Immediately following Revelation 2:14, the Nicolaitans are mentioned again. “In the same way…”—these words especially form a link with the preceding words. The Lord shows His disapproval of the teaching of Balaam; in the same way the Lord disapproves of the teaching of the Nicolaitans. In the Bible God Himself has ordained what the church should be like. Read Matthew 20:25-28: “But Jesus called them to Him and said, You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever wants to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.” Do you see? The church is established by the Lord; a class of princes and those who are great is not permitted. The Lord said that whoever wants to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever is the servant is the chief. Greatness is not decided on the basis of position, but on the basis of service. If you look into Matthew 23:8-11, it is even more evident. The basic principle of the church is: All are brothers; there are no rabbis, no instructors, no fathers.
When Constantine accepted Christianity, the teaching of Balaam occurred and the teaching of the Nicolaitans appeared. We see here the system of the fathers. Among the many fathers, the one who stands above them all is the pope. When anyone kisses his feet, he must cry, “My Lord.” At the same time there are high officials in the Vatican, and many countries are represented by ambassadors and ministers. There are kings and high officials; there are those who are called father and those who are called rabbi. This is the teaching of the Nicolaitans which we have seen. Those who have position and reputation in the world must be careful not to bring the things of the world into the church. If you cannot call the humble one who sits beside you a brother, something is wrong with you. When you are sitting among the brothers and sisters, and yet you cannot be a brother or sister, then the Nicolaitans appear. The word laos in the original Greek word nikaolaos not only means laity (common people), but it also means laymen in contrast with experts and specialists. For example, the medical doctors are specialists, and those who are not are called laymen. When a carpenter meets another carpenter, they are of the same trade and both experts. When he meets one who is not a carpenter, he calls him a layman or one who is outside the trade. Nicolait means to conquer the laymen, indicating that there is a group of people who are experts, that is, men inside the trade, while the rest are laymen, that is, men outside the trade. The Lord says that this is what He is “against.”
The condition of the church in Ephesus and that of the church in Pergamos are different. The church in Ephesus only has the behavior of the Nicolaitans, while the church in Pergamos has the teaching of the Nicolaitans. It takes some time for behavior to become a teaching. If a certain behavior is manifested and then a doctrine is preached, this involves not only the ability to behave, but also the ability to produce a theory based on that behavior. This is a further step. Behavior comes before teaching. When teaching appears, that is quite serious. Several years ago I met a church member who took a concubine. Someone asked me to advise him. Not only did he think that it was all right to take a concubine, but he also brought out examples in the Bible to cover his sin. Taking a concubine is behavior; quoting the Bible becomes a teaching. So likewise today, there is the open teaching of the Nicolaitans. How did Pergamos form this teaching? We have already said that after Constantine accepted Christianity as the state religion, the church became married to the world. As long as one was a Roman, he could be baptized; hence, the church was filled with unbelievers. Originally, only brothers were in the church, and all the brothers were priests. Then a mixed multitude came in. To ask them to serve God was impossible. For convenience sake then, they chose a group of people, saying, “You attend to the spiritual matters; the others can still be the common people, the laymen.” Many of those who became church members did not know the Lord Jesus at all; therefore, those who knew the Lord Jesus became the experts. As a result, the Nicolaitans appeared. This is the inevitable result of a marriage between the church and the world. What the Nicolaitans did was only a kind of behavior in Ephesus, but in Pergamos it became a kind of teaching. Thereafter, the church became the business of the experts, not the laymen. It became a teaching that it is all right for men not to be spiritual, that spiritual affairs can be entrusted to the care of the experts, and that the common people may just attend to secular affairs. It became a doctrine that there are two kinds of people in the church: Those who undertake spiritual affairs and those who take care of secular things. For the ordinary, common people, it is enough just to attend the meetings; they need not care about other things. If someone tried to bring in the principles of meeting in 1 Corinthians 14, it would not work. The doctrine of Balaam brought in the teaching of the Nicolaitans.