The English word "Nicolaitans" is recorded only twice in the King James Bible translation, with both occurrences linked to the seven churches of Revelation. The first time it appears is in God's spiritual assessment of the Ephesian church. After correcting the church He commends them for hating the works of the Nicolaitans just like he does.
Therefore, remember from where you have fallen, and repent, and do the first works; for if you do not, I will come to you quickly; and I will remove your lampstand out of its place unless you repent. But this you have: that you hate the works of the Nicolaitanes (Nicolaitans), which I also hate (Revelation 2:5 - 6, HBFV).
The second mention of the Nicolaitans is found in the Lord's stern correction of the Pergamos church. He commands the church to reject and repent of the doctrine taught by these people.
But I have a few things against you because you have there those who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit fornication. Moreover, you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes (Nicolaitans), which thing I hate (Revelation 2:14, HBFV).
The King James English word "Nicolaitans" comes from the Greek Nikolaites (Strong's Concordance #G3531). The Niko part of the word means a conquest, victory or destruction over others. The second part, lai, means "people." The last part, tes, represents the word "the." Putting this all together we have a word that means "the destruction of people" or "victory over the people." Strong's Concordance refers to these people who gain the victory or rule over others as the adherents of Nicolas.
Who Are They?
Early Christian writers Irenaeus [Against Heresies, 1.26.3] and Tertullian [Prescription against Heretics, 46] also stated that the Nicolaitans were followers of Nicolas. The Nicolas in question, they believed, was one of the first seven specially chosen servants of the New Testament church (commonly referred to as deacons).
Therefore, brethren, search out from among yourselves seven men of good repute, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business . . .
And this declaration was pleasing to all the multitude; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit; and Philip; and Prochorus; and Nicanor; and Timon; and Parmenas; and Nicolas, who was a proselyte of Antioch (Acts 6:3, 5, HBFV).
Although Nicolas was chosen to serve due to his character and wisdom, he later apparently began to promote false teachings.
What did the Nicolaitans teach? And how did they behave such that it garnered God's correction and the threat of punishment to those who followed their evil ways?
"Like Simon Magus, whom the early apostles also confronted, the Nicolaitans introduced the concept of using the name of Jesus for commercial gain, dominance and control. After all, the concept had worked quite well in the pagan temples of the vast gentile world, generating wealth and revenue for many societies" (Nicholas and Xmas by C. Franklin).
In a church setting, these people attempted to set themselves up to rule over the lives and faith of other church members. They tried to force others to submit to their arbitrary position of authority that God never gave them and which he hates! The Apostle Peter warned that leaders among the church were not to dominate over the faith of others but rather exhort them to do right.
The elders who are among you I exhort, even as a fellow elder . . . Feed the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight not by compulsion, but willingly; not in fondness of dishonest gain, but with an eager attitude; Not as exercising lordship over your possessions; but by being examples to the flock of God (1Peter 5:1 - 3).
The hierarchical teachings of the Nicolaitans openly reared its head during the Catholic Church's Council of Trent that was held between 1545 and 1563. During the council they stated, "If anyone shall say that there is not in the Catholic Church a hierarchy established by the divine ordination, consisting of bishops, presbyters and ministers, let him be anathema (a person who is to be detested and excommunicated)."
An Evil Structure
The entire top-down church administrative structure of the Catholics, as well as many other churches, owes its survival to maintaining what the Nicolaitans taught. Many "Christian" groups and denominations promote the belief in a strict church hierarchy where control over the people must be maintained and respected. The system they promote feeds on competition and strife among believers in order to take advantage of them at any time.
The Lord not only demands repentance from those who believe the doctrine of the Nicolaitans but also threatens severe punishment if they do not. God warns those who practice such lies, "Remember therefore from where you have fallen . . . or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place" (Revelation 2:5). May the warning be heeded!