Often, in the course of Bible study, an obscure reference is encountered that has significant meaning. One such reference is made concerning a doctrine that is attributed to a group called the Nicolaitans. Although there are many opinions about the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, the Bible provides many clues about what it means. A Bible study focused on who are the Nicolaitans in the book of Revelation will provide a starting place for study.
Where does the Bible mention the Nicolaitans?
Direct mention of the Nicolaitans is found in two places in Revelation 2. The first reference is found in Revelation 2:6 as follows: “But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” This reference is found in a passage of Scripture that describes one of the seven churches described in the book of Revelation (Revelation 2:1-3:22). The specific church being described is the church at Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-8).
How are the Nicolaitans described?
It Starts at Ephesus
The church at Ephesus was the first church mentioned of the seven churches.  Each church is mentioned by name and Ephesus is no exception. Likewise, each church name has a specific meaning that gives and overall attribute of the church described. For Ephesus, the meaning of the name is “desirable.” Reading through the description of Ephesus, it can be seen why. In Revelation 2:1-3, a description is given by Jesus of the church. In verse two, a description is made of knowledge of their work, their patience, and how they cannot bear those who are evil. It also says that they have tried (investigated) those who claim to be apostles and discovered that they were liars. In verse three, further description is made of how they maintained their faith and patience to work in the name of Jesus without fail.
In verses 4-5, mention is made the things that they do that are not so good. They are described as falling into sinful lifestyles and in need of repentance and living holy lives. But, in verse six, mention is made of how they please the Lord because they hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which the Lord also hates. With this in mind, it can be seen that the church in Ephesus had a hatred of things that were not in keeping with working for the Lord with patience, they hated evil, false prophets, and those who falsely claimed they held a position that they were not qualified to have (Acts 1:15-26; 1 Corinthians 4:9; 1 Corinthians 9:1; 2 Corinthians 11:12-15; Ephesians 3:1-5). This gives us the first description of the Nicolaitans, which is contrary to being desirable.
It Continues in Pergamos, Mixed with Balaam
With this first reference to the Nicolaitans in mind, the second reference will help give us a better idea of who they were: “So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate” (Revelation 2:15). This verse is part of a passage describing the third of the seven churches of Revelation (Revelation 1:12-17). This church, Pergamos, also had a special meaning to their name. The name Pergamos means “marriage.” The description of Pergamos explains why this meaning fits this church. In verses 12-13 the church is described by the Lord as holding fast to His name and not denying their faith in the face of martyrdom while dwelling “where the seat of Satan is.” However, in verse 14, the Lord had a few things against them. Of particular note was that they had members amongst them that held to the doctrine of Balaam. This doctrine was described as one that was taught by Balaam to cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel, eat foods sacrificed to idols, and to commit to fornication. Likewise, in verse 15, they too had amongst them those who held the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which the Lord hates.
At one time, Pergamos was the capital of Asia and was known for a great library and worship of several gods. Of particular note was temples to the Greek gods Athena and Zeus that stood over 800 feet tall. Likewise, Roman Emperor worship was also present in the city (1). These altars and temples had great influence on the population. With this in mind, the reference to the doctrine of Balaam was made (Revelation 2:14). This reference ties this doctrine to Balaam as described in Numbers 22-25.
Balaam was a prophet who lived during the times of Moses and had a friendship with a pagan king of the Moabites named Balak. Balak sent princes to meet with Balaam so that they could convince him through promises of favor to curse the Israelites. After extensive negotiations he decided to follow them back to Moab. However, on the way, he had an encounter with an angel that resulted in an event where the donkey he was riding on stopped because it saw the angel, so Balaam beat the donkey. At this point, the Lord gave the ass the ability to speak and immediately after an angel appeared to Balaam. The angel told him to proceed, but to tell Balak that the Israelites were protected and blessed by the Lord. When he arrived, the king provided feasts and celebrations in Balaam’s honor. Yet, Balaam would not curse the Israelites, but instead told Balak how God would bring calamity to Balak’s nation. Balak was angered and sent Balaam away empty handed. Later, Balaam decided that since he could not curse the Israelites, he could give the king advice on how to defeat them. He advised the king to have his people intermarry with them so that they would be seduced into worshipping of idols. The king took his advice and the result was that the Israelites began to intermarry. This angered the Lord and caused an uprising amongst the Israelites that weakened them.
Balaam & Nicolas’ Teachings: God Hates It
This is the foundation of the doctrine of Balaam. This doctrine  is ever so present in many churches today. Things that were staunchly rejected by the church just 50 years ago are embraced today. When you combine the doctrine of Balaam with the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, we find a church that is married to the ways of the world. This is observed in numerous cases I have encountered in Biblical counseling. It is common amongst many professing Christians to do many things that their unchurched friends do from heavy drinking to sexual relations with other self-described believers. The rejection of sound Biblical teaching and acceptance of worldly practices only serves as an example of a marriage made in hell.
Finally, this worldly practice became attributed to Nicolas, a deacon, known as a proselyte of Antioch (Acts 6:5-6) who is reported to have started a cult that promoted worldly practices, many of which were sexual in nature, by Christian followers (2). It also promotes the acceptance of other religions by Christians as being equally valid. Today, many groups refer to modern Christians as Nicolaitans.
The doctrine of the Nicolaitans comes from the teaching of certain groups and individuals who promoted intermixing, or marrying the church with the world. It is referred to as a common practice in the end times and manifests itself in the rejection of sound Biblical principles for worldly ways. God hates the doctrine of the Nicolaitans.
Take a look at this related article: What is the Story of the Talking Donkey in the Bible? 
Resources – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, King James Version. (1) Younce, Max D. (2015), The Book of Revelation: God’s Final Word to Man. Kearney, NE. Morris Publishing, Pages 87-92. (2) Williams, Frank (1987). The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis. Book I (Sects 1-46). Leiden; New York; København; Köln: E.J. Brill. p.77.