When the Lord was showing John on Patmos what the seven churches would be like, He commended the church at Ephesus because they hated the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which the Lord also detested. In Pergamos, the third church, these deeds had become accepted doctrine, which the Lord also hated. For whatever reason the Lord chose not to let history record the precise teachings of the Nicolaitanes. He does, however, want us to understand just what this bunch of hooligans is about and therefore He has given us one infallible piece of evidence.
There are three named heresies among the seven churches - the Nicolaitanes, Balaam, and the woman Jezebel. None of these are identified under these names in church history, despite the frantic efforts of historians to tell us that Nicholas and Jezebel were real persons - even going so far as to blacken the good name of Nicholas of Antioch (one of the seven deacons of Acts 6:5), as the guilty party. It is said by some that Nicholas founded a movement of apostates who had pagan feasts and were most immoral in their behavior. They taught that in order to master sensuality one would have to know by experience the whole range of it first. Naturally this spawned the most bizarre and wanton orgies and other fleshly endeavors as a necessary step on the road to perfection. Thus the historians applied to them the two Old Testament names that symbolized such extravagances: Balaam and Jezebel. Since Balaam corrupted the people of Israel and thus conquered them, it was said that Nicholas did likewise. This group was supposedly forced out of Ephesus and found a place of establishment in Pergamos. But the problem about this belief is that it is not true. There is absolutely no history for it. It is at best tradition, but I view it as mere myth and folklore - a fairy tale!
The names are symbolic of the heresies they represent. When a name appears in the scriptures its meaning sheds light upon the spiritual reality behind the name. What was this thing God hated but man loved and would not stop doing? What are these Nicolaitanes? We'll understand it when we know what the name means! The word comes from two Greek words: nikao, which means "to rule over or to conquer," and laos, which means "the laity or the people." Put these definitions together and you get a domineering ruling class within the body of Christ whose main agenda is to get the upper hand, conquer, subordinate, and subdue those who they consider "less gifted," "less knowledgeable," and "less qualified" than themselves!
In the religious world there are those who are called "clergy" and those who are called "laity." Where do you suppose these titles came from? "Laity, lay person, and layman" are all derivatives from the Greek word laos mentioned above! This is a title that has come to us from religious Babylon! The clergy are called the "reverends," "doctors," "pastors," "teachers," "evangelists," "overseers," "bishops," "ministers," "priests," "superintendents," "leaders," etc. These are often termed "men of the cloth" - men who wear special attire as a matter of identification as "clergy." These are the people who have the power, authority, and lordship! The rest of us poor folks are just "laity."
What were the "deeds" of the Nicolaitanes? They were exalting the "clergy" over the "laity"! The clergy class were dominating the laity, the people. The clergy were exalted whereas the laity were abased. The clergy became the authority, they became the fountain of all truth, they had the last word, and the laity were the "dumb sheep" that were instructed to follow and do what they were told. I once read that the saddest thing that happened to the church was when it stopped being a family and became an audience. Most people have missed the point completely; they conceive of the church as a drama wherein they are merely spectators. In this drama the minister is the principle actor, God is his prompter whispering His lines in his ear - should he chance to forget them - and the congregation are the critics who pass their judgment upon the performance when all has been said and done. This can be perceived by the comments of many people to the minister (actor) who has now made his way to the front door to receive the acclamation of the spectators. "Good job, preacher! You really did a good job today. You really let 'em have it!" Or the comment, "The choir was really beautiful today." The whole idea expressed seems to be that it was a drama; it was a performance, a show, and you express your acceptance and your approval. You are the critic and it is up to you to pass your judgment.
We have here a "caste system" of "clergy" and "laity" which has been clearly and soundly repudiated by the firstborn Son of God! The firstborn Son, the pattern Son, the proto-type of what the life of sonship is all about, said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men hold them in subjection; but it must not be so among you. On the contrary, whoever desires to be first among you must be your slave; and whosoever may desire to take rank among you, let him be your servant: just as the Son of man came not to be served, but to serve. You are not to be called teacher, for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth father, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. And you must not be called leaders, for you have one Leader, the Christ. He who is greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whosoever humbles himself shall be raised to honor" (Mat. 20:25-27; 23:8-12, Amplified & Ferrar Fenton). Men love to rule, even though God has called all of us to serve one another. How many churches or groups can we point out today who observe these words of the Lord Jesus? THINK ABOUT IT!
God's people, since the days of king Saul, have been accustomed to appointing kings, priests, prophets, bishops, pastors, teachers, elders, deacons, overseers, leaders, and rulers of all kinds, to hear the word of the Lord for them, and rule over them by it, instead of hearing and knowing the Lord for themselves. But that old order has since passed away! It has not passed away for those who remain in religious Babylon, but God has established a new and spiritual order for His elect who are in Christ. This new order is not really new, for it is the very same order the Lord Jesus gave to His disciples! It is the order of sonship! And this new order of the spirit of sonship replaces all those substitutes, whether they be bishops, pastors, priests, elders, or anything else. Oh, yes, there are spiritual ministries in the body of Christ! But these spiritual ministries are servants, not leaders or rulers. In this new kingdom day God is making His elect to be sons of the Father with the spiritual ability to HEAR all the Lord would tell us and to KNOW Him by personal experience of His fullness. No longer do His called and chosen ones submit to the lordship of others who can hear and act "for" them, but as brethren in the body of Christ they share the same mind, nature, life, and power and so admonish, encourage, confirm, and bless one another as each joint supplies. ONLY THE HEAD RULES! There is one Head and one Leader, even Christ, who dwells within. These are such simple principles, and so divine, that one would think all men could understand, but the carnal mind never understands!
The word of the Lord is coming forth today! This fresh, new word is not given only to designated apostles, prophets, pastors, or teachers. It is better, rather, to avoid those who claim such titles and offices and turn your spiritual ears to the heavens of God's Spirit, and hear for yourself what your Father has to say. The word that you receive will then be confirmed by all who are walking in the Spirit and hearing from the Father. How beautiful this is! What safety there is in this order of the Spirit! Father's anointed word of life, wisdom, power, and authority is radiating out of the Spirit of the Son within us. Let us HEAR HIM and then obediently DO all He tells us to do! Christ alone is the true Head, Lord, and King of all His elect and chosen ones. His faithful and obedient elect are hearing His pure word from His pure mind. And they are fulfilling His word, walking out His righteousness and will out of His holy nature and power. They are worshipping Him in spirit and in truth, as our Lord told us to do, and not after the traditions of the church systems. By these necessary principles of consecration and yieldedness unto the Lord, those called to sonship are becoming a holy, separated people unto the Lord, prepared to serve His holy kingdom purposes in all the earth.
I do not seek to revile, but rather to speak the truth in love as I warn all who seek after life, immortality, and sonship to God to flee from the deeds and doctrines of the Nicolaitanes as you would flee from a poisonous snake or a lion in the jungle. Let us reverently consider together just how this heresy entered in among the Lord's people. What a flood of light fell upon the world in the ministry of Jesus and His apostles! Then following His ascension, by the gift of the Holy Ghost which is the spirit of Christ, the Lord came again in mighty Spirit power to indwell His people. The church was birthed, and gathered from Jew and Gentile alike, a vast multitude into its bosom. The shadows of the law were replaced by the glorious and eternal reality of a living, indwelling Christ. In those few holy years Christ Himself within was the only Head of the church and unity and harmony flowed like a river and the body of Christ was one. There was no government but the government of the Spirit. Love and wisdom shone like the sun from the mind of God. When the human body knows no government but the government of its head, all is order and unity, and there is health and power. So also it was with the body of Christ!
And what glorious days those were! One only has to read the book of Acts to see how much God blessed His people in those days. Mighty signs and wonders were performed as God confirmed His word with signs following. The word of God, anointed by the Holy Spirit, swept the world like a prairie fire. It encircled the mountains and crossed the oceans. It made kings to tremble and tyrants to fear. It was said of those early Christians that they turned the world upside down! So powerful was their message and spirit. In spite of persecution it grew and multiplied, for God dwelt mightily in the midst of His people. The knowledge of the glory of the Lord covered the earth as the waters cover the sea.
Even before the apostles had departed their earthly life, a spirit and system had set in among the saints of the Lord and many people were wearing the Babylonish garment. They were instituting rules and regulations, laying down laws, formulating creeds, observing days, establishing sacraments and ordinances, elevating human government, becoming disciples of Paul, of Apollos, of Cephas, and of many others. The babble had begun and the mysterious man of sin was raising his ugly head. Before too many years had passed men began to set themselves up as "bishops" and "lords" over God's heritage in place of the Holy Spirit.
There was a whole group of leaders that rose up in the churches just about the time the first apostles were passing from the scene - the very time John received his revelation on Patmos! Church historians refer to them as The Apostolic Fathers. One of these was a man by the name of Ignatius. Ignatius was the second bishop of Antioch, that city in Syria from which Barnabas and Paul set out on their famous missionary journey (Acts 13-14). The ancient church historian Eusebius says Ignatius was appointed as the second bishop there about A.D. 69. A number of Ignatius' letters, written to various churches such as Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles, Philadelphia, and Smyrna still exist. I have read these letters, as well as those of others of the so-called Apostolic Fathers, and it is quite astonishing to see with what prominence and emphasis THE DOCTRINE OF THE NICOLAITANES comes across in each!