“To Him that Overcometh….”
A Lecture originally delivered at the Arkansas Bible School – June 2002
Reading: From Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 26-28; 3:5, 12, 21
In the Book of Revelation Christ, before commencing with revealing the continuous prophetic events to John that would begin to unfold shortly after 96 A.D., takes time as is found in chapters 2 & 3 to enlighten a few ecclesias that were located in Asia minor from a Divine viewpoint as to their spiritual status, what they needed to overcome, and the reward promised if they were able to overcome. Though these messages are specific to each of the seven individual ecclesias, the lessons and promises were given for all the Household of Faith to consider, “he who hath an ear let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the ecclesias”. Christ, the head of the ecclesia was watching, “I know thy works”, and was ready to comment.
What we would like to now do is to briefly consider each one of the seven ecclesias. It is not our intention for us to give detailed exposition (their will be allot of interesting matters we will be skipping over), but we will briefly consider the difficulties and evils they faced, concentrating on the promises assured to “TO HIM THAT OVERCOMETH”.
Starting in verse one of Chapter Two the first ecclesia that Christ addresses is that of Ephesus. Immediately we are informed of an ecclesia that demonstrates great strength and passion. They were commended for their labor in the cause of the Truth, for their zeal, and their activity in fighting false doctrines. They were patient and tireless. They confronted the class known as “false apostles”, a class of ambitious and false teachers who Paul had warned about in 2 Corinthians 11:13 as “deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ”. The Ephesians were able to see through their “smooth words and fair speeches” and dealt with it accordingly. They also were commended for their hatred of the Nicolaitanes (literally- conquerors of the people), which were the early seeds of Immortal Soulism and other Greek philosophies being introduced into the Body of Christ.
But for all this good something was lacking in which the “sword of the spirit” was necessary in order to discern. Christ condemns them for having “lost their first love”. Though all they had done in the service of the Truth was necessary they had lost affection for the very substance of the Hope. Fighting for the Truth had come an end in and of itself rather then remembering that a sincere and humble “day to day” service of the simple things is fundamental to our walk. Christ stated, “If ye love me keep my commandments”; to do so is more then just fighting error. It is possible for one to believe in the Truth, even tirelessly contend for its doctrinal principles, but yet be void of a sincere motivation to think in a way and act in a way that is fully pleasing to God. Fighting, but losing site of what we are really contending for. It is serious enough of an issue, despite the good that was found, for Christ to inform them that if the problem was not corrected that he would take away their ecclesial lightstand. It doesn’t matter how hard we work, rejection will be the result if our motivation is not correct in God’s estimation.
But there was hope of correcting the problem and an eternal promise “to him that overcometh”. The word “overcome” is a proper translation but the word “conquer” may better express the emphasis of the Greek; so “to him that conquers”. He who is able to conquer the “lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life” that is the source of all that is unacceptable to Yahweh.
“To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.” The language is symbolic, which characterizes much of the speech used in the Apocalypse, but it takes our minds back to a very real event which in itself symbolizes a very real condition that we hope for. Turning to the book of Genesis, in the second chapter, 9th verse, we see first mention of this tree. “And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.” The tree of life would have given immortality, but as we know Adam and Eve disobeyed Divine Law and partook of the latter tree upon punishment of death rather then the reward of life. This brought upon them and to all their posterity Condemnation and Alienation, they were thrown out of the Garden (the Paradise of God) and access denied them to the “tree of life” by the presence of the Cherebim and the destroying flame that would “keep” or “preserve” the way of life from unclean flesh. And though the “way of life” is guarded it is not closed. Christ stated, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25), and also, “I am the way, the truth, and the life”. It is fitting that Christ would here promise access to the tree of life, or in other words immortality, in that he broke down the barrier to eternal life that exists for Sin’s flesh and its wicked works by the condemning of Sin in the flesh in his own body on the stake, and the pooring out of His blood. Christ is now an eternal partaker of that tree of immortality and likewise will bestow such a reward at His return to those who have overcome.
The Paradise (garden) of God in which that immortality is directly bound up in is not the heavens as some suppose but that paradise, which was promised to Abraham, of a country centered in Canaan, in which Abraham was to look northward, southward, eastward, and westward. Turning to Isaiah 51: 2,3 we read, “Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you: for I called him alone, and blessed him, and increased him. For the LORD shall comfort Zion: He will comfort all her waste places; and He will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the LORD; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of gladness.” The Promises made to Abraham and the hopes of immortality are inseparable doctrines. Those who are granted to partake of the tree of life will do so as citizens of that future Commonwealth upon this earth, centered in Israel.
To the ecclesia of Smyrna only commendation is given rather then condemnation. Their works were approved before him who observes all things. He comments that they were “poor, but rich.” In a literal sense they were not wealthy, they had no real stake or concern as involves the prosperity of this life. They had not laid up for themselves treasures upon earth, “where moth and rust corrupt”. Their focus was not on present power or wealth. But in a spiritual sense, they had laid up for themselves “treasures in heaven”, their affections and energies were placed upon spiritual matters. In this regard they were “rich.” As Christ teaches in Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” But because of their devotion (which would have been noticeable to the success driven society around them) it put them into direct conflict with the power of the day, what is styled the devil (diabolis, false accuser) - or the Roman authority. They were consciences objectors in the truest sense, which would cause them severe persecution for “ten days”, literally a ten year time period, which is historically documented as from around 110 – 120 A.D.
But there was hope beyond the persecutions that would result in the torture and death of many. “He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.” In Daniel 12: 2 we read, “and many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” Put quite simply, the second death is the final and eternal death that those who are rejected at the Judgment Seat of Christ will be condemned to. Those rejected have not walked worthy of their calling “in Christ Jesus”. This death is far more fearful to contemplate then dying in hope of a resurrection. Quoting from Bro. Roberts, “The second death is prefaced with the agonizing knowledge of a divine rejection publicly proclaimed. There is no hope in it, and it comes at last with violence and pain.”
Christ informs us that at the Judgment “there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth”. It is promised to those who overcome that such a terrible fate will be avoided. The opposite of the “second death” is of course partaking in the “tree of life” and all the joys that are associated with it. So at the judgment seat we have a picture of extremes – Using the imagery given to us in the parable of the sheep and the goats, to Christ’s left we see the excruciating mental agony that would go along with rejection and a sentence to extermination, and on the right we see an extreme sense of elation and relief and the realization that the moment of acceptance is only the beginning of eternal joy. What comfort then is there in the words, that “he that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.”
The City of Pergomos was the headquarters of Roman authority in Asia Minor. As such, it would provide serious challenges of allegiance to the believers there (Christ or Ceasar), as well as present to pure Christian belief all the sinister influences and practices that Roman culture would have to offer – therefore we are told that “Satan’s seat” (Adversary) was there. There was also another Adversary present in that history tells us that there was the growing threat of Apostasy concentrated in the city. But, many brethren of Pergomos still held fast to Christ’s name, standing firm in the faith even unto martyrdom, as in the case of Antipas – a representative of all who resist the wicked influences of the Adversary.
But, to Christ’s displeasure, they tolerated “the doctrine of Balaam” as well as the Nicolaitanes. Balaam (of O.T. fame) claimed to be a faithful prophet of Yahweh who tempted the Israelites with fornication and idolatry in order to satisfy Balaak’s desire to see Israel cursed by God in order to weaken them. Balaam did this for personal gain in order to seek a financial reward. Peter in the second chapter of his 2nd Epistle describing the false teachers and prophets that would manifest themselves classifies such individuals in these words, (2:14,15) “an heart they have exercised with covetous practices….which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness”. So the doctrine of Balaam was the teaching of brethren who compromised and manipulated the truth for personal gain – to make their lives more comfortable. Considering the unfriendly climate of Pergomos towards the early Christian faith, such compromise would have been tempting, but nonetheless should have been rejected.
To him that overcometh: Will I give to eat of the Hidden Manna. Turning to John 6:48-51, 53 we read, “I am the bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die, I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world…Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you”. So Jesus is the antitype of the of the miraculous bread that was fed to the Children of Israel in the wilderness. The name “manna” literally means “what is it?” The answer to our question is found in the words of Christ; it is the hope of eternal life that can only be gained through His sacrifice. We know that a pot (an omer) of manna was hidden in the Ark of the Testimony (the Ark also being a type of Christ), likewise that immortality is hidden with Him in the heavens awaiting dispersion at His return. Interestingly enough when the Ark rested in Solomon’s temple there was no pot of Manna found in the Ark. Considering that Solomon’ Kingdom was a type of Christ’s future reign it is a fitting symbol as to the fact that immortality will no longer be hidden during the future Kingdom and this precious gift dispersed freely “to him that overcometh”.
Also promised to him that overcometh is a “white stone”. Speaking in a judicial sense, it was once the custom to hand one who was found innocent of a crime a white stone as a sign of his acquittal, the guilty were given a black stone. Also in social circles a white stone would be given to a guest as a sign of friendship and acceptance. Those who stand before Christ’s Judgment, not having lived according to the “Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus” that they came under at baptism will be found guilty of wicked works and therefore will not receive a “white stone” of innocence or acceptance. But to those who have “overcome”, the white stone of approval will be theirs.
And in that stone a “new name” will be inscribed. Jesus gave his leading apostles new names, which reflected their personal attributes or Divine purpose. Unlike the names we receive now, which are usually chosen because they sound good or they are the name of a relative or someone respected, it would seem possible that this “new name” will reflect the righteous characteristics of the one accepted, a name that truly describes that person’s ability or character. A name that is rewarded by Divine observation of the individuals personal experience in overcoming, which can only be fully understood or appreciated by the one given the name, or indicates an aspect of the Divine glory in which they will reflect.
The ecclesia of Thyatira is commended for its charity, faith, and patience, and especially for its works, which were ever developing and increasing. But the Son of God, who hath the “eyes as a flame of fire”, also perceived in this ecclesia elements being tolerated that if left unchallenged would extinguish the ecclesias ability to bear the spiritual light of Truth. The influence is referred to as “that woman Jezebel”.
In the Book of 1st Kings, Jezebel was the Zidonian wife of King Ahab. Due to her extreme wickedness and idolatry, she helped to mark Ahab’s reign as the most evil of Israel’s history. (I Kings 21:25). She was overbearing, proud, and showed no fear in standing up to Elijah – who was the very mouthpiece of Yawheh.
Symbolically speaking, a woman typically represents a religious system. In the case of Jezebel, she would come to represent apostasy, which would later grow and come to be identified as a Harlot – the Roman Catholic System. But for now such apostasy was in its infancy. The Jezebellion influence that was tolerated shared the same tendencies, as did the “doctrines of Balaam”, to teach and seduce God’s servants to commit fornication and to eat things sacrificed unto idols. Here we are not speaking of literal fornication but that of spiritual fornication. In other words, we would find doctrines that would blend belief and practice to conform more to the beliefs and practices of the world around them making them more accepted by the world. In James 4:4 we read, “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?”
The teachings of this symbolic Jezebel are referred to in verse 24 as the “depths of Satan”, which can be understood as the so called “deep” and academic reasoning or logic that characterized the Roman world at this time and was infiltrating the thought process of the believers. “Ever learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the Truth”, those who considered their thinking “deep” would place high value on earthly education and disciplines as needed qualifications for finding Truth and would proudly consider their vague and compromising ideas more advanced and profound then the simple Truths that characterize the pure and concrete elements of Apostolic Faith. Years before, the Apostle Paul labeled this as “vain babblings and oppositions of science falsely so called” and as “the wisdom of this world which is foolishness with God”
He that overcometh will I give power over the nations. Proposition 10 , of the “Declaration” which was printed by Bro. Roberts states, “The reward in store for those who are Christ’s is a participation in “The Honor, Glory, and Power” of the Kingdom in the sense of being associates and coadjutors of Christ (as kings and priests) in the work of ruling the world in righteousness.”
In Genesis 22:17 the promise is made to Abraham that “thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies.” The seed is in reference to Christ and the promise that he would rule. We know that if we be Christ’s, then are we Abraham’s seed, and also heirs according to the promise. Though Christ will be King over the entire earth, a promise of rulership under the authority of Christ is also given to those who overcome. Daniel 7:27, “And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the People of the saints of the Most High”. And in Revelation 5:9,10 we read concerning the reward of the saints, “and hast made us unto our God kings and priests, and we shall reign on the earth.” This is not a matter of conjecture, but a sure and precious promise.
“And I will give him the morning star” Jesus is the “morning star” (Rev. 22:16) Literally speaking the “morning star” is what shines brightly in the eastern sky during some times of the year just before the sun rises. Heavenly bodies such as the stars, the sun, and moon are used by the scriptures to represent elements in the political heavens. Christ is the “morning star” that will be set in the political heavens of the Coming Age. He has promised to those that overcome a portion of this “star” or position – being made a part of the new millennial day as a part of the immortal Christ Body and set in the political heavens. Daniel 12:3 – “And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.”
Not much is said about the ecclesia in Sardis. Christ stated, “that thou hast a name that thou lives, and art dead”. In the view of others it had the reputation of being a living ecclesia, but according to Divine observation (which is the only one that matters) it was considered to be spiritually dead. From this we should see how dangerous it is to judge our own worthiness based upon the opinions of men. No specifics are given as to what was wrong but they were commanded to “strengthen the things which remain”, which is a positive call to action to be heeded by all.
“He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment.” This is to be clothed in immortality. Having been made constitutionally clean and clothed with the righteousness of Christ at our Baptism, we then see the putting on of the Divine nature upon acceptance at the Judgment – the physical change that we still await. I Corinthians 15: 53-57, “For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality, So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.”
Christ also promises, “I will not blot thy name out of the book of life”. Upon Baptism we become “heirs of salvation” and are symbolically considered to be written in a “book of life” as is mentioned in Ex. 32: 33, Mal. 3:16, and Philippians 4:3. Unlike the “once saved always saved” doctrine that permeates mainstream Christianity, the Truth of scripture plainly indicates that by “wicked works” we can lose our inheritance. If we manifest the works of the flesh, which are described in Galations 5:21, we are told “they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God”. The Spirit is the recorder of all that are covenanted and as to their deeds good and bad. Brother Thomas in Eureka translates this final book, as “The Scroll of THE LIFE”, and comments concerning the finalized copy - “his name (is) perpetually inscribed among the deathless”.
Christ stated, “For thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name.” Philadelphia was small in number but was faithfully maintaining the lightstand. But they had to contend against “those who say they are Jews and are not, but do lie” as did the other faithful ecclesia of Smyrna.
“Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the Temple of My God.” Turning to II Corinthians 6:16, concerning the saints Paul states, “for ye are the Temple of the living God; as God hath said, ‘I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” To be a pillar is to be a principal and indispensable part of a structure. So we have here a “temple”, a structure, not made out of stone and mortar but out of people – a people who God has redeemed. A holy structure (as in the case of the wilderness tabernacle and Solomon’ temple) that is filled with the Shekanah Glory – a habitation of Yahweh.
In Solomon’s temple there were two pillars layered in brass at its entrance. One was given the name of Yachin (He will establish) and the other called Boaz (in Him is strength). Put together we have “He shall establish in strength or by strong ones”. The symbolic temple mentioned here (not to be confused with the literal temple described in Ezekiel) will be established by God’s strength, manifested through those who have “overcome”.
“I will write upon him the name of my God.” In Deut. 28: 9, 10 we have these words concerning Israel, “The LORD shall establish thee an holy people unto himself…and all people of the earth shall see that thou art called by the name of the LORD”. In Acts 15:14, “Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His Name.” God has been and continues to take out of both the Jews and Gentiles a people to bear his Holy Name. Those who share and embrace the Faith of Abraham, who are covenanted to God through the sacrifice of His Son, who overcome, these will be chosen to eternally bear the Memorial Name. Proverbs 22:1 advises, “A good name is rather to be chosen then great riches, and loving favor rather then silver and gold.” What better name can one hope for?
And upon him, “the name of the city of my God, the New Jerusalem.” As a pivotal part of our Hope, we anxiously await the day when the literal city of Jerusalem will be the political, religious, and cultural capitol of the entire earth, as is spoken of extensively and explicitly by the prophets of Israel. It will be a city with a literal temple that will be the crown jewel of the new political and religious constitution. But in considering the phrase in this context we stop short if we think that the “New Jerusalem” here is in complete reference to the natural. A much more detailed and symbolic description of the “New Jerusalem” is given in Revelation 21. And in explaining the meaning of this vision to John the angel states in 21:9, “Come hither, I will shew thee the bride, the lamb’s wife”. So “New Jerusalem” (apocalyptically speaking) is a symbol of the bride of Christ – the redeemed. To have a name in that city is to be counted as a part of that glorious multitude whose citizenship is in fact based upon the very literal promise of an Israeli Kingdom, whose capitol is Jerusalem, and whose King is the Christ. With this citizenship they will be given a “new name” that in this context has reference to being given a name of power and authority. Consider Phil 2:9.10, which has reference to Jesus.
The infamous “lukewarm” ecclesia. Let us take note that Christ shows extreme disdain for this characteristic. This is an important lesson for us as to the tastes and views of our Lord. They had a very comfortable estimation of themselves as being rich and in need of nothing. They were pleased with their lives and with their spiritual condition. The Spirits perception of their health was that they were “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked”. But how could the Laodicean assessment of themselves be so diametrically opposed to Christ’s view of the matter? Referring to “Thirteen Lectures”, Bro. Roberts observes, “When people are well satisfied with themselves, their powers of admiration are personally absorbed, and cannot outflow to superior objects. And this self-satisfaction is generally a great obstruction to self-discernment. People think themselves well-conditioned when they are in fact petty, meager, small, insignificant and lean of soul, so it was with the Laodiceans…”
But as dismal as was the Laodicean condition a promise was held out to them if they would “be zealous and repent” “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me in My throne, even as I also overcame, and am sat down with My Father in His throne.” Christ exhorts to overcome as he also overcame. Understanding that Christ’s character was without spot and blemish, we must remember that it was a character developed within the limitations and corruptibility inherent within the Condemned and Sin stricken nature of man. He learned obedience by the things in which he suffered, he was in all points tempted as we – yet without sin. He was obedient even unto death. This is our example and we are expected to follow. Unlike our Master we often fail in our attempts to live a sin free life, but we have an Advocate with the Father in which to have our sins forgiven and to ask for the strength to endure.
In the Greek text the grammar of the term “as I also overcame” indicates something more prophetic in nature rather them something already fulfilled. Though Christ has overcome the Flesh in His own body, an overcoming of the principalities of this earth still remains to be done. The throne mentioned is one of future establishment described in symbolic detail in the 4th and 5th Chapters of Revelation. Christ now sits at the right hand of the Father awaiting the fulfillment of Ezekiel 21:27. “I will overturn, overturn, overturn it: and it shall be no more, until He come Whose right it is; and I will give it him.” The throne still awaits its rightful occupant. And then and only then will Christ be able to delegate the power that is associated with that throne to the redeemed. As we have already considered, this is a matter of Promise, not speculation, to them that overcome.
Now, as we consider the message sent to the seven ecclesias on the whole we must understand (they should have understood) that the Head of the collective Ecclesia, though in the heavens, was watching and still is watching today. To each one of the ecclesias it is stated – “I know thy works”. Many times we have heard it remarked that the Faith as a whole, as it now stands is reflective of the Laodicean attitude. This is not without merit and the scriptures indicate that such an environment will exist shortly before our Master returns. If Laodicea truly is a type of our day, then we see the nearness of our Lord’s return as indicated in the words spoken to Laodicea that state, “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me.” Current events loudly proclaim, if not taking us by the very shirt collar and shaking us to listen, that Christ now stands at the door. If we heed the signs, then we are promised eternal fellowship with Him.
And though we may identify with the Laodicean attitude, we must consider the message to the seven Ecclesias as a whole, and consider all the lessons provided for our correction and for our hope. The problems they faced are the same problems we face today, the flesh is the same now as it was then. The promises given to them are the same promises given to us. Ecclesias are made up of individuals, each working out their own salvation but with their actions directly affecting others. Our ecclesias and the light they generate are only as healthy, only as productive as the individuals that constitute its assembly. Our individual health, which is directly affected by our willingness to heed the instruction given to us, affects the health of the living and breathing organism that is the Body of Christ. Commenting on the lessons we should take from this message to the seven ecclesias Bro. Thomas Williams had this to say: “In ecclesial matters and in all matters affecting the welfare of the Truth my business is yours and yours is mine. We are brought together in mutual compact under the same name – a name whose honor and reputation are made dependent upon our conduct. Here, brethren, we must face the fact that great responsibilities devolve upon us, commensurate with the great privileges and high honor to which the Truth has brought us into relation. Let us then consider one another, the strong bearing the infirmities of the weak, and the weak striving to become strong.”
Before us are laid “great and precious promises” to him that overcomes, to him that “conquers”. Soon enough we will each stand individually before the Righteous Judge to give account for our deeds, whether they be good or bad, so let us heed the exhortation to the seven ecclesias, let us keep before our minds the wonderful promises set before us and follow the advice of the Spirit which states, “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the ecclesias.”