The Greek word for Nicolaitans is Nikolaites (Strong's Concordance #G3531), which is three words combined. Niko or Nikos is defined as "a conquest, victory, triumph, those who are dominate over the defeated." Lai or Laos in the word means people. The "tes" or "ton" of the word simply represents the word "the." Taken together, the word Nicolaitans means the conqueror of the people (which, in this case, is the church of God).
The Nicolaitans are only referenced twice in Scripture, both of which are in Revelation. The first time they appear is in God's critique of the Ephesian church. He commends them by stating that they hate the works of these people that he also hates (Revelation 2:6). The doctrines taught by them also are mentioned a few verses later, when the Pergamos church is called to repent because ". . . you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans" (verse 15).
In its ecclesiastical setting, Nicolaitans means the bishops and prelates of the Church have gained a triumphal victory or conquest over the laity. Members are compelled and forced to submit to the arbitrary dominion of men who have become that thing which the Eternal hates. The Apostle Peter warned that those who were leaders among God's people were not to dominate over the faith of others but rather exhort them to do right (1Peter 5:1 - 3).
The teachings and preaching of this group is also variously defined as a hierarchy, the power of dominion, or as the establishment of a government by ecclesiastical rulers.
The teachings of the Nicolaitans reared its head in one of the decisions arrived at during the Catholic Church's Council of Trent, held between 1545 and 1563. 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." The entire top-down structure of the Catholics, as well as many other churches and denominations, owes its survival to maintaining what the Nicolaitans taught.
The doctrine of the Nicolaitans is the teaching that there is a strict hierarchy within God's church that must be respected by all. Ranks and levels are created in order to maintain power and control so that, ultimately, the lowest level of the church (the members) can be ruled over and taken advantage of at any time. The whole system feeds on competition and strife among those who consider themselves Christians.
The Lord not only demands repentance from those who believe and practice the doctrine of the Nicolaitans but also threatens severe punishment if they do not. God warns us to "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). The question that remains is what will you do?