Who were the Nicolaitans and how do their teachings affect us?
Nicolaitan: What is this obscure word that you have likely never heard anywhere, let alone in a message that may apply to you? It appears nowhere in popular culture, rarely in religious circles, and only twice in all of scripture; both times in chapter 2 of the book of Revelation. Certainly, if it had any importance to your life, you would have heard it discussed in a sermon somewhere, wouldn’t you?
Sometime back, I resolved to study the book of Revelation and answer some puzzling questions. I knew a little about ferreting out answers in this way; primarily that there were twenty-nine commentaries featured in the Bible Hub software I use, offering likely interpretations of whatever passage I was studying. When it came to the word Nicolaitan though, the commentary references were vague and conflicting.
My persistence was finally rewarded when this question, and many others, were answered in the book “Dispensational Truth” written over 100 years ago by a humble Baptist minister, Clarence Larkin. Here is what he has to say on the subject in his chapter on the messages to the seven churches in Revelation 2&3:
“The significance of this warning is seen in the commendation of the Message, vs. 6-“But this thou hast, that thou ‘hatest’ the deeds of the Nicolaitanes which I also hate.” Here Paul’s “wolves” are called Nicolaitanes. They were not a sect, but a party in the Church who were trying to establish a “Priestly Order.” Probably trying to model the Church after the Old Testament order of Priests, Levites, and common people. This is seen in the meaning of the word, which is from “Niko” to conquer, to overthrow, and “Laos” the people or laity.
The object was to establish a “Holy Order of Men, ” and place them over the laity, which was foreign to the New Testament plan, and call them not pastors, but-Clergy, Bishops, Archbishops, Cardinals, Popes. Here we have the origin of the dogma of “Apostolic Succession, ” and the separation of the Clergy from the Laity, a thing that God “hates.” The Church at Ephesus was not deceived, but recognized them as false apostles and liars.”
Larkin, Clarence. Dispensational Truth [Illustrated] (Location 5329). PreservedWords. Kindle Edition. (Emphasis added)
The full impact of this truth has been missed by most in the Church. It spoke of a departure by the church from the divine order established by Christ and the adoption of a system which He said He hates. By returning to the bedrock of scripture, we can find out exactly how the Lord structured His Church, and it only vaguely resembles what we see in modern times. A detailed description of the internal structure of the Body of Christ appears in the writings of the Apostle Paul. It gets radical here, so hang on, and pay attention:
“He gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, shepherds [most translations say pastors] and teachers; 12 for the perfecting of the saints, to the work of serving, to the building up of the body of Christ;
13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a full grown man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we may no longer be children, tossed back and forth and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in craftiness, after the wiles of error; 15 but speaking truth in love, we may grow up in all things into him, who is the head, Christ; 16 from whom all the body, being fitted and knit together through that which every joint supplies, according to the working in measure of each individual part, makes the body increase to the building up of itself in love.” Eph 4:11-16 WEB (emphasis and comment added)
Woof! That covers a lot of territory, but my point is that the Lord ordained his Church be led by of a five-fold combination of ministries, each of which plays a vital role in the body. That is in stark contrast to the Nicolaitan butts-in-seats/ guy up in front model that dominates all of organized religion today.
Can God still bless us if we’re supporting a system of fellowship that He never ordained; one that He said He hated? His grace and His patience are boundless. I found the answer to this question in the following passage:
“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are profitable. “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things build up. 24 Let no one seek his own, but each one his neighbor’s good.” 1Cor 10:23 WEB (emphasis added)
Let’s look back at another change in a leadership structure that God designed: When first created, God placed the nation of Israel under His own rule; they were a theocracy. Eventually, the Israelites began clamoring for a king, and though He warned them of the consequences, God granted their requests. He did not reject or punish Israel in their desire to have a king, but the granting of that desire carried its own intrinsic penalties.
The pattern holds true for the Church. To the degree that it was led by God, it flourished. As the people replaced God’s rule with a formal clergy, the Church languished, becoming almost completely lifeless. It came back from the dead in the Reformation, but the pattern holds that to the degree believers are led by God, they prosper in the Faith. When they look to men, their growth becomes stunted.
I have seen the pattern repeated, in fact I repeated it in placing my focus on a Rapture guru. God’s grace covers all of us, and He is ready to walk forward with us if we put our focus back on Him. We don’t need to start another movement, just focus our hearts on Jesus and the maturing of the Body of Christ.
To make the change to the Godly model would likely require something on the order of the Reformation, and time that we don’t have. Anyway, I believe these ministries already exist in pockets of the world where small bodies of believers congregate. God is able to accomplish His purposes despite our failings. The creation of another organization is probably the last thing God wants.
I have heard some claim that the list of ministries in Ephesians 4 went the way of the age of miracles or had been otherwise suspended in the centuries since the Lord ascended, but where is the scriptural basis for that?”‘Those were for Bible times” they say. Well, let’s look at that.
First, when did the Lord give us these gifts? With a little backtracking we see that the answer appears in Ephesians 4, just before the verses quoted above:
“But to each one of us was the grace given according to the measure of the gift of Christ. 8 Therefore he says, “When he ascended on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.” Eph 4:7-8 WEB (emphasis added)
The direction in Ephesians is crystal clear on the ‘what’, the ‘when’, and most importantly, the ‘until when’ that these gifts were intended to remain in service. The five-fold ministries are “gifts to men”. Can you see any evidence that the church, at present, has attained “to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a full grown man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”? I can’t!
I want to get back to the Nicolaitans. Their influence is not limited to the Roman Catholic Church where the abominable practice has become established at majestic and deadly levels. It is present also in almost every organized church of whatever stripe you can name. Though there are many godly pastors and other ministries scattered across the Earth, in most cases the structure and spiritual authority which God ordained has been usurped and supplanted by professional preachers with academic credentials.
I’m homing in on the point that I want to make now. This tendency to follow the Nicolaitan model rears its head almost every time a collection of believers begin to feel the need for titles and organization. Alarmingly, it took hold in a serious way when believers in the Rapture began to interact on the Internet.
When I first learned the truth of the Rapture, around three years ago, I began to watch YouTube videos on the subject, and soon detected the presence of an informal, elite cadre of purveyors of current signs and theories that focused on when this wondrous event might occur. This group, which included a number of true believers of both sexes, were self-described “Watchmen” or “Watchmen on the wall”. Some of them had tens of thousands of subscribers, and at least one that I know of had over 100,000.
The members of this Rapture Clergy were informally linked together as they recommended one another’s videos and shared each other’s theories and dreams. The question no one asked was, ‘What is the scriptural justification for such ministries?’
The brother I watched most often, summarized the purpose of his ministry and verified his credentials based on a passage in the Old Testament:
“But if the watchman sees the sword come, and doesn’t blow the trumpet, and the people aren’t warned, and the sword comes, and take any person from among them; he is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood will I require at the watchman’s hand.” Ezekiel 33:6 WEB
Now…hold on a minute. The watchmen of these YouTube videos are watching for the Rapture; our blessed hope; the return of our Lord and resurrection of the dead in Christ; our deliverance. By contrast, Ezekiel refers to watchmen standing ready to sound the alarm when they see judgment coming, which to me sounds opposite from the Rapture. Read the whole chapter; it’s unmistakable. I guess you might be able to make it apply, considering the unprecedented judgments that will fall after the Rapture, but the audience for these videos won’t even be present for those.
Is there any commission issued by God in scripture that designates some ministry in the Body of Christ to dedicate themselves to signs of the Rapture, or are all members of the Body directed to keep watch? I think you know the answer to that one.
Soaring high above the brigade of informal “Watchmen” churning out disappointing videos on YouTube is a much smaller special forces unit, the members of which have created lucrative writing and speaking careers based on people’s insatiable appetites for sensational prophetic presentations.
I, with my family, attended a conference of such speakers in August of 2017, expecting to encounter fellow members of the Philadelphian Body; the church presented with the open door which no man can shut in Revelation 3:8. I believe all true believers can profess membership in that body. I had entertained a fantasy that we would find fellow believers from our area with whom we could fellowship.
It took us exactly two sessions to perceive that we had actually joined a group of Laodiceans looking to get their motors revved up. Oh, well, at least we got to see the total solar eclipse; an experience that made the entire trip worthwhile.
There is something very appealing about Bible prophecy, something that the Lord revealed to John in Revelation.
“The voice which I heard from heaven, again speaking with me, said, “Go, take the book which is open in the hand of the angel who stands on the sea and on the land.” 9 I went to the angel, telling him to give me the little book. He said to me, “Take it, and eat it up. It will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be as sweet as honey.” 10 I took the little book out of the angel’s hand, and ate it up. It was as sweet as honey in my mouth. When I had eaten it, my stomach was made bitter.” Rev 10:8-10 WEB (emphasis added)
People love to hear about, read about, and argue endlessly about Bible prophecy. The Watchman conference we attended was a quarterly affair, designed no doubt to fire folks back up when their engines began to sputter. By the way: 22 people were baptized in the hotel pool that weekend. I may be wrong, but do you think it was the first time for any of them? “A tune-up and a car wash, and you’re ready for another 10,000 miles.” God help them, and free them from the futility and frustration that I know they must wrestle with. How much sweeter would a personal relationship with the Creator be to them, and they would never thirst again.
The ‘make your stomach bitter’ part of that passage in Revelation occurs with the fulfillment of prophecy, when millions die in judgment. The Lord spoke from experience, because it makes His stomach bitter to see the souls of so many people that He loves lost. When we understand that, we begin to feel a sense of the urgency with which the Lord seeks to impress on us in the face of a clock that has nearly run out.
When we consider the desperate situation that is coming, Tribulation such as never was before on the Earth, and our hearts beat in harmony with our Lord, it is then that we clearly see that the role of watchman on the wall is one that extends to everyone in the Body of Christ. We ache to see every soul saved and spared from the wrath to come. We become the army of God, spreading the good news of grace and invitations to the peace and joy of membership in the Body of Christ, the Church without walls, the eternal companions of our Lord.
The members of an army perform a multitude of roles. Not all are on the front-line doing battle with the enemy. Some serve in leadership roles, some in communications; some in logistics, keeping the troops supplied; mobile army surgical hospitals (MASH units) tending to the sick and wounded; intelligence, monitoring the schemes of Satan and plotting the prophetic course of action; digging latrines; the list goes on and every role, no matter how humble, is crucial to the well-being and function of the whole.
This ‘army of God’ description also describes the function of the members of the Body of Christ. “The eye can’t tell the hand, “I have no need for you,” or again the head to the feet, “I have no need for you.” 1 Cor 12:21 WEB The self-appointed watchmen on the wall have usurped the function of the whole Body and have misdirected our focus onto our departure rather than the salvation of those yet in need of Jesus. At best, any mention of the Gospel in these videos is added as a footnote, slapped on at the end.
Again, this is not a railing condemnation of these beloved brothers and sisters, because we have all been complicit in this. Hopefully, this is a course correction for all of us to get our focus back on Jesus and renew our determination to serve and obey Him while there are souls to be saved.
I believe in all this that I have put my finger on the reason that so many believers, earnestly watching for the Rapture, have been subjected to a punishing series of disappointments and frustrations in recent years. Instead of keeping our focus on Jesus and the tasks He sets for us here on Earth, we let the date of His return dominate our interactions and represent the solution to every trial we are being subjected to.
This is not a religious rant; there is no condemnation in this message for an individual following God. In our walk with God, He often functions in the way that a spell-checker on a computer does. If we goof, or do not know how to spell a word, He underlines the error in red. If we ask, He suggests some other choices, and, once corrected, the error disappears forever. God doesn’t continue to hold it against us.
Imagine if your spell-checker kept a record of every spelling error you’ve ever made, and worse, threw that list up on the screen every time you logged on.
With each passing day, the list would become longer and uglier, and you would see that some words were misspelled over and over and over; often deliberately. That’s what Satan does.
There is a serious penalty though for those who cling to and promote the Nicolaitan system.
“But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to throw a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality. 15 So you also have some who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans likewise. 16 Repent therefore, or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of my mouth.” Rev 2:14-16 WEB (Emphasis added)
The teaching of the Nicolaitans here is lumped in by Christ with the teaching of Balaam; some of the vilest religious perversion ever to be introduced into Israel and the Church. The penalty for failing to repent of either is the same; war with God. I’m not certain what that looks like, exactly, but I don’t want it aimed at me. In the same way that the Lord calls us to come out of the world, His cry to His people in every sinful situation is to:
“Come out of her, my people, that you have no participation in her sins, and that you don’t receive of her plagues, 5 for her sins have reached to the sky, and God has remembered her iniquities.” Rev 18:4-5 WEB
This is a big concept to squeeze into so little teaching, (so hang on) but all false religion stems from the same root and extends back to Cain, who substituted an offering of produce for the offering of flesh that the Lord had ordained. Every expression of false religion on Earth since Cain is a part of:
“MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF THE PROSTITUTES AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.” Rev 17:5 WEB (Emphasis added)
Nicolaitanism equates to idolatry, the substitution of some man-made system of worship instead of the pure unadulterated worship of the Lord. It is men assuming a place of spiritual authority which has not been given them by God. This is the trap that we fall into every time we submit our hearts to some false teacher or self-appointed watchman.
I have written all of this to point out that many of the frustrations and disappointments in recent years have been a direct consequence of our human tendency toward Nicolaitanism; any time we put our focus on anything other than Jesus. Our sinful flesh prefers religion to a relationship with the living God. We would rather play church; sit back and relax while someone else does the heavy lifting. When we do that, our Nicolaitanism is showing.
- Adapted from #91237724/Jankovoy-adobe stock.com
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- Don’t Mess With Israel by Greg Lauer @alittlestrength.com