To him who overcomes: The Promises of Revelation 2 -3
(The following material is a refinement and expansion of some notes prepared for a Sunday School class I recently taught.)
Introduction & Context
- Brief Outline of the Structure of Revelation; “The Book of Sevens” :
- 7 Churches, 7 Seals, 7 Trumpets, 7 Bowls of Wrath
- One Other group of 7: The 7 Thunders (10:1-4) between the 6th and 7th Trumpets. Lesson of the 7 Thunders = We don’t have the full story...
- The Letters to the Seven Churches (Chapter 2 - 3)
- Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea
- “I know...” 2:2, 2:9, 2:13, 2:19, 3:1, 3:8, 3:15
- Indictment & Warning: “But I have...” (Exception of Smyrna & Philadelphia)
- Exhortation: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
- A Promise to him who overcomes.
- Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea
The Promises to him who Overcomes:
- The one receiving the promises: “To him who overcomes (νικῶντι)...” conquers, being victorious, one who wins.. (I John 2: 13 - 14, 5:4-5) (Persus identifies νικῶντι as the 3rd pl pres ind act of νικάω.)
John uses the the same verb, νικάω, in his first epistle. In I John 5:4-5, we are told that the mark of our being one who overcomes is our faith.
"For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world— our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?"
Faith is a vital element of what it means to overcome.
(In I John 2:13-14, while addressing the young men, “overcome “ is in the perfect tense, speaking of one who “has overcome and continues to overcome”. The “overcomes” in Rev. 2-3 is present tense, with focus on “the one who is overcoming...”.)
- All the things promised in the seven letters to the seven churches to the one who overcomes are pointing to different aspects of the one main overarching thing that is the central focus of these promises; eternal life in the new heavens and the new earth. Each of the things promised point to some specific aspect of what that eternal life will be like. (Kudos to my friend Mark Evans for pointing this out.)
- Ephesus (2:7) “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.' - Genesis 2:15, 3:22-23
As a consequence of the fall, in Genesis 3:22-23 mankind is barred from access to the tree of life.
"Then the LORD God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—" therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life."
The promise is that in the consummation, the overcoming one will no longer be denied access to the tree of life. The redeemed humanity will be allowed to partake of its benefits (Revelation 22:1-2).
- Smyrna (2:11) “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death."
The phrase “Second death” is found only in Revelation: 20:6, 20:14, 21:8 The second death is clearly identified as the lake of fire. This promise reiterates the specific promise in vs. 10 regarding the crown of life, and expands the scope of the promise beyond the specific believers in Smyrna who are the focus of vs. 10.
- Pergamum (2:17) “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.”
The reference to manna brings to mind the imagery of Exodus 16 and how God fed the children of Israel in the wilderness. In John’s Gospel account, Jesus makes reference to that account in his Bread of Life discourse in John 6.
The best understanding of the white stone has reference to an athletic event. The victors would be given a white stone with their name on it . This white stone was their ticket to the athletic banquet held after the competition (MacArthur, Thomas). This is rather striking imagery when considered in the eschatological context of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.
- Thyatira (2:26-29) “The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. And I will give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.'
Psalm 2, “the morning star” Isaiah 14:12, 2 Peter 1:19, Revelation 22:16
The imagery of this promise immediately points us to the Messianic features of Psalm 2.
- Sardis (3:5-6) “The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.'
"the book of life" - Philippians 4:3, Revelation 13:8, 17:8, 20:12, 20:15, 21:27
- Philadelphia (3:12-13) “The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Revelation 21:1-4, 21:9-10
The placing of someones name on another was a sign of ownership. The placing of these three names on the one who overcomes is the assurance that they belong to Christ.
- Laodicea (3:21-22) “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
Hebrews 8:1, 12:2 Revelation 12:5,
On what basis do we overcome? From Romans 8:31 - 39, verse 37 states that we are “overwhelming conquerors” through him who loved us.
In I John 2, it is our faith that overcomes. In Romans 8:37, the same word is used as the root word for a compound verb form. The prefix used in this compound construction carries the meaning of overflowing, or overwhelming, above and beyond. In this Roman passage, our overwhelming overcoming is based on “him who loved us...”
Putting together these two thoughts from I John 2 and Romans 8, we overcome by faith in “him who loved us...”; faith in Jesus Christ, faith in His word, faith in His promises.
The promises found in Revelation 2 - 3 are for all those who overcome through faith in Jesus Christ and His promises.
Bible (ESV, NASB, KJV)
The New Greek - English Interlinear New Testament; (Nestle/Aland Greek text); (Tyndale House, 1990)
Revelation 1-7: An Exegetical Commentary; Robert L. Thomas; (Moody Press, 1995)
The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Revelation 1-11; John MacArthur Jr.; (Moody Press, 1999)
The Perseus Digital Library