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Who Were the Nicolaitans?

02 Apr
Nicolaitans - 1

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In Revelation 2:15 Jesus claimed there were also among the believers at Pergamos those who held to the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, but who are the Nicolaitans and what was their doctrine? Some scholars believe they were similar to those who held to the doctrine of Balaam, having an antinomian[1] theology. While it would be easy to conclude the doctrine of Balaam was ‘antinomian’ in nature,[2] I don’t believe it is logical to hold that the theology of the Nicolaitans was ‘antinomian’ as well, because, if that were true, why would Jesus speak of them as though they were different. There was the one group, and there was the other. Why would it be necessary to speak of the two, if they were so much alike?

It has been said that in the Hebrew language the name, Balaam, can mean “destroyer of the people” or “he who ruined the people”. Still another meaning can be “he who swallowed the people.” In other words the name is of an uncertain origin, but it can mean one of these definitions or something similar. On the other hand, the name Nicolaitan is more easily recognized in the Greek as “the conqueror of the people” or “victorious over the people”.[3] A similar name, Nicodemus found in John 3, has the same meaning, and there we are told that he was a ruler of the Jews (John 3:1), but Jesus says he was a master (G1320), meaning teacher.[4] Put in this light, we can see that a teacher who ruled or conquered the people was a teacher whose word was, for all intents and purposes, law. We might see the modern cultist leader in this light—he would be a teacher whose words were so embraced by his followers that it could be said that he had conquered their hearts and minds. In other words, such a man is a Nicolaitan, and a teacher or pastor who acted this way in an orthodox denomination of Christianity could also be called a Nicolaitan.

The doctrine of the Nicolaitans was legalism, but it wasn’t the Law, per se, that Jesus hated, although the Law is done away in receiving Jesus as Lord. Rather, it was their doctrine that the common people were unlearned fools (John 7:49; 9:34) who needed to be told what to believe (cf. Matthew 23:13; Luke 11:52). It was the idea (doctrine) that the leaders needed to make others just as they are (cf. Matthew 23:15) that Jesus hated. In effect this sort of thing prevented folks from entering the Kingdom of God, because how could one be a disciple of Jesus, if he maintains his discipleship of another. On cannot serve two masters, or lords (Luke 16:13).

If one considers the doctrine of Balaam outrageous behavior, it is little wonder, then, how legalism and legalist leaders might arise in protest, but the protests of the legalists and the behavior of the Nicolaitan leaders assume Jesus is not the Lord of his church or is unable to prevent such practices. Both the doctrine of Balaam and the doctrine of the Nicolaitans prevented folks from entering the Kingdom of God, but they were polar opposites, as far as outward behavior was concerned. On the one hand, there was complete rejection of lawful behavior, which destroyed any testimony one might have had, because such behavior was exactly like those to whom these believers preached. On the other hand, the disciples of the Nicolaitans had a testimony, but their testimony lay not in Jesus but in men and in their own self will. Therefore, both the doctrine of Balaam and the doctrine of the Nicolaitans had the same effect of rejecting Jesus as the Messiah (Lord).

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[1] Antinomianism is defined as: the belief or theology that holds that under the gospel dispensation of grace the moral law is of no use or obligation, because faith alone is necessary to salvation

[2] See my previous study: The Doctrine of Balaam.

[3] See my earlier study: The Nicolaitans at Ephesus.

[4] Understanding this could point to the idea that Nicodemus was not the ‘name’ of a man, but, rather, pertained to what he had done or how he had lived his life before he became Jesus’ disciple. I have absolutely no proof of this, but I think Luke may have been the person referred to in Scripture as Nicodemus. Luke certainly was not gentile (see my six part study[and growing?] about the author of the Gospel of Luke HERE). He knew too much about the Jewish religion to be a gentile, even if he were considered a God-fearer. He was probably a priest who was born in the Diaspora, but had returned to Jerusalem to reclaim his tribal rites.

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Posted by on April 2, 2019 in Apocalypse, Book of Revelation

 

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