Tradition has it that the Apostle John, when released from the Island of Patmos, settled in Ephesus with Mary, the Mother of God. St. John being the beloved Apostle also had disciples of his own, such as Polycarp and Ignatius of Antioch; both Early Church Fathers. Here we can deduce that the Apostles trained competent men to succeed them, laying on of hands to confer their own Apostolic Authority upon them.
St. John wrote the Gospel attributed to him as well as the 3 Epistles of John and Revelation. Tradition also has it that he was the last of the Apostles to die. Jewish Christians and converts must have hung on every word of his. I believe that the Apostle John had his Apostolic Authority challenged by Nicolaus.
We get the first clue of this in St. Johns Book of Revelation. In the first chapter John is commanded to write what he sees to the 7 Churches. In the second chapter, a heretical group of Christians are mentioned by name: the Nicolaitans. The Early Church Fathers, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Epiphanius, and Theodoret, claim that the deacon Nicolaus was the author of this heresy
2 “‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear evil men but have tested those who call themselves apostles but are not, and found them to be false; 3 I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 5 Remember then from what you have fallen, repent and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. 6 Yet this you have, you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’
What I propose is that Jesus is revealing to his followers, that the authority He has given to the Apostles, can not be challenged by those not appointed by Him as Shepherds of His Church. His Church is guided by the Holy Spirit and will stand against the forces of evil. In verse Rev 2:2 we read that some who called themselves Christians, have taken upon themselves, the Apostolic Authority that Jesus conferred upon the Apostles Himself.
In verse Rev 2:6 we are given the names of this group of Christians: The Nicolaitans. Were the works of the Nicolaitans discovered to be false and that this group opposed John the Evangelists teaching? The fact that the Evangelist even mentions them in the Book of Revelation should give us pause to ask not only what they were teaching, but that they were opposing the Apostolic Authority of the Church leaders who were appointed by the Apostles or their successors.
In effect, the Nicolaitans were teaching heresy. And from Rev 2:6 we are told in the strongest possible language that Jesus Hates Heresy. Without getting into what the Nicolaitans were teaching and what their evil works were, we know that it was not from the teaching authority of the church.
What Constitutes Heresy?
This is not an all to difficult question to answer if you think about what the Evangelist is alluding too in the Book of Revelation. In Rev 2:12-17, again the Nicolaitans are referenced. This time though, the Nicolaitans are grouped with Satan and those that are a stumbling block to Israel, which in this case is the New Israel: Christians.
I believe that St. John is making very clear what constitutes heresy: It is any teaching not of Apostolic origin. In the Gospels, Jesus confers upon the Apostles, His Authority over His Church on Earth.
Luke 10:16 “The one who listens to you listens to Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me; and he who rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me.”
There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day.
Matthew 18:18 “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
1 John 4:6 We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
Acts 15:28 “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials;
If indeed John the Evangelist was residing in Ephesus during the time false apostles and the Nicolaitans were active, they were definitely disregarding St. Johns Apostolic Authority and therefore the Authority of Christ’s Church established on the faith of the Apostles; which is guided by the Holy Spirit.