Amplified Bible (AMP)
2 To the angel (messenger) of the assembly (church) in Ephesus write: These are the words of Him Who holds the seven stars [which are the messengers of the seven churches] in His right hand, Who goes about among the seven golden lampstands [which are the seven churches]:
2 I know your industry and activities, laborious toil and trouble, and your patient endurance, and how you cannot tolerate wicked [men] and have tested and critically appraised those who call [themselves] apostles (special messengers of Christ) and yet are not, and have found them to be impostors and liars.
3 I know you are enduring patiently and are bearing up for My name’s sake, and you have not fainted or become exhausted or grown weary.
4 But I have this [one charge to make] against you: that you have left (abandoned) the love that you had at first [you have deserted Me, your first love].
5 Remember then from what heights you have fallen. Repent (change the inner man to meet God’s will) and do the works you did previously [when first you knew the Lord], or else I will visit you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you change your mind and repent.
6 Yet you have this [in your favor and to your credit]: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans [what they are doing as corrupters of the people], which I Myself also detest.
7 He who is able to hear, let him listen to and give heed to what the Spirit says to the assemblies (churches). To him who overcomes (is victorious), I will grant to eat [of the fruit] of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.(A)
Jesus starts out giving the 'good news' to the Church at Ephesus by recognizing the good things about them and then goes into the bad.
The good things: working hard, patient (twice mentioned), intolerant of wicked men, testing false teachers and proving them wrong, bearing up for Jesus, and not grown weary.
The bad thing (only one thing): Leaving their first love (Jesus). Jesus even goes so far as to say that they have abandoned the love that they had for Jesus in the beginning and that they have deserted Him, their first love.
So, basically, the Church at Ephesus has been great at working hard for God doing good works, being patient and enduring, and calling out the false teachers. But, they've lost the kind of special love that they used to have for Jesus. It's as if they became so caught up in doing good, doing all the right things, that they left their special love for Jesus behind and ignored it. They're not focusing on their love for Jesus first. They are too consumed with 'busy work.' Jesus feels abandoned and deserted because of this.
So, Jesus tells them: 1) Remember how far you've fallen 2) Repent, change your inner self to meet God's will 3) do the works that you did previously (when you first knew the Lord).
Then He gives a threat: 'Or else I will visit you and remove your lampstand from its place.' I'm not really sure what that means, to be honest, but it's obviously something bad. But, He reminds/encourages them again to 'change your mind and repent.'
Then, He does something curious in that He suddenly mentions a new thing that they have done which is very good on their part. He says, 'in your favor and to your credit'...'you hate the works of the nicolaitans (what they are doing as corrupters of the people)'...'which I Myself also detest.' Who or what are the nicolaitans?
First of all, let's backtrack. I looked up the Book of Ephesians, which is actually a letter that Paul wrote probably decades earlier. In the Book of Ephesians I noticed that much is made about the spiritual life: spiritual blessings, spiritual wisdom, being made alive with Christ, peace and oneness with Christ, being a temple for the Lord, Paul reveals God's mysterious plan, spiritual growth, unity in the body, living as children of Light, living in the Light, living by the Spirit's power, Spirit-guided relationships (husband and wife, children and parents, slaves and masters), and putting on the whole armor of God. This sounds like a really good Church that particularly focuses on the Spirit-led life and oneness with Jesus.
Now, who are the nicolaitans?
Wikipedia says (snuggled under a series on gnosticism):
Nicolaism (also Nicholaism, Nicolationism, or Nicolaitanism) is a Christian heresy, first mentioned (twice) in the Book of Revelation of the New Testament, whose adherents were called Nicolaitans, Nicolaitanes, or Nicolaites. According to Revelation 2, vv. 6 and 15, they were known in the cities of Ephesus and Pergamon. In this chapter, the church at Ephesus is commended for "hating the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate" and the church in Pergamon is blamed for "having them who hold their [the Nicolaitans'] doctrines". There is no other first-hand evidence to give us certainty about the nature of this sect.
Hippolytus of Rome states that the deacon Nicolas was the author of the heresy and the sect. Several of the early church fathers, including Irenaeus, Epiphanius, and Theodoret mentioned this group. Irenaeus discusses them but adds nothing to the Apocalypse except that "they lead lives of unrestrained indulgence." Victorinus of Pettau states that they ate things offered to idols. Bede states that Nicolas allowed other men to marry his wife and Thomas Aquinas believed that Nicholas supported either polygamy or the holding of wives in common. Eusebius said that the sect was short-lived.
URL Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/nicolaism
Word of Truth Radio says:
Nicolaitans: One of the heretical sects that plagued the churches at Ephesus and at Pergamum, and perhaps elsewhere. Irenaeus identifies the Nicolaitans as a Gnostic sect: “John, the disciple of the Lord, preaches this faith (the deity of Christ), and seeks, by the proclamation of the Gospel, to remove that error which by Cerinthus had been disseminated among men, and a long time previously by those termed Nicolaitans, who are an offset of that “knowledge” falsely so called, that he might confound them, and persuade them that there is but one God, who made all things by His Word” (see Irenaeus Against Heresies iii 11. 1; ANF vol. 1, p. 426) There is also historical evidence of a Gnostic sect called Nitolaitans a century or so later.
The doctrine of the Nicolaitans appears to have been a form of antinomianism. (Antinomianism: A belief that is based upon a recognition of the mercy of God as the ground of salvation, but it makes the fatal mistake that man can freely partake in sin because the Law of God is no longer binding. It held the truth on the gratuitous reckoning of righteousness; but supposed that a mere intellectual “belief” in this truth had a saving power. The Apostle James refuted this error in James 2:19 with the admonition, "The devils also believe, and tremble"; reminding us that true faith is an active principle which works by love and it goes beyond a profession of belief. "But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?" (James 2:20) The Bible teaches us that salvation is a free gift, based upon God's grace alone (Ephesians 2:8-9) However, the very next verse tells us that "we are created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." (Ephesians 2:10) True faith produce action, as well as a desire for holiness and obedience. (1 John 3:18, Titus 2:11-15, 1 Peter 1:15-16, Revelation 14:12)
Nicolaitans of the 2nd century seem to have continued and extended the views of the 1st century adherents, holding to the freedom of the flesh and sin, and teaching that the deeds of the flesh had no effect upon the health of the soul and consequently no relation to salvation. On the other hand, the Bible teaches that Christians are supposed to "die" to sin and the deeds of our "flesh": "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?" (Romans 6:1-2) "Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God." (Romans 6:11-13)
Today, the doctrine is now largely taught that the gospel of Christ has made God's law of no effect: that by “believing” we are released from the necessity of being doers of the Word. But this is the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which Christ so unsparingly condemned in the book of Revelation. "But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves." (James 1:22)
URL Link: http://www.wordoftruthradio.com/questions/38.html
So, basically, the nicolaitans centered around Ephesus and Pergamon and taught and lived out a horrible belief which corrupted themselves and others they influenced. Their belief was that, in their view, because they are 'saved' by simply having an intellectual belief (in other words more of a 'i kinda agree with this but don't necessarily strictly adhere to it' passe belief) that they can do whatever they feel like doing and sin all they want because they are 'saved' anyway. Jesus and the Church at Ephesus both hated this. That was something that Jesus took particular care to commend the Church at Ephesus of.
Then He again admonishes the Church at Ephesus to 'overcome' and He will grant whoever overcomes to eat of the fruit of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.