Philippe R. Sterling
Popular Christian culture refers to overcomers. Mandisa recorded a hit song called Overcomers. Priscilla Shirer, daughter of Tony Evans, has produced and starred in a series of commercially successful movies with the general title of Overcomers. Some churches use the word overcomer in their names.
Are you an overcomer? Who are the overcomers and what are the promises made to them?
Who Are the Overcomers?
The Apostle John refers to overcomers in 1 John and in Revelation.
John wrote of overcoming the world three times in 1 John 5:4-5, “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.”
This could be a positional kind of overcoming. When we believe in Christ, we overcome the world which was trying to keep us from believing in Him. This kind of overcoming would apply to all believers who are positionally in Christ.
It could also be an experiential kind of overcoming. The reference to faith would be to living by faith. When a believer lives by faith, he overcomes the world in his experience.
John wrote about overcomers eight times in Revelation. There are four primary views concerning these overcomers.
There is the all-believers view. All believers become overcomers when they believe in Christ. This position emphasizes faith in Jesus rather than faithfulness to Him. All believers receive the promises made to overcomers.
There is the loss of salvation view. Jesus exhorted believers to overcome so as not to lose eternal life and experience the second death which is the lake of fire.
There is the perseverance view. All genuine believers persevere and overcome by living godly and obedient lives. Overcoming proves the genuineness of believing.
There is the eternal reward view. The overcomer in Revelation is the believer who perseveres and remains faithful to Jesus until death or until His return. Jesus will reward the overcomer in addition to the free gift of eternal life.
Believers encounter conflicts and trials of many kinds and degrees. Jesus promises rewards to believers who overcome. The context of the overcomers in Revelation supports the eternal reward view.
Jesus specified specific instances of overcoming. To the church at Ephesus overcoming meant to return to their first love for Jesus. To the church at Smyrna overcoming meant to be faithful in persecution even to death. To the church at Pergamum overcoming meant to resist immorality and idolatry. To the church at Thyatira overcoming meant not to tolerate immorality and idolatry. To the church at Sardis overcoming meant to be watchful and hold fast to what they had received. To the church at Philadelphia overcoming meant to persevere in faithful obedience to the end. To the church at Laodicea overcoming meant to turn from spiritual apathy and fellowship with Christ.
What Are the Promises Made to Overcomers?
Letter to Ephesus
To the believer who listens and overcomes, Jesus promises that he will eat of the Tree of Life which is in the Paradise of God. Revelation 22:2 states that the tree of life will bear twelve kinds of fruit. Perhaps each fruit will impart a special quality of spiritual life to the eater. Access to the tree of life will be limited (22:14). For example, a believer who adds to or takes away from the words of the prophecy of Revelation will forfeit the right to eat of the fruit of the tree (22:19).
Letter to Smyrna
Jesus promised that the one who overcame would in no way be hurt by the second death. The second death is judgment at the Great White Throne, the lake of fire, separation from God forever (Rev 20:14). Jesus employed a figure of speech called litotes. Litotes is an assertion that understates the reality referenced. Jesus was saying that He would abundantly repay the faithful believer for the sacrifice he made. His eternal experience would be as far beyond the reach of the second death as can be imagined.
The first death is not the end. There is another life to come. The glories of the life to come contrast sharply with the dark shadows of persecution and death.
Letter to Pergamum
To those who overcome, Jesus promised three things: 1) hidden manna, 2) a white stone, 3) a new name.
Jesus does not want believers to be lured away from fellowship with Him. If we refuse to be drawn away by the enticements of false religions, Jesus promises “hidden manna,” special fellowship meals with Him.
Jesus will also give us a white stone inscribed with a new name. Such a white stone with one’s name on it was the basis for admission to special events. It was also a custom to reward victors at the games with such a token enabling them to gain admission to a special feast. The “hidden manna,” the other part of the reward, also suggests a reference to the Messianic feast. The white stone is, then, a personalized tessara, which would serve as a token of admission to this great future feast. The giving of the white stone to the believer indicates that he has been favored by Jesus. The new name might reflect the proven character of the overcoming believer.
Letter to Thyatira
The overcomer is the one who keeps the work of Jesus to the end. Jesus promised the overcomer the privilege of ruling with Him over the nations and sharing in His royal splendor.
Jesus is going to come and rule the nations. Some believers of the church age will rule with Him. Not all believers will have this opportunity. Only those who have earned that right by being faithful to the end of their lives or until His coming for them at the rapture. Jesus will reward the faithful by making them rulers with Him.
Jesus will give the overcoming believer the morning star. He says in Revelation 22:16 that He is “The Bright and Morning Star.” This may refer to His royal splendor. Thus He may be promising the overcomer a share in His royal splendor. All believers will be glorified, but not all will share the royal splendor of Jesus and the privilege of reigning with Him.
Letter to Sardis
Jesus promised the overcomer three things.
First, the overcomer will walk with Christ in white garments, the symbol of righteous acts (Rev 19:8). This is not the imputed righteousness of Christ given to all who believe in Him for everlasting life. This is an added reward reflected in royal clothing. The word “white” can have the meaning of “bright and shining.” Like a bright and shining diamond the garments will have many colors and hues reflecting the overcomer’s devotion and service to Christ in this life.
Second, Jesus will keep the overcomer’s name in the Book of Life. The overcomer in Revelation is the believer who is faithful until physical death or the Rapture. The “name” can refer to a person’s self or to a person’s reputation. The immediate context indicates the meaning. In Rev 13:8, 17:8, and 21:27 “name” refers to a person’s self. In this context, the removal of the “name” from the Book of Life may be the removal of a commendable reputation. The overcomer can gain a new name (2:17; 3:12), a commendable reputation or title which conforms to his faithfulness.
The program at my Dallas Theological Seminary’s graduation ceremony contained the names of all the graduates. Besides some of the names was one star, two stars, or three stars, representing graduating with honor, high honor, or highest honor.
In addition, Jesus may also have used the figure of speech litotes, an understatement in which an affirmative is expressed by the negative of its contrary, such as saying “you won’t be sorry” and meaning “you’ll be glad.” By saying that He would not remove the overcomer’s name from the Book of Life, Jesus meant that He would highlight the overcomer’s commendable reputation.
The third promise of Jesus clarified this, “I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.” Jesus will declare the overcomer’s commendable reputation before the Father and His angels. If we are faithful to the end, Jesus will tell the story of our faithfulness and it will reverberate mouth to mouth throughout all future ages.
The Letter to Philadelphia
Most of this letter is composed of promises. Jesus went on to promise several eternal rewards to the overcoming believer.
The overcoming believer will be “a pillar in the temple of My God.” We know from Rev 21:22 that in the New Jerusalem “the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.” This reward could involve a special nearness to God the Father and God the Son and a prominent supportive position in the administration of the New Jerusalem and of the new creation. The following phrase “he shall go out no more” could indicate the permanence of the position.
The symbolism would be meaningful to people who lived in constant danger of earthquakes. These pillars will never be shaken. There will never be a need to flee the city.
Ancient cities often honored great leaders by erecting pillars with their names inscribed on them. God’s pillars are not made of stone. His pillars are faithful people who bear His name.
Jesus will write three names upon the overcoming believer: the name of the Father, the name of the New Jerusalem, and His name. God’s name reveals facets of His person. There are facets of the person of the Father and of the Son which have not yet been made known, but which Jesus will make known to the overcomer. We may wonder why the overcomer would also carry the name of the New Jerusalem. Some are given the “key to a city” to honor their connection to that city. Having the name of the New Jerusalem would reflect the overcomer’s special connection to the city.
The Letter to Laodicea
Jesus promised the overcomer a seat with Him on His throne. Among the many believers of this age, only overcomers will be granted that honor. Not everyone will have a crown and sit on a throne with Christ.
Every believer will have the righteousness of Christ. We will all have a glorified body. We will all be citizens of the kingdom. There might be a few other things which we will all have in common. But after that, for most of the things which we will have, there will be great differences in the measure of glory, and of capacity to serve, and of intimacy with the Lord.
Our relationship with the Lord will be different for each one of us. There are some who will have a close physical proximity to the King of kings. They will have access to His immediate physical presence in a way that others will not. It will not be based on how famous we were in this age or how big our ministry was. It will be based on our faithfulness and love for Him.
The overcomer rewards include the type of the dwelling place we will have in the New Jerusalem, the garments we will wear, the food we will enjoy, the intimacy we will experience with Christ, the status and authority we will have. These privileges will not be solely for our benefit. We have been created to glorify God by loving and serving others. These privileges will enable overcomers to do just that in the millennial kingdom and in the new heaven and the new earth.
Revelation 21:7 – The Final Overcomer Promise
God makes a final promise to the overcomer, “He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son.” “My son” is singular, but it applies to all overcomers. God adopts overcomers as “sons.” All the rights and privileges of sonship come with this promise. The overcomer will rule with God over the new heaven and new earth as God’s son. All believers are children of God by faith alone, but only overcomers are sons of God appointed to rule over the new creation as a reward for their faithful service.
Jesus linked a believer’s overcoming with His overcoming in Rev 3:21. Jesus overcame by finishing the work the Father gave Him to do (John 4:34; 17:4). Let us follow His example and become overcomers by finishing the work God has given us to do.