Who are the Nicolaitans among us?

The Nicolaitans are the boogeymen of the Bible. Since the scriptures say almost nothing about them – except that they were false teachers whose deeds Jesus hated (see Rev. 2) – they are a blank sheet onto which we can write just about anything. If there is a group in the church that disagrees with the pastor, you can just about guarantee they will be dismissed as divisive or Nicolaitan.

So who were the Nicolaitans?

They were false teachers who taught grace as a license to sin. They were not confused Christians. They were libertines who infiltrated the early church and introduced destructive heresies. They promised freedom, but were themselves slaves of depravity (2 Pet. 2:19).

False teachers and false apostles may seem like Biblical boogeymen, but they are Satan’s principle means for attacking the church from within (see 2 Cor. 11:13–15). Left unchecked, they destroy churches and ruin lives.

When John said, “Watch that you do not lose what we have accomplished that you may receive a full reward” (2 John 1:8), he was referring to smooth-talking deceivers who draw people to themselves and away from Jesus. Jude, the brother of James, offered a similar warning:

For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord. (Jude 1:4, NIV)

The Nicolaitans elevated intellect above faith, and Self above Savior. In so doing they denied the lordship of Jesus and undermined the faith of the weak.

Why did Jesus hate the works of the Nicolaitans?

Jesus told the Ephesians he hated the deeds of the Nicolaitans (Rev. 2:6), and a good question to ask is why. Commentators provide two unsatisfactory answers. Some frame the issue as one of lawbreaking. “The lawless Nicolaitans were violating the Apostolic Decree passed by the Jerusalem Council forbidding the consumption of idol foods” (see Acts 15:29). Then why didn’t Jesus say so? If the Nicolaitans were breaking the rules, why didn’t he lay down the law? Jesus didn’t mention the Apostolic Decree because there was no Apostolic Decree. The Jerusalem Council met to discuss whether the Gentile Christians should be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses. They did not reject the old law of circumcision only to replace it with new laws pertaining to idol feasts (Acts 15:20). We are under grace, not law.

Others frame the Nicolaitan issue as one of spiritual compromise, as though Jesus was upset that his church was spiritually impure. “Compromise arouses the jealousy of the Lord and causes him to remove his hand of protection.” The picture of Jesus as the jilted lover withdrawing in a huff is a horrendous distortion of God’s character. Jesus is not insecure, and purity is not the price you pay to earn his love. God’s love has no price tags.

So what was the problem with the Nicolaitans?

They put people in harm’s way and promoted unbelief in the goodness of God.

The idol-industrial complex of Pergamum was a machine for carrying out Satan’s dark agenda. From the Altar of Zeus to the humblest shrine, the city was geared towards the ruination of all who participated in the vile festivals.

The Pergamenes were enslaved to the power of sin and death. God’s plan for liberating them was the gospel of Jesus Christ. But the light of the gospel was being dimmed by an attitude of accommodation. The church, which was supposed to be an advertisement for the kingdom of heaven, was presenting a mixed message. Instead of offering a radical alternative to the devilish enterprise, some in the church were supporting it.

Why did Jesus hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans?

He was not angry because they were breaking the rules or compromising his standards. He was angry because they were feeding God’s children to the devil’s machine.

Jesus and the Apostles encouraged people to put their faith in God, while the false apostles and the Nicolaitans discouraged them. They may not have said it in so many words, but their message was “God cannot be trusted. Secure your future by worshipping demons.”

The fruit of their mixed-up message was appalling: Instead of idol worshippers coming to the church to find grace and freedom, the Christians were going to the temples and kowtowing to demons. Instead of spending themselves on behalf of the hungry and oppressed, the saints were subsidizing Satan.

The Ephesians hated what the Nicolaitans were doing, but the Pergamenes were ambivalent. They were so hung up on the “all things are lawful” part of Paul’s message that they forgot that “not all things are beneficial” (1 Cor. 10:23). When it came to what the Nicolaitans were teaching, they had no boundaries. “They make a good point,” said some. “I’m not so sure,” said others. They debated and discussed but they drew no line in the sand. So Jesus drew one for them. “I hate it.” End of debate. End of discussion.

Is there a modern-day example of Nicolaitan teaching?

Wherever you have a false teacher preaching grace as a license to sin, you have a Nicolaitan. False grace messages come in many forms but are easily recognized by their tacit approval of sin, usually in the form of sexual immorality. Modern-day Nicolaitans quote scripture and make bold claims about freedom, but the fruit of their message is bondage and death.

Make no mistake, Jesus hates the false grace message, but it’s important to understand why he hates it. He doesn’t hate it because he’s allergic to sinners or because he’s keen for us to keep the rules. He hates it because it destroys those who buy into it and because it renders his church ineffective. He hates it because counterfeit grace is a doorway to captivity.

It’s true that some treat grace as a license to sin. They say sinning is okay because God’s grace will cover any error. This is toxic teaching. God’s grace is indeed greater than your sin, but sin can ruin your life. Steer clear of those who preach a licentious message lest you lose the freedom that Christ has dearly bought.

From time to time we have to make difficult choices: Do we become all things to all men or do we take a stand? Do we join in or remain apart? When sin is involved and people are getting hurt, the choice is easy. God has called us to shine in a dark world, so shine, and have nothing to do with the deeds of darkness.

Jesus has given you a new name and a new identity. Your name is not sinner and your identity is not defined by your imperfect performance. You are a dearly loved child of God, so act like it. Be who God made you to be.

Extracted and adapted from Paul’s award-winning book, Letters from Jesus.

25 Comments on Who are the Nicolaitans among us?

  1. Thanks for the clarification, Paul. The gospel of grace has come under attack lately from the other Christians because of teachers who appear to uphold sinful lifestyles. They have failed draw the line as you have correctly pointed out. In some places a believer in the grace of God is seen as a licentious person whose fellowship should be avoided and this has made some not to be very public about their faith. But now I understand what Paul meant when he said that he was not ashamed of the gospel(of grace) for it’s God’s power unto salvation. This gospel manifests the righteousness from God and not man’s righteousness.

  2. God’s wrath is against that which destroys people.

  3. AMEN……………
    Elaine Urie

  4. why are you telling me to “act like it” at the end of your message? act like what?.you are confusing me. do i act (law) or do i rest (grace) ?.

  5. If we truly understood that the wages of sin is death, we wouldn’t have any part of it. God warned Adam, when you eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you will die.

  6. Excellent excerpt here. Interesting I was just pondering about this subject of God’s love, Grace and mercy and how best to take a stand. How to graciously say hey, this action, this life choice is clearly wrong. Culture changes like the seasons. God’s heart doesn’t. What was wrong 2,000 years ago is still wrong today. For instance, some have inquired about men and women living together before they get married, (too often they usually never do), hey it’s economical. Or we want to see if we are sexually compatible. If I say hey God’s way is the better way, get married before living together, “oh you’re being critical or judgmental. I thought you teach grace?!”
    Others have tried to justify looking at other women than their spouse, “hey its not a sin to look.”
    In a sense, this is a form of self righteousness, creating standards for one’s self that gives place to their deeds.
    I agree that sometimes Grace says no, that is ungodly behavior. That is worldly lusts. But never in a condemning way. More of a live this way not that, because My way is so much better!

    • Good word, but as for,” oh you’re being critical or judgmental. I thought you teach grace?!” We do, as “the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men teaching us that denying (saying no to) ungodliness, and worldly lust….” Titus 2:11,12. Not only, as you say, is a much better way, but a way that shows such a one is saved by, “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ” Titus 2:13, “and unto them that look for him shall he appear” Hebrews 9:28.

  7. Jenny L Beauchamp // September 6, 2019 at 12:28 am // Reply

    Thanks Paul. I feel the need to add that all the false preaching and the licentiousness does not change God’s Grace, the good news (Gospel) of Jesus Christ. The focus has to be on Jesus and His finished work, not my acts and not anybody else’s. Blessings!

    • Thank you Paul, and thank you Jenny. We need to be constantly reminded of how good the Good News is, how nothing can alter His Grace. While we were sinners Christ died for us, God has justified the ungodly. Unfortunately religion and works have our minds saturated in law mentality….we’ll pray more, read scripture more, try and live holy. But Jesus came to reveal a Daddy, Father, Papa who cares deeply for us, even though He knows our frame, that we were made from dust. Knowing that we are His treasures and deeply loved will have us living holy lives as a fruit of receiving our Abba’s love. God’s Grace takes some effort to hold on to, it’s much easier for religious soaked minds to have some laws to ‘do’.
      Jesus didn’t hate the Nicolaitans, but He hated their deeds, what they were saying, confusing/hurting themselves as well as others. A bit like the time in Matt 23:37, Jesus with His arms open wide, saying Oh Jerusalem you kill the prophets and messengers sent to you… how often I have wanted to gather your children as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. Blessings.

  8. Thank you for this post, Paul, I think Nicolaitans might have come from Nicolas? Just a thoguht I get and got (see Acts 6:5). Is it possible that the deeds of the Nicolaitans come from Nicholas the proselyte that started this the sect of Nicolaitans? Did satan find his way in, to become as an angel of light. Along with his cohorts?

    I hate evil yet I do evil oh how I hate me, yet do not gate me. I have no righteous at all of my own accord. I do have righteousness though, it is not mine at all. It is God’s forever and always. What a gift to be given to see and appreciate and the start of one’s conscience begins to be purged into God’s work only done through you. Yet whenever I think I know, I find out I do not know anything, God does know all to stand in trust no matter what

    • I talk about this possibility in my book. The short answer is nobody knows and it seems harsh to associate a good man with a bad group. Here’s a quote from the book:

      Irenaeus was the first to connect the heretical Nicolaitans with Nicolas the deacon (Heresies, 1.26.3). But whether this means the Nicolaitans were inspired by Nicolas or had perverted his teachings, is a subject of much debate. Clement of Alexandria, a contemporary of Irenaeus’, defended the worthy Nicolas and insisted he had no connection with the Nicolaitans (Stromata, 2.20). Eusebius the historian also judged Nicolas to be innocent of any link with the heretics (3.29.3). Others have argued that Nicolaitan was a descriptive name unrelated to Nicolas the deacon. It means “victory over the people” or “conqueror of the laity,” which sounds vaguely bad. It bears etymological similarity to the name Balaam, which means “he swallows people.” Although scholars have offered a number of imaginative suggestions, exactly how the Nicolaitans conquered or swallowed people remains a mystery.

      • Thank you deeply for this. I am learning to be wise and remain harmless. I see it might be or not be. Not making anything doctrine but Christ crucified for us all. As forgiven for us from Father. Then is risen where new life is given from Father to us in Spirit and truth. Learning holding onto Matt 10:16-20 Luke 21:14-15

  9. “Your name is not sinner and your identity is not defined by your imperfect performance.”
    We are not sinners, as Paul never called any of the folks in the church such, rather called them saints and that over 55 times. The very work of Christ on the cross was for the death of sin, so “how shall we that are dead to sin live any longer therein?”,Romans 6:2. For we are not “still sinners”, Romans 5:8.
    But as for our identity, it is only “they that live Godly” that “shall suffer persecution” 2 Timothy 3:12, as it is with such outward visible living that these will be identified, glorifying God and rewarded accordingly.
    John say’s it is this very manifestation of not living like the child of the devil (who sinned from the beginning 1 John 3:8), but rather like the child of God (who never sinned, 1 Peter 2:22), that will bring notice to the world. 1 John 3:10.
    As such that do continue in sin, according to John, have never seen or known Christ, 1 John 3:6.

    • Intertesting truth, what about thosethat do not want to sin and yet still do, and remain not wanting to? Has God got these one’s in him?
      Is Father and Son as Won (One) for us all carrying on his work he has done for all at the cross in Son for us? Sin when is it not on purpose? Or is it the not seeing understanding what is done for us?

      I have to this day not ever 100% stopped sinning, anyone else has, please reply!

      I understand, in of my flesh first birth nature that I am not saved, for no flesh pleases God. But one that be Son whom was not born of man. Woman yes, not man.
      Therefore today God is known as Father, Son the two are Won (One) for us to be One in them saved by Father and Son, not anyone. So I will state it like Paul
      This flesh I am in is not redeemed, so be dead to it to be alive kin Spirit and Truth only
      Romans 8:23, does this excuse us to continue in sin? God Forbid, for his kindness is not meant for anyone to continue in sin. even though flesh nature will; not repent. Wonder why?\

      I hate sin against Father and Son, I hate this first born flesh I am in, That I am learning is dead to God, and reckon me as so, to be alive in Spirit and Truth only

      Thanks Thomas Howard, Learning to let go and just trust God to reveal whatever is needed as he sees fit not me

      • Do we ever sin? Yes, but only if, as in “if any man sin we have an advocate Christ” 1 John 2:1 These (if any man) type are those you call “that do not want to sin and yet still do”. But what John was getting us to see and set us apart from, are those that continue in sin, not even looking to Christ as advocate, are such that “never seen or known” our Lord and Savior. See, one has no savior with out there being also a Lord, as “God has made him both Lord and Christ (Messiah, savior)”, Acts 2:36.
        I suspect you are on track since you “hate sin”, as sin is one thing we are not to mess with, as it was what Jesus went to the cross and died for. For “we being dead to sin ‘should’ live unto righteousness” 1 Peter 2:24. We may be in the flesh, but this flesh has an “equalizer”, that of having “partaken of the divine nature” 2 Peter 1:4 having escaped (to reality) the corruption of lust.
        Stay the course brother, Colossians 1:21-23, Ephesians 5:27.

  10. Every time – and I mean every time – I read that “Christians should avoid sin” I have to ask what is “sin”?

    It’s not violating the law, since we’re not under the law, either of Moses or any New Testament writer. “Everything is permissible.”

    But Paul and others clearly tell us that we should not sin, so sin is still an issue. But if we are to avoid it we need to know what it is.

    • Sin is missing the mark. If you spend an evening getting drunk at a bar and miss your daughter’s recital, as a parent you missed the mark. If you then drive home from said bar in an inebriated state, you’ve missed the mark. If you then plow into the side of a school bus of orphans on a field trip to Disneyland, you’ve missed the mark. You could go to jail for your transgression, and none of this will be God’s fault. Are you allowed to go to a bar? Sure. Everything is permissible. But doing it on the night of your daughter’s recital, or if you struggle with self-control and addiction, and it certainly won’t be beneficial.

      Like every good parent, God has high hopes for you. He has set you up for success. If you feel that God has given you a talent to play guitar and every time you pass a guitar shop you burn with holy desire to get started on that dream, but you never follow through, you’ve missed the mark. If you know that God has given you words to say or write or sing but you keep them bottled up, you’ve missed the mark. It doesn’t mean God hates you. It simply means you missed the mark. You didn’t find your sweet spot. You lived short of all God had in store for you.

      In a religious environment, sin is often defined as rule-breaking or inflicting hurt, but God’s definition is far broader. Jesus died to give you abundant life. If you reject that life out of fear, unbelief, whatever, you miss the mark. You’ll be poorer for it and so will the world. But Jesus will still love you and his Spirit will constantly encourage you to do what you deep-down really want to do with those God-given desires of yours.

      • Hi Paul, in my opinion and according to my understanding, I believe there is mixture in what you are saying here. You started by describing behavior that would qualify as missing the mark, then you finished by talking about “not missing the mark” being about life. I agree with how you finished. Missing the mark is about missing out on or not receiving His life. Certain behavior can be a fruit of missing the mark, but the mark is clearly His life. We cannot attain His life by addressing behavior, we can only receive His life as a gift. It is still true that certain behavior is not profitable, but “how” do we hit the mark?

      • Hi LJP, you introduce an important and related question, but I am simply defining sin in general terms. Things which are permitted are not beneficial if they lead to us missing the mark. Sinners sin and saints sin. Some sin by nature while others do it in spite of clearly superior choices, but the act of sinning has nothing to do with who we are in Christ.

        You have a narrower definition of sin, one that reminds me of what Paul said when he said whatever is not of faith is sin. You are concerned with hitting The Mark, which is Christ.

      • Wow, thank you I get a lot out of what you just said. Thanks
        To believe on that very first day, Father is now allowed to enter in and begin the new work he starts
        Eph, 1

        Verses 6,7,13 stick out to me to see what the freedom given us is. Then to see Phil 1:6, floors me
        Then to see Phil. 3:1-20 throws me, to see how do I give up on me doing it at least trying to do it right, letting go to gain his righteousness not mine

        Woe is me I need those tongs from the Holy First to touch my lips as in Isaiah 6:1-6

        It is like God is saying I say yah

      • I appreciate your response. Thank you

      • Mark Francis // September 12, 2019 at 9:16 am //

        Thank you for your thoughtful and encouraging answer.

        It seems to me that you are saying the same thing to me as to LJP; sin is a lack of faith. It can cause us to miss the mark of the blessings God intends, (enjoying a child’s recital or a successful music career, to use your examples). But aren’t those are just what we reap from sowing doubt (the opposite of faith) into our lives?

        The broad category of “sin” that you define makes sense when we consider the character of God, who is concerned with every detail of our lives. It brings to mind Paul’s admonition to pray without ceasing, since to hit the mark of Christ almost requires constant prayer.

        Thanks again.

      • Wow, Paul thank you fpr those words Father and Son put through you, can I copy that and keep that please, so well put.
        And True for as saqid to us

        John 8:32-36\

        So I see I get to decide what is beneficial and what is not, like going to a bar and get drunk, I am allowed to, yet it is not necessarily beneficial am free Freed at last
        A site called freedatlast on google search

        As I continue to learn truth over error and not be in pride over learning it as have in past

    • Sin is unbelief to God in what is done for us to walk new in
      Romans 14,
      Romans 14:23 New International Version (NIV)
      23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.[a]

      Each person has conviction(s) and each tries to pass it onto others, their own convictions.
      Sin simply is unbelief, to what is done for us by Son. To turn and try not to do, can be good for you, me and all others. To show us our need for God’s perfection to not only live in us, better yet through us in Love to all. For I have sinned and could do it again, who am I to not forgive, since am forgiven?

      1 John 4:19

      Sin (unbelief) to try not to do wrong (be in unbelief), only brings out more wrong (woe is me)
      . Gal. 6:8-9
      Isaiah 6:1-6

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