In the Word of the Lord, particularly in Revelation 2 and 3 and in the first epistle of John as well as the gospel of John, we have the word “overcomers” used a number of times. There seems to be some confusion and misunderstanding concerning the identity, origin and destiny of persons designated “overcomers.” The simplest meaning of the term “to overcome” is “to conquer,” “to win a victory”-either in a lawsuit (Rom. 3:4), or in a war (Rev. 6:2), or in moral conflicts (Rom. 12:21), or in a spiritual conflict (I John 2:13, 14).The Greek noun for “overcomer” is translated “victory.” See I John 5:4; Matt. 12:20; I Cor. 15:54, 55, 57. The Greek verb “to overcome” is sometimes translated “to prevail,” other times “to conquer” and at other times “to overcome.” The idea inherent in this word translated “overcome” is unchanging – it always means a contest or a conflict ending in victory. The whole idea is part of the agelong battle between God and Satan in which human beings are either on the side of God or of Satan. Men’s bodies and material possessions are the weapons that are used in this conflict and are therefore to be brought under the control of the Christian through the power of the Holy Spirit if he is to be an overcomer. If the Christian is overcome by the lust of the flesh, and the love of material possessions, he will lose his rewards (I Cor. 9:24-27). The overcomer is promised great rewards for a particular victory, which will be considered later in the discussion.
The assertion that all believers are overcomers is so contary to fact that one wonders that it has ever been made. If all Christians are overcomers, then it follows that no Christian can sin or backslide or do anything that would displease God. If all Christians are overcomers, then evidently there is no conflict, there is no great fight of faith, and all warnings to Christians and urgent pleadings of the Spirit for such Christians to strive for maturity and perfection in Christian growth are for nought. If all Christians are overcomers, then it is true that it doesn’t make any difference how a Christian lives after he is saved. The greatest incentive that God has placed in His Word for godly living is to be found in the promises made to the overcomers.
Peter was overcome by fear in the house of the high priest and denied the Lord. Was he the last? Ananias and Sapphira were overcome by the love of money and pride of reputation. Were they the last? Demas forsook Paul, being in love with the present world in which he lived. Was he the last? Many
in the church at Corinth were overcome by physical lusts. Were they the last? If all Christians are overcomers, how can the love of many of them wax cold? See Matt. 24:12. If all Christians are overcomers, why are they warned against losing their crowns? See Rev. 3:11. If all Christians are overcomers, why are the just and faithful offered crowns? See I Cor. 9:24-27; I Thess. 2:19; II Tim. 4:8; James 1:12; I Peter 5:4. If all Christians are overcomers, why are the unfaithful threatened with punishment and loss of rewards? See I Cor. 3:15; Luke 12:47; 19:11-27; Rev. 16:16.
The overcomers are a separate and distinct class of Christians for whom special rewards are offered and particular honors accorded. There are and have always been faithful and unfaithful Christians-Obedient and disobedient children of the Lord – carnal and spiritual Christians – overcomers and those who are overcome. There is no conflict in an individual’s life until he has been saved. After salvation has come to an individual, then the flesh strives against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh, with one or the other winning the victory. See Gal. 5:17-21; Eph. 6:10-18.
The passage of Scripture which. is used to try to prove that all Christians are overcomers is I John 5:1-5. Here we read, “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God,” and “whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world” (vv. 1,4). To overcome the world requires FAITH in the Lord Jesus Christ FIRST OF ALL. All the world is in opposition to God and hinders true obedience. But that which is born of God overcometh the world, and it is our faith which overcomes. WHAT FAITH? It is the faith which is occupied with the Son of God and is obedient to His commands-that is the faith of the believer which overcomes the world. Who but he who has faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is capable of keeping His commandments and thus overcoming the world? Overcoming is a lifelong business and being born of God starts us off, gives the right, endows us with the power-but we have the work before us day by day, and only in active obedience through faith can one overcome. He that believeth that Jesus is the Christ overcomes the world; he that believeth that Jesus is going to rule and reign – he that believes in the coming Kingdom and the possibility of our sharing it with Him if we are faithful – that is the one who overcomes the world.
According to I John 5:1-5, overcoming the world is accomplished by believing that Jesus is the Christ (the Messiah – the King for a thousand years during the Millennium), and then by keeping His commandments. This can be done only through our faith. And to the victor – the overcomer – are offered great and wondrous rewards.
The Church in Ephesus
In the seven epistles to the seven churches of Revelation 2 and 3, we have a distinct promise in each of the seven letters to “him that overcometh.” We will devote our studies in this issue to the overcomer in the church of Ephesus (Rev. 2:1-7). “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God” (Rev. 2:7b). It should be of great interest to note that the promises to the overcomer are addressed to individuals and not to the church as a whole. This should be accepted as conclusive evidence that all the Christian members of a church are not overcomers, but particular ones win the victory in the conflict with the world, the flesh and the devil.
To understand the overcomer in Ephesus, we must first consider what is the sin, fault or error to be overcome. This is set forth in the Lord’s condemnation in Rev. 2:4: “Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.” They had left their first love. Originally, the church had works of faith, labor of love and patience of hope. But here, according to the second verse, manifestly they had lost their faith, love and hope. The Lord shows them the way from their sin to the experience of overcoming. According to verse 5, they were to remember from whence they had fallen; they were to repent of this sin and they were to repeat their first works. Any Christian who overcomes his loss of “first love,” to him shall be granted the right to eat of the tree of life which is in the midst of the paradise of God.
To eat of the tree of life and to possess eternal life are two different experiences. To possess eternal life is to have received the gift of God, according to Rom. 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord,” But to have the opportunity to partake of the tree of life is a reward given on the basis of good works after one is saved. In Rev. 22:2 we learn that the leaves of the tree of life are for the purpose of keeping the nations in good health. The eating of the tree of life speaks of a closer relationship to God, a closer walk, a deeper enjoyment and exceeding great reward. The innocency man lost when Adam sinned is never regained, but holiness and righteousness are imputed to man by God. We have four passages of Scripture in Proverbs which describe certain phases of the tree of life which will be the experience of the overcomer who is granted to eat of that tree.
Proverbs 3:18: “She (wisdom – Provo 3:13) is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her; and happy is every one that retaineth her.” To be permitted to eat of the tree of life is the result of laying hold of and retaining wisdom. Whereas the overcomer already has eternal life, his apprehension and enjoyment of the Lord is very imperfect, and the acquisition of knewledge pertaining to the Lord is very laborious and difficult; but through acquiring this wisdom, one enters into an experience that results in a perfect understanding and appreciation of the Lord, and to him is granted to eat of the tree of life. “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” (James 1:5).
Proverbs 11:30: “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise.” To win a soul is to turn one to righteousness or right living (Dan. 12:3). This corresponds to the saving of the soul in James 5:20. Therefore, he that overcometh through the turning of many to righteousness is granted to eat of the tree of life. He has been fruitful in interesting others in desiring and striving for a place of sovereignty and service in the coming kingdom of our Lord.
Proverbs 13:12: “Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: But when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life.” Today we live in hope; today we move in an air of expectancy. We long for tomorrow when all of our hopes will be realized. To eat of the tree of life brings the fulfillment of all desires and goals and complete fruition of all of our hopes.
Proverbs 15:4a: “A wholesome tongue is a tree of life. . .” In James 3 the tongue is described as one of our great foes, and possibly the most desperate battle in which we engage is with the tongue. To overcome the tongue and bring it into absolute subjection, so that all of our words give comfort, peace and joy, grants one the right to eat of the tree of life.
In the church at Ephesus, those who laid hold of and retained wisdom, those who turned many to righteousness and those who brought their tongues under control would be permitted to eat of the tree of life as overcomers and thus realize the fulfillment of all their hopes.
The Church in Smyrna
He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death (Rev. 2:11b). What is this, the second blessing pronounced upon those who qualify as overcomers? The second death, which will have no effect upon the overcomers, is the lake of fire. Just what is the significance of the overcomers not being affected by the lake of fire? The relationship of the Christian to the fiery judgment of God, as set forth in the New Testament, begins with Matthew 3:11,12: “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentence: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” In this experience of John the Baptist we have three baptisms mentioned. John baptized in water; he announced the coming of One, even the Lord Jesus Christ, Who would baptize in the Holy Spirit and in fire. I think many err in making the baptism in the Holy Spirit and in fire to be synonymous. Other passages of Scripture teach that the judgment seat of Christ (where the Christian’s works will be brought to light and judged) is a judgment of fire or baptism in fire. I Cor. 3:12-15 states explicitly that every man’s work is going to be tried by fire. Ifa Christian’s works are of such a nature as to be pleasing unto the Lord, the fire shall not affect them at all and the man himself shall receive rewards. But if a Christian’s works are for the glory and honor of man, if they are to satisfy the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, they will be destroyed in this fiery judgment, but the man himself shall be saved so as through fire. Manifestly this speaks of the possibility of a Christian suffering from the second death, which is the fiery trial.
In Hebrews 6:8, “But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned,” we learn that a Christian whose works are comparable to thorns and briers will have these works rejected, and these rejected works will be burned. In John 15:6 we learn also that a Christian’s evil works, which are cut off as unfruitful branches, likewise will be cast into the fire and burned.
In the light of these Scriptures, the promise to the overcomer. . . that he shall not be hurt by the fire which is to try every man’s works. . . is a recognition of the fact that works which are according to the will of God will earn the praise and rewards of God, and the individual possessing such works will not be affected or hurt by the second death, which is this fiery trial and judgment.
The Church in Pergamos
To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it (Rev. 2:17b).
In the message to the church at Pergamos there were two things which our Lord condemned. First, they held the doctrine of Balaam, and second, they held the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes.
The doctrine of Balaam grew out of the failure of Balaam to pronounce a curse upon the children of Israel, which curse would cause God to forsake them. At Balak’s insistence Balaam continued to seek a way to cause a breach between the children of Israel and their God, and he finally came up with the idea of encouraging fellowship between the children of Israel and the Midianites. Such fellowship would result in God’s withdrawing His presence and blessings from Israel, leaving them an easy prey of the Midianites.
Today the doctrine of Balaam would be described as Christians “mixing with the world.” Worldliness in the church has robbed her of much of her power and testimony. Did Israel play the harlot in the days of Balaam? So does the church today. Did Israel have many lovers other than God? So does the church today. Did Israel forsake her husband and go after other lovers? So does the church today. Did Israel forsake the cistern of living water and seek out cisterns, yea, broken cisterns which could hold no water? So does the church today.
The second sin of the church at Pergamos was permitting the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes to exist, which was that of permitting a ruling class of people to rise up in the church and assume authority over the people, rather than acknowledge the headship of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now God has promised two things to the overcomer of Pergamos- that is, the one who does not become involved with the world and the one who does not look to human leadership in the spiritual realm but unto the Lord Himself. God has promised that such an overcomer shall eat of the hidden manna and also receive a white stone on which is written a new name that no one knoweth but he who receiveth it.
Now in regard to hidden manna, when the children of Israel came out of Egypt they were given literal manna to sustain them for their wilderness journey. Today, Christians in their wilderness wanderings are given manna (the Word of God) to sustain them in their wanderings. Now the promise to the overcomer is future, and there is to be a special diet for the overcomer to strengthen and sustain him for his future experiences. Since the manna in the wilderness was literal and since feeding on the Word of the Lord also is manifested in the literal reading and assimilation of the Word, we should not think anything other than that this hidden manna of the future is a literal manna, a special diet to open the eyes of their understanding and lend strength to those who shall rule and reign with the Lord Jesus Christ. This hidden manna is part and parcel of the secret things which belong to the Lord.
In speaking of the hidden manna many forget that the body itself is to be raised and that our Lord ate on several occasions after He arose from the dead. We read in Revelation 22 of the fruit of the tree of life, as well as the leaves which are for the health of the nations. As the manna in the wilderness contained every vitamin, chemical and mineral necessary for the sustenance of the human body, so will this hidden manna contain everything necessary for the sustenance of the bodies with which we go into the Millennium and then into eternity.
The white stone on which is a new name is a token of blessing, honor and glory from the donor to the recipient. In Gen. 41:42-45 we learn that Pharaoh, in exalting Joseph to a place of rulership with him, not only gave him a ring but vestures of fine linen and a gold chain. Not only did Pharaoh give Joseph these gifts but he gave him a new name, Zaphnath-paaneah. All of this was made public; but to the one who is faithful and overcomes, our Lord is going to give this white stone with this new name on it – an emblem of the splendor and glory of the position to which he is elevated – with many special privileges which are in and of themselves part of heaven’s secrets. The overcomer will have a new name which only he and the Lord shall know. Throughout the Old Testament, as well as in the New Testament, we have instances of God bestowing new names on His faithful. This is a mark of special favor from the Lord.
To sum this up we have the overcomer-who does not get involved with the world, neither with human dictators in the realm of the church-going to be rewarded by the Lord by being given hidden manna to strengthen and sustain him for the ages that lie ahead. He will also be given a white stone on which will be a new name. This symbolizes great splendor and glory, as well as entering into the secret things of the Lord.
The Church in Thyatira
But that which ye have already hold fast till I come. And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father. And I will give him the morning star (Rev. 2:25-28).
The promise herein addressed to the overcomers of Thyatira but extending even unto us is indeed wonderful. However, before we come to the promise we noticed that three things are required: First, that they hold fast that which they have already received until Jesus returns; second, that they maintain their fight in the conflict unto victory; and third, that they keep Christ’s works unto the end-his works being works that are done under the leadership of the Holy Spirit in obedience unto His Word and partake of the nature of gold, silver, and precious stones, according to I Cor. 3:12-15. So much church work and so-called Christian work today is done to magnify the denomination, to glorify man, or to minister to self-praise that we have this special promise to any who will labor according to the will of the Lord.
The promise to the overcomer is of a twofold nature. First, to the victor is given authority to rule and reign with Christ over the nations of the world. The Lord will share His sovereignty with all who are faithful to the end. This indeed is a prize worth winning, but it has to be won. Some contend that rewards and prizes do despite to the grace of God, but notice that grace opens to us the door whereby is granted unto us the opportunity to win rewards. Grace makes secure this privilege; grace teaches how to win rewards; grace enumerates the rewards to be won; grace gives strength and courage to persevere. Rewards themselves are by grace, BUT IT IS GRACE THAT IS USED.
While most Christians talk continuously of being saved, our Lord talked of His coming kingdom, of His power, glory, honor, dominion which shall be when He shall have established this kingdom. One cannot but be amazed at the attitude of Christians who minimize the coming kingdom and its rewards to the faithful, while our Lord magnified and talked continuously of this same kingdom which so many of His followers relegate to the unimportant.
Another aspect of the reward is that of the Morning Star. The return of our Lord has two phases. Jesus as the Son of man is likened unto the Morning Star, and also He is likened unto the Sun of righteousness with healing in His wings. His appearance as the Bright and Morning Star characterizes His descent into the air where He meets His own, the dead in Christ having been raised and we who are alive, translated. He appears as the Morning Star that He may judge and reward or chastise His saints, as the case may be. He comes to the earth as the Sun of righteousness to establish His kingdom.
If you are interested in a clearcut picture in concise terms of the reward offered the overcomer in the verses quoted at the beginning of this article, study at your leisure the second Psalm.
The Church in Sacrdis
He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and 1 will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but 1 will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels (Rev. 3:5).
The message here to the overcomer is a twofold message: Negatively, “I will not blot out his name out of the book of life”; positively, “I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.”
The book of life demands our attention first of all for there seem to be several books of record which the Lord maintains, and because of the fact that some erroneously believe that to blot the name out of the book of life is equivalent to the loss of salvation. In Ex. 32:32, 33 the book mentioned seems to be the same book mentioned in Psalm 139:16. 1 judge this to be a book in which the names of ALL are written at the time their conception takes place. If they die before reaching the age of accountability they are safe because their names are in God’s book. If after reaching the age of accountability they receive the Lord as their Saviour, their names remain in the book. If they receive not the Lord as their Saviour, their names will be blotted out.
In Rev. 13:8 we have a book described as the book of life of the Lamb slain. This would be a book in which the names of the ones chosen in Christ Jesus from the foundation of the world were written, and none of these names can ever be blotted out (John 10:27-29; Eph. 1:3-6).
The book of life mentioned in Rev. 3:5 appears to be the book containing the record of the life of each one who is saved. If they have works of gold, silver, and precious stones, their names remain in the book. If their works are of wood, hay, and stubble, their names are blotted out. As stated in Rev. 3:5, the name of the Christian who overcomes is not blotted out; whereas the name of the Christian who is overcome is blotted out of this particular book.
A careful study of II Sam. 23 will clarify this position. In this chapter we have a list of David’s mighty men. The absence of certain names, as well as the presence of others, testifies to this truth. In I Sam. 22:1,2, when David had escaped to the cave of Adullam many went to be with him. Everyone in distress, everyone that was in debt, everyone that was discontented, gathered themselves unto David, who became their captain. This is a very apt illustration of the ones who are being gathered unto the Lord even now in the day of His rejection. David had been anointed king over Israel, but Saul still reigned. Likewise, Christ has qualified to rule and reign over the earth, but Satan still exercises sovereignty. The men with David who proved themselves and continued faithful shared honors with him in his kingdom when he came to the throne. Christians who are faithful to the Lord and continue as such will share in the sovereignty of our Lord in His coming kingdom.
Adullam means “Their testimony”; that is, this is the place where they distinguished themselves as servants of David. They followed him in his conflicts, suffering and rejection, and they had a share in his glory and peace when he was acknowledged king.
Some of David’s mightiest men were blotted out of David’s book of records. Joab, commander in chief of David’s forces, a mighty man, a valiant solider, a great statesman, a wise counselor, was “blotted out.” His heart was not right with David. He was loyal to David during the rebellion of Absalom, but he took part in the treason of Adonijah; hence, blotted out. Abishai, Joab’s brother, was not blotted out (II Sam. 23:18). Asahel, another brother of Joab, was not blotted out (II Sam. 23:24). Nahari, the armorbearer of Joab, was not blotted out (II Sam. 23:37).
Ahithophel, David’s greatest counselor (II Sam. 16:23), was blotted out because he went with Absalom in his rebellion against David; but his son Eliam was not blotted out, though his father was (II Sam. 23:34). Abiathar, a beloved friend of David, did not overcome and was blotted out. Though faithful to David during the rebellion of Absalom, he joined in the treason with Adonijah.
To rule and reign with David required faithful, sacrificial service to the end, and the same is true for those who shall rule and reign with the Lord. “If we endure with Him, we shall reign with Him.” See II Tim. 2:12; Rom. 8:17.
The promise to the overcomers of Rev. 3:5 is that not only shall their names remain in the book recording their faithful service, but they will be acknowledged before God the Father and His angels. These passages in Rev. 2 and 3 which treat of the overcomers make it very clear that not all Christians are overcomers. See also I Cor. 3:12-15.
The Church in Philadelphia
Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out; and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God; and I will write upon him my new name. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches (Rev. 3:12, 13).
The overcomer here, as in the other epistles, is the true Christian that holds out faithful to the end against false doctrine, errors, evils and temptations. In a word the overcomer is one who gains the victory as a Christian over the world, the flesh and the devil.
In Ephesus the overcomer is to eat of the tree of life. In Smyrna the over. comer is given a crown of life. In Pergamos the victor eats of the hidden manna and is given a new name. In Thyatira the victor has power over the nations and rules them with a rod of iron. In Sardis the overcomer is clothed in white raiment and does not have his name blotted out of the book of life.
In Philadelphia (in the passage we are now considering) the overcomer is made a pillar in the temple of God. This temple of God manifestly is the heavenly temple and the victor in the Philadelphian period of church history is to be a permanent resident in the temple, as well as a tower of strength, which is the meaning of the word pillar. The writing upon him of the name of God and the name of the city of God is in marked contrast to the worshipers’of the beast, who will carry the mark of the beast in their foreheads or on their hands, as described in Revelation 13.
The high priest in the tabernacle and temple of the Old Testament bore certain marks and wore certain descriptive stones, identifying him as “Holiness Unto The Lord.” The dignity and conservation of the individual so marked is apparent. It is no small matter to be found pleasing unto the Lord and become a victor over all the temptations that assail a Christian. The Lord Jesus Christ is going to have an especial place for these overcomers in the new Jerusalem and will also write upon them His new name.
The promises given in the Word of God to the victor or the overcomer are sufficient to encourage every Christian to live a life of consecration, separation unto the Lord. The things that are in store for faithful Christians during the millennia I reign of Christ are so far above and beyond any and every thing which the world has to offer that no Christian should hesitate for a minute to submit himself completely to the leadership of the Holy Spirit.
“To him that overcometh” is the climax of each of these seven epistles in Revelation 2 and 3, with the admonition that “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.” To be saved and to be an overcomer are two different things entirely. Salvation-eternal life-is a gift of God. It is not, it cannot be earned. But rewards are on the basis of works-to the one who overcomes-and must be earned by the individual Christian as he meets and conquers the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil.
No good works-no crown. No Crown-no ruling and reigning with the Lord. Saved. . . yes. But no rewards.
The Church in Laodicea
To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne (Rev. 3:21).
We have already learned in Rev. 2:26, 27 that the overcomer shall exercise sovereignty over the nations. Here we learn: First, that the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, receives the throne from His Father. Secondly, that the throne Jesus receives from the Father is a recompense for overcoming through His faithful suffering in the work whereunto the Father had sent Him. Thirdly, that individual Christians who overcome through faithful suffering for Christ’s sake shall share this throne with Christ as a recompense or reward. (See II Tim. 2:12, Rom. 8:17; James 1:12.) Fourthly, the throne on which Christ is now seated is not the same throne on which He will be seated when He shall rule and reign during the millennium.
He is now seated on the right hand of the Father’s throne. During the millennium He will be seated on David’s throne in Jerusalem (Heb. 10:12; Luke 1:30-33). This throne is also called the throne of His glory (Matthew 25:31).
There will be myriads of subjects during the millennium but not so many rulers or sovereigns. All Christians, apparently, will be in the millennium, but only those Christians who overcome will have the privilege of ruling and reigning with Christ.