One of the more fascinating and thought provoking sermon messages from this year’s Feast of Tabernacles concerned the issue of overcoming and what it is exactly that we should be overcoming (the short answer, for the purposes of this blog entry, without going into too much detail, is our own will, as opposed to the will of God). It is not the primary purpose of this particular essay to explore what it is that a believer has to overcome (although this is a question worthy of investigation). Rather, it is the purpose of this particular essay to briefly examine the seven promises made to those who do overcome in this life and reflect upon what that means for believers. We will begin with the assumption that the promises made in Revelation 2 and 3 apply at least theoretically to all believers, even if the promises are specifically tailored to the situation of each of the seven churches of Revelation 2 and 3 that are the audience of this book (however one views them).
First, let us look at the seven promises that are given to the churches of Revelation and lay them out before making comments on them. The first promise to him who overcomes is to the church of Ephesus, in Revelation 2:7: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.” The church at Smyrna is promised in Revelation 2:11: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.” The church at Pergamos is promised in Revelation 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 to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.” The church at Thyatira is promised in Revelation 2:26-28: “And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations–‘He shall rule them with a rod of iron; they shall be dashed to pieces like the potter’s vessels’–as I also have received from My father; and I will give him the morning star.” The church at Sardis is promised in Revelation 3:5: “He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life, but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.” The church at Philadelphia is promised in Revelation 3:12: “He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. 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 out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name.” Finally, in Revelation 3:21 we see the promise to the Church at Laodicea: “To whom who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcome and sat down with My Father on His throne.”
What kind of similarities and parallels can we notice among this suite of promises? For one, many of these promises relate to the promise of eternal life, which is reflected in several different ways. Eating from the tree of life which is in the midst of the Paradise of God, not being hurt by the second death, eating some of the hidden manna, not having one’s name blotted out of the Book of Life are all related to the promise of eternal life that applies to all believers who overcome and endure until the end of their lives or the end of this present age. There are other concerns related to power, including the promise that believers who overcome will rule with Christ and crush the nations with a rod of iron and will also be granted the power to sit with Jesus Christ on His throne. Other concerns are related to names, including being given a new name that no one knows except the one given the name as well as receiving the name of God and the name of the New Jerusalem as well as the new name of Jesus Christ.
These three concerns are an intriguing set, involving life, identity, and purpose. Despite the variation present in the language of the promises to the seven churches, these three concerns are all mentioned in at least two of the seven churches, and the basic promise of eternal life appears in four of the churches. Some churches, of course, receive elements of multiple types of promise. It is striking that believers in general are given promises relating to these three specific elements. First, the most common promise given is one of eternal life, which is the foundation of all promises given by God to those who accept His offer of grace and forgiveness of sin. Once eternal life is established, then two additional elements are addressed. The first is a name and an identity that reflects the world to come and not the world that we come from, including the name of the city we belong to and the name of our God and our Savior. Likewise, once we are given eternal life and a new identity, we are given a purpose, ruling the nations under the authority of Jesus Christ. These three sets of promises provide coherence and purpose for believers.
Having examined briefly the sorts of rewards promised to those who overcome, let us praise God that we will be given the chance to apply those skills in developing godly judgment that we learn in this life (see 1 Corinthians 6:1-11 ) in larger states, as he (or she) who is faithful in little will be faithful in much. Let us therefore learn how to judge properly, how to gain evidence before jumping to conclusions, how to give the benefit of the doubt, how to provide an atmosphere by which we can resolve conflicts through communication and mutual mercy and forgiveness, showing proper Christian love for all, especially those of the household of faith. Once we learn and apply these truths in our own lives, in our own relationships, and in our own institutions, we can then develop enough practice so that it will become second nature to us by the time that we will receive the promises from God for our faith.