2:2,6 FALSE APOSTLES AND NICOLAITANS
“You have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars…But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate” (Revelation 2:2,6). The Ephesus period saw the beginnings of some of the heresies which would later be accepted by the church—the doctrines of the “false apostles” and the “Nicolaitans.” Paul warned, “After my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves” (Acts 20:29,30). “The mystery of lawlessness is already at work”, he declared (2 Thessalonians 2:7). The Apostle John warned, “Even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour” (1 John 2:18).
Although the apostles predicted apostasy in the Church, we see that in general the church of the Ephesian period rejected the messages of the False Apostles—"You have found them liars." The seeds of their false doctrines would spring up later in the heresies of the synagogue of Satan (2:9), the throne of Satan (2:13), the Nicolaitans (2:15), the doctrine of Balaam (2:14) and Jezebel (2:20). But during the Ephesus period the church was successfully struggling to maintain moral and doctrinal purity—“But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate” (Revelation 2:6).
What were the “deeds of the Nicolaitans” that the false apostles were promoting? Irenaeus, a second-century theologian, asserted that the Nicolaitans considered it irrelevant if Christians committed adultery or ate foods which had been offered to idols since it was the soul and spirit that were important, not the deeds of the body.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> This is supported by the description in the Book of Jude of the heresies which were developing during the last part of the first century: “Certain men have crept in unnoticed…who turn the grace of our God into lewdness…these dreamers defile the flesh, reject authority, and speak evil of dignitaries…these are sensual persons, who cause divisions, not having the Spirit” (Jude 4,8,19). Peter also predicted that “there will be false teachers among you who will secretly bring in destructive heresies…who walk according to the flesh in the lust of uncleanness and despise authority…having eyes full of adultery and that cannot cease from sin, enticing unstable souls…for when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error. While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption” (2 Peter 2:1,10,14,18,19).
A picture emerges of those who teach that behavior doesn’t matter, who offer a deceptive promise of liberty expressed through “great swelling words of emptiness.” Gnosticism was such a religion that posed a serious threat to Christianity during this period. Based on Babylonian and Persian magic, Greek philosophy and borrowing from the “mystery” religions,<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> it transformed itself into a number of forms of “Christianity,” some of which included gross immorality. During the Ephesus period these ideas were circulating widely, but the church as a whole was still rejecting them—“you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans”. Unfortunately, by the time of the church of Pergamos, the “doctrine of the Nicolaitans” had invaded the Church in a surprising way (see 2:14: Nicolaitans).
The messages to the seven churches, with a few bright exceptions, is a story of a downward spiral of compromise, heresy and defeat, with repeated calls to repent, or at least to hold onto what they still had. It is true that the church is the body of Christ, and “Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for her” (Ephesians 5:25). But the reality in this world is that the church has an enemy, Satan, who works vigilantly, “secretly bringing in destructive heresies” (2 Peter 2:1).
“To him that overcomes, I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God” (Revelation 2:7).The great hope in the messages to the churches is for those believers who accept the victory God has promised them. “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57). Despite the pressures of life and of the enemy, we can all be overcomers, because victory, just like faith, grace and forgiveness, is a gift of God that we can claim. “To him who overcomes” one of the most beautiful promises of scripture is given, access to “the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.” This is full restoration to the original state of perfection that Adam and Eve enjoyed in the Garden of Eden, where we will have intimate and eternal communion with our Creator.
Continue to next section: SMYRNA 2:8,9 TRIBULATION, POVERTY, SYNAGOGUE OF SATAN
<![if !supportFootnotes]> <![endif]> Wikipedia contributors, "Nicolaism," Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, http//en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Nicolaism&oldid=607624752 (accessed June 26 2014.
<![if !supportFootnotes]> <![endif]> The most popular of the Oriental religions of the time included the Great Mother, which originated in Asia Minor, Isis and Serapis from Egypt, and Mithras from Persia. Elements of these were mixed in a multitude of forms.