Please comment on the Nicolaitans in Revelation. The verse that says God hates them seems like strong language. Is that something like the reference to God’s hating Esau?
Let me deal with the latter part of your question first. There may or may not be some semblance to the matter of Esau in God’s eyes (Rom. 9). But you also need to reread the verse. It says, “But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate” (Rev. 2:6, NIV). The passage says that God hated their deeds, practices, and doctrines.
Revelation mentions the Nicolaitans twice. Revelation 2:6 concerns the church at Ephesus. This church, though it had lost its first love and was told to repent, did hate (as God hated) the practices of the Nicolaitans.
The other reference, Revelation 2:15 and 16, involves the church at Pergamum. The picture is not pretty this time: “Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth” (NIV).
In addition to holding to the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, the church of Pergamum had “Balaamism” in their midst. The doctrine of Balaam erased any line of demarcation between the church and the world. That is what Balaam, the heathen prophet of the Old Testament, is remembered for. Verse 14 speaks of “Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication” (KJV).
We do not know exactly who the Nicolaitans were, as God did not see fit to include those precise details in the Scriptures. This fact should not bother us, since the Word of God does not spell out some other questions that arise in our minds. But we do get enough of an idea from these verses in Revelation. And, of course, the references place needed emphasis on God’s attitude toward heresy. He hates it, and that should be enough. We believers should hate the things God hates, the things that go contrary to His Word.
But we can note two suggestions concerning the identity of the Nicolaitans. One idea holds that they were a priestly caste order that tried to take over and rule the people in some type of hierarchy. People have thought of them as robbers of spiritual liberty in the lives of individual believers. Those suggesting this possibility point out the meanings of the two parts of their name: nikao means “to conquer”; laos means “laity.”
Another idea (perhaps a more likely one) suggests the Nicolaitans were a cult named for Nicolas of Antioch (see Acts 6:5) mentioned by early church fathers. According to church historians, he apostatized from the truth, and he formed an antinomian, gnostic cult that taught a person must sin in order to understand sin. This cult advocated idolatry, open immorality, and compromise with pagan practices. This mixture had become quite common by the third century, when evil influences crept in and corrupted the church. This cult also denied God to be the Creator, reminding us of the apostle Paul’s words in Romans 1.
Whoever the Nicolaitans were, their doctrine was an abomination to God. He hated their teachings and practices. The lesson for people today is this: God hates as well as loves. Many people today cannot seem to grasp the fact of God’s hatred toward anything contrary to Himself, His character, and His Word. They also fail to see that a true love for God means a genuine hatred for whatever God hates. As we see the moral decay and disregard for the truth continuing, we as believers have the glorious opportunity to proclaim the righteousness of God and to uphold the inerrant Scriptures. May we take every opportunity to do it!
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