionals like doctors and lawyers and accountants must understandably meet a host of specific requirements to be allowed to enter the brotherhood and practice their profession. And so it is with those who aspire to the title of “Reverend”: those who are worthy of reverence. Traditionally, only those who have seminary training and then ordination, and so forth are allowed entrance into this elite group. In such a way, they appear to be set apart from the people. Certainly the clergy are worthy of respect, but should there be a wall of separation between them and the people? Should we not respect all believers in the family of God? (Perhaps reverence should be reserved for deity alone.)
Although humanly speaking this separation may sound quite reasonable and desirable as it is for human professions, I believe that Jesus hates it when applied to servants of God. Let’s seek to understand why this might be so.
Pastors (not to mention apostles, evangelists, prophets and teachers) have for the most part failed to “equip God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11-13)
Due to the structure of the church today and man’s nature, most (but not all) pastors prefer their church members to remain in their church until they go home to the Lord, if at all possible. They want no one to leave by the back door, thus insuring a church which continues to grow numerically. There are different kinds of earthly benefits—financial benefits, power, respect from one’s peers, self-esteem and satisfaction to name a few—to be gained by having a large church. However, I’m sure that most pastors do not see these as the primary motivation for church growth. Rather, they see them if anything as only fringe benefits to the accomplishment of reaching many lost souls and gathering them into their church in obedience to the Great Commission. Having a large church might even be a reward for years of hard work and skillful leadership.
It’s clear that most pastors therefore want their church to grow, and to grow as large as possible. One unspoken and perhaps unintended way of keeping the people from leaving the church is to keep them from maturing and attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. We keep them as spiritual children (or at most adolescents) and thus dependent upon us so that they don’t leave the nest to start their own fruitful ministries—which is actually what we expect our own children to do after they grow up. Few of our people will attain to our professional status by doing what is necessary to gain ecclesiastical titles and enter our exclusive club. The great majority will not reach mature adulthood and not be equipped for fruitful ministry. They will not be sent out. They will remain in our church and serve under our authority as laymen. (We are here making no distinction between “full-time” servants of God and “tentmakers”. In the eyes of God they are equivalent.)
Of course, few pastors deliberately keep their people from maturing; it is rather an unwitting course of action predetermined by the Nicolaitan system. Most pastors fear God. But because of the church system and structure in which they grew up and to which they were exposed, they know of no other way. The system which also limits the feeding of the word of God to believers to only once or twice a week in formal meetings in church of course stunts their growth and prevents many believers from reaching adulthood in Christ. Most pastors will say that they desire their members to mature to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. But at the same time for the most part they don’t want people to leave their church because of the various pressures on them for church growth. So there can be conflict for a pastor. It’s not difficult to see which side usually wins the conflict.
But will children become responsible and productive if their parents force them to remain at home as dependents, and never allow them to launch out on their own?
Pastors might not mind if a few of their people mature and become missionaries or evangelists, and may even support them financially. But clearly there is a definite limit to such a scenario. Not only will they be losing the people who tithe* to them, they will be an outflow of funds as well to support them. That’s no way to run a church under the Nicolaitan system. Perhaps there is something wrong with this system.
In the author’s opinion this is the system which Jesus hated. The Roman Catholic Church of course excelled in it. The Protestant Reformation which was in part meant to abolish the Nicolaitan system and restore the priesthood of believers has fallen far short of Martin Luther’s goals. In some cases today around the world the Protestant Church has backslidden to make even the Catholic Church blush. Look at the following instances.
In some Third World countries, the teaching of the Nicolaitans has resulted in extreme perversions and abominations. “Anointed” pastors put their church assets into their own name and run them like profit-making businesses. One retired pastor in Indonesia owned a luxury estate which has an actual Rolls Royce Phantom (price tag on a new 2012 model: from US$447,000 to $528,000) perched right over the front of his big swimming pool like some kind of trophy. Since he is too old to drive it, he simply comes out to polish it every day. Every Sunday following the two church services, bank officials would come to pick up the offering to count it. Only by Wednesday later that week would they finally complete counting the large offering consisting of barrels of small Indonesian currency. Where would it be deposited? Although that is not known, it would not be unusual for it to go directly into the current pastor’s personal bank account. Such a system is not at all rare in Third World countries among charismatic churches.
Another well-known Indonesian pastor urges the faithful during offering time to give whatever they can. If they give a chicken, God will bless them with a goat. If they give a goat, God will give them a bull. If they give a bull, God will give them a….tractor?
An “anointed” superstar pastor in Malaysia is stirring up controversy by alleging turning his megachurch into a private family enterprise. I have heard of some pastors in other countries as well doing similar things, bringing disrepute onto the gospel in the eyes of the lost.
Once we taught The Elijah Challenge for a church in Germany. The pastor’s wife was very concerned that we were teaching their believers how to heal the sick and cast out demons as Jesus did. Her fear was that their people would no longer depend on them or need them after they were trained.
The practices of the Nicolaitans, along with contemporary teaching on “touch not the Lord’s anointed” and the extreme prosperity gospel—none other than the teaching of Balaam and Jezebel both of which Jesus also detests—have combined to give rise to such perversions in the Church of Jesus Christ. “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” “Touch not the Lord’s anointed.” Could there be a parallel here?
Why do most believers not mature into disciples?
It’s obvious why Jesus hates the practices and teaching of the Nicolaitans which can and will evolve into abominations given man’s fallen nature. And the Nicolaitan teaching is also one reason why most believers do not mature into disciples. Let’s see why this is so.
Like the Israelites in 1 Samuel 8, many believers desire an “anointed” king to lead them and to go out before them and fight their battles for them—essentially rejecting God by doing this (v. 7). This is the fruit of the Nicolaitan teaching which holds that believers constantly need a specially “anointed” servant of God to lead and teach them, thus relieving them of the responsibility to study the Scriptures for themselves and mature in their personal relationship with the Lord. But it was an “evil thing in the eyes of the Lord” as Samuel warned the Israelites in 1 Samuel 12:17 when they asked for a king. Samuel moreover warned them what their king would demand of them in return.
1 Samuel 8:15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. …17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. …19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”
This is so reminiscent of what “anointed” pastors will demand from their flock in terms of offerings in return for leading them and fighting their battles for them. And the people do not mind “paying” their professional clergy for their valuable services. This is the inevitable consequence of the institutionalization of the Church of Jesus Christ by man through the teaching of the Nicolaitans. In this way, some pastors are professionally-speaking no different from doctors, lawyers, and accountants. It is not wrong for members of these latter professions to keep an eye on the bottom line and to want to maximize their income since they are essentially businessmen. But as “professionals” some pastors and servants of God have now learned to operate in quite the same way. Just follow the money trail and you will understand why some do what they do—including inviting well-known guest speakers who will draw crowds and their offerings.
The ‘anointing’ as found in the Church today: scriptural or not?
Again, certainly not all pastors have adopted the teaching of the Nicolaitans; many serve the Lord in fear and trembling. Moreover, there is a wide spectrum of accommodation to this teaching into which pastors can be classified. I have ministered in the churches of some very godly pastors. But many well-meaning servants of God, not having been exposed to any other system in the Church, have innocently to some degree or another adopted the model which Jesus hates.
Let us remember that Jesus had only twelve disciples in whom he invested most of his time and efforts. He distrusted the crowds, knowing what was in their hearts. It was his disciples who ultimately impacted the world for the gospel. It was because of their labors that we can hear the gospel today 2,000 years later, and receive eternal hope.
Recall what Jesus said to his disciples: “If is for your good that I am going away” (John 16:7). Only by his going away could his disciples mature as they were taught directly by the promised Holy Spirit. In the same way, disciples must at some point in their development be released to walk with the Lord and to serve him, and no longer dependent on their human mentor who is usually a pastor.
Indeed what is presented in this article is radical and offensive to some in view of the current structure of the Church. A tiny minority of pastors might even see it as a threat to their job security, as did the pastor’s wife in Germany mentioned above. But I believe we can agree that the Church as a whole is making believers—and not disciples. In the Great Commission as recorded in Matthew 28:19, Jesus commands us not to make believers, but to make disciples of all nations. Clearly the Church as it is today is not what the Lord had in mind. He commands us to repent.
“Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent therefore!” (Revelation 2:14)
Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.
Therefore what should disciples of Jesus be doing?
John 14:7 If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” 8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” 9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. 12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.
Perhaps there is no greater threat to the Nicolaitan establishment of a professional clergy and its specially “anointed” ministers lodged in certain circles of the Church than these cryptic words spoken by our Lord Jesus regarding what “ordinary” disciples should be doing.
Why does God HATE them?
When our Lord Jesus Christ walked among men, He taught His disciples to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, whom He denounced as hypocrites. With them He classed the chief priests and officials of the temple, together with the recognized teachers in the synagogues. He declared they had so corrupted the truth of God, which they were supposed to preach, with the doctrines and ordinances of men, that the truth, as originally given, was no longer with them. That which these blind leaders of the blind were giving forth as truth of God was making their converts twofold more the children of hell than they were before accepting the schism by these corrupt teachers.
False teachings enter the Church
In the book of Revelation it is both their “deeds” and “doctrine” that the Lord addresses:
“Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks; . . . But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. ” (Revelation 2:1, 6)
“And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write, ‘These things says He who has the sharp two-edged sword: . . . Thus you also have those who hold THE DOCTRINE of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.” (Revelation 2:12, 15)
The Lord demands repentance on the part of those who hold and practice these things and He threatens drastic punishment if they do not obey Him:
“Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.” (Revelation 2:5)
“Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.” (Revelation 2:16)
Composition of the word
The word Nicolaitans (or Nikolaitës, Strong’s Concordance Number #G3531) found in Revelation is a compound word which is composed of THREE Greek words. Because of it being a proper noun, the word is TRANSFERRED instead of being translated into English. Thus, it is subject to the laws of Greek construction in regard to ellipsis, contraction and phonetics.
The three Greek words used in this word’s construction are:
- NIKOS, of which we use the English equivalents instead of the Greek letters, as we shall also of the other two. Nikos is defined as “a conquest; victory; triumph; the conquered; and by implication, dominancy over the defeated.” Another transferred name in which this term is used is “Nicopolis,” which is composed of Niko, which means conquest and polis, which means city. Hence, the city of conquest, or city of victory.
- LAOS, which means people. Another use of this word is found in NICOLAS, which is transferred and is composed of Nikos-laos and means one who is “victorious over the people,” the letter “s” being in both words the nominative case ending, which is retained only at the end of the word to denote the case, while “a” short and “o” short are contracted into “a” long.
A still further transferred use of LAOS is found in the name Lao(s)diceans (or Laodikeus, Strong’s Concordance Number #G2994), compounded with DIKE or DICE as the Greek “k” is the equivalent English “c.” Thus, in the name Laodiceans, we have LAOS, meaning the people, and DICE, meaning judgment or vengeance, i.e., the people of my judgment, or of my vengeance. Also the Greek word la(ic)os, which means “laymen,” of which LA-OS is the root and stem, which selfsame word, with the “o” short contracted to “i”, to which root and stem the plural definite article TON is joined to form LAITON, which is a Greek phrase meaning “the laity.”
- TON is the third and last word entering into the construction of the proper name Nicolaitan. TON, in which Omega, the long “o”, is contracted into long “a”, thus making the word TAN which is the genitive case plural in all the genders of the definite article ‘the.’
We therefore have, without the legal Greek construction, the English hyphenated word NIKOS-LAOS-TON, but which, with its lawful contractions, becomes the English translation found in Revelation.
What is the real-world meaning of the word?
The full meaning of the word “Nicolaitans” in its native tongue and in its ecclesiastical setting, is that the bishops and prelates of the Church have gained a triumphal victory or conquest over the LAITON, the laity, until they have been compelled to submit to the arbitrary dominion of men who have become that thing which God hates – ‘Lords over God’s heritage’:
“The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; NOR AS BEING LORDS OVER THOSE ENTRUSTED TO YOU (‘lords over [God’s] heritage’ in the KJV Bible), but being examples to the flock;” (1Peter 5:1-3).
The evidence of this full meaning is found in all our common school dictionaries, among which we find the following definition of the term “hierarchy: the power of dominion, government by ecclesiastical rulers,” to which the following is introduced in evidence:
“If anyone shall say that there is not in the Catholic Church a hierarchy established by the divine ordination, consisting of bishops, presbyters and ministers, let him be anathema, Council of Trent (translation) XXIII 6.” (Century Dictionary)
In other words, let anyone who has the audacity to say there is not a hierarchy, not a collection of human beings who have been given the power by other men of dominion, as ecclesiastical rulers over churchmen who are declared God’s heritage, let that man be ACCURSED — let death and hell and the devil get him. Surely, the thing in which that ecclesiastical company is glorying is their shame!
Webster’s dictionary defines the word “episcopal” as “the power of government, belonging to, or invested in, bishops or prelates. Government of the church by bishops.”
Also, “in episcopacy, the order of bishops is superior to the other clergy, and has exclusive power to confer orders”.
In this definition it is affirmed that a certain portion of presbyters (elders) were even “in apostolic times superior in authority to ordinary presbyters,” and also mentions the fact that episcopacy recognizes “episcopal rank” which is created by the institution thus governed; all of which affirms that any church in which episcopal government obtains is practicing the very carnal and fleshly iniquity of creating “Superiors” in what should be a holy brotherhood. The use of this appellation makes INFERIORS out of brethren who are in the selfsame clergy.
How can RANK and HIERARCHY destroy a church?
The approbation of “ordinary elders” demands a set of elders who are extra special, thus creating “rank” (caste) in the otherwise Divine brotherhood, all of which DESTROYS holy fellowship, creates division and strife, and fosters envy. No marvel that our Lord should hate a thing like that, condemn it, and demand that those who are guilty repent.
But will they? Yes, some will when the tribulation is on. Others, however, will stick to their ecclesiastical crowd, vainly imagining that their boasted “superiority” will carry them through that time of the greatest trouble the world has ever known, or will know. They must go down with the rest of the hosts of Antichrist.
And yet, one of the most unfortunate features of all this is that there are those in the Christian Church who do not hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, but who practice “their deeds” of dominating the laity by lording it over the Church of Jesus Christ, which should be subject only to one Divine Master!
By J. H. Allen