As we move through John’s Revelation, we’re going to be meeting some recurring characters. Besides Jesus Himself, and of course John, today we meet the Nicolatians, one of John’s favorite targets. He mentions them a few times here and they will show up again, but who were they to receive such vitriol form John?
We have to go back to Acts 6:5 and the founding of the modern day Deacon. Seven men were appointed to be Deacons and to serve the poor and widows, freeing up the apostles to preach and teach rather than wait tables. One of these seven was Stephen the Martyr, stoned to death for his witness as Saul (later the Apostle Paul) looked on approvingly. Another was Nicolas, who became the founder of the Nicolatians.
Jump forward to the book of Revelation and we find these people rebuked by John the Apostle. Why? At the time of Revelation, Domitian was Emperor and required everyone to worship him as a god. Christians obviously wouldn’t, so any that he noticed were persecuted. The persecution continually increased until Domitian was rounding up Christians, dipping them in tar and then lighting them on fire to be used as torches to light his great feasts. Loved ones were killed, children taken, and so the book of Revelation is partially a call to endure.
The only place to purchase anything was an open market called the Agora, and to enter it, one had to burn incense in worship of Domitian. Since Christians refused to do this, they could neither buy nor sell in the Agora. The Nicolatians decided that if they burned the incense but just pretended to worship Domitian, then that was ok. Essentially they “crossed their fingers” as they entered the Agora and so didn’t have to suffer for their faith. Among the rest of the church who were losing loved ones to Domitian, you can imagine the hatred they developed for these “traitors” and “pretenders”.
Are there any ways that we are living like the Nicolatians today? Where are we giving in to our culture instead of facing the difficulty of standing against it for our faith?