The Overcomers – Studying the Letters to the Churches in Revelation 2&3

All believers are called to be overcomers.  All believers will experience all the blessings promised to the overcomers.

For everyone born of God overcomes the world.  This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.  Who is it that overcomes the world?  Only the one who believers that Jesus is the Son of God.  1 John 5:4-5 ESV

To examine the overcomers a little further, we turn to Revelation 2-3 where Jesus dictates the letters to the 7 churches.  These were literal churches in John’s day, but Jesus selected them specifically because their messages are applicable to all believers throughout the church age.  I encourage you to read through Revelation 2&3 and see which church you (and your church, if you attend one) most closely match up with, and then follow Jesus’ instructions to that church!

Actions of the Overcomers: 

  1. Persist in “first love” towards God (loving Him with all your heart, soul and strength)  – What does this mean exactly?  Well, sound doctrine and good works are praiseworthy, but not at the expense of passion.  Don’t let your service become mechanical.  Religion is a set of beliefs (doctrine) and a set of actions (works/traditions).  And that’s all religion can be.  Jesus urges the church to repent and return to the passion they had for Him in earlier times – with Jesus it’s about RELATIONSHIP.  I am reminded of Matthew 22:36-38 –  “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”  Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment…” (ESV)
  2. Persist in faith unto death – True believers will remain in the faith until the point of death.  This is taught in Matthew 10:28 – “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell”.  (ESV)  Supporting verses are found in Matt 10:22, 24:13; Col 1:22-23; 1 John 2:19.
  3. Do not fear suffering – Some of the believers will face suffering, and will be allowed to be tested.  James 1:2-3 (ESV) exhorts us to “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.”
  4. Do not deny Jesus’ Name – Jesus clearly states that believers must not be ashamed of Him – Matthew 10:32-33 – “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” (ESV)
  5. Test Everything, and Reject False Doctrine – The overcomers test teachers and teaching, to see if it is sound (Rev 2:2).  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1 ESV)   Sound doctrine is important to Jesus, because He *is* the Word of God.   2 Timothy 4:3 – “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.” (ESV)
  6. Do Not Compromise With The World – Watch out for weeds and rocks in the soil of your heart!  Matthew 6:24 states “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (ESV)
  7. Repent of Idolatry – Spiritual idolatry is raising anything above God in prominence in our lives.  In our day, this generally has nothing to do with statues, but can involve things like entertainment, sports, sex, relationships, music, money, power, beauty, even health.  What would you have a hard time giving up, not because you need it, but because you REALLY want it or love it?  Luke 4:8 states “It is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’”  and Matthew 22:37 states “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”
  8. Repent of Sexual Immorality – We are not to continue in deliberate sexual immorality, but are to repent and exercise self control.  1 Corinthians 6:9-10 tells us “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” (ESV)
  9. Hold Fast to the Gospel – Overcomers cling to the good news of Jesus Christ. “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2 ESV) “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it.” (2 Timothy 3:14 ESV)
  10. Are Awake / Alert Spiritually To be awake spiritually is to have one’s spiritual eyes open.  This happens at the time we are born again, when the Holy Spirit comes and indwells us, confirming to us that we are children of God.  Romans 8:16 tells us that “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” (ESV)
  11. Continue in Good Deeds with Patient Endurance – These deeds don’t maintain our salvation, but demonstrate it (Rev 2:2)!  Ephesians 2:10  “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.) (ESV)
  12. Endure Patiently in the Faith – The overcomers are commended for their patient endurance (Rev 2:2-3).  Walking with God is a marathon, not a sprint.  Hebrews 12:1 tells us to “let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” (ESV)
  13. Hold on to What They Have – The choices we make matter.  2 John 1:8 encourages us to “Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward.” (ESV) and Revelation 3:11 (ESV) “Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.”
  14. Have Gold Refined in the Fire, White Clothes, and Eye Salve – John MacArthur teaches that this is a reference to the priceless riches of true salvation (Matthew 16:26); being clothed with the righteousness of Christ (Rom 3:22); and having our spiritual blindness removed (Matt 15:14, 23:16-17)
  15. Have Opened the Door to Fellowship with Jesus – This occurs at the moment of salvation, being “born again”, and continues throughout our walk with God (sanctification).  John 15:4 tells us to abide in Christ – “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” (ESV)

I want to emphasize that it is not the actions of the overcomers that save them or qualify them for the promises Jesus gives.  Salvation is by God’s grace alone, through faith in Jesus Christ alone.  The actions of the overcomers demonstrate a true saving faith.

Promises Given to the Overcomers:

  1. Granted to eat from the tree of life in the Paradise of God (Rev 2:7) – This is symbolic of eternal life, referencing the original tree of life in the garden of Eden.  This tree is described in Revelation 22:1-3 (ESV) – “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.”
  2. Will not be hurt by the second death (Rev 2:11)- The overcomers inherit eternal life; they will not face the eternal lake of fire.
  3. Victor’s Crown – The overcomers will receive the crown of life/righteousness/glory.  “And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” (1 Peter 5:4 ESV); “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Revelation 2:10 ESV); “Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:8 ESV)
  4. Given hidden manna (Rev 2:17) – This perhaps refers to Jesus as the Bread of Life; we will no longer lack any spiritual sustenance or go through spiritual wilderness.  “Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35 ESV)
  5. Given a white stone (Rev 2:17) – There is no other mention in scripture of a “white stone”.  John MacArthur suggests that this might possibly represent a ticket to eternal victory celebration in heaven.  I am wondering if it might represent becoming a stone in the building of the eternal church – with the cornerstone being Jesus.  Genesis 28:22 mentions a stone being set up as a pillar for God’s house.  Maybe we get a stone to represent one of the other promises given to us, which is to become a pillar in the Temple of God (#14).
  6. Given a new name written on the stone no one knows but the person who receives it (Rev 2:17) – Jesus has a new name written on him in Revelation 19:12, and we will receive a new name as well.
  7. Given Authority over the Nations (Rev 2:26-27) – Overcomers will rule with Christ in His Millennial Kingdom – “ 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.” (Revelation 2:26-27 ESV)
  8. The Morning Star (Rev 2:28) – Jesus is the bright morning star. John MacArthur suggests that this represents knowing Christ in His fullness.  “And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19 ESV); “And I will give him the morning star” (Revelation 2:28 ESV); “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” (Revelation 22:16 ESV)
  9. Walk with Jesus (Rev 3:4) – We will enter His kingdom and walk with Him. “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7 ESV)
  10. Clothed in White Garments (Rev 3:4)- The holiness and righteousness of Christ is imputed to our account so that we are counted as holy and righteous as well. “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands,  and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”’ (Revelation 7:8-10 ESV)
  11. Name Never Blotted Out of the Book of Life (Rev 3:5) – This book contains the names of the saved, which have been recorded there from the beginning of the world. “The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life.” (Revelation 3:5 ESV)
  12. Jesus will confess our name before His Father and the angels (Rev 3:5)- Jesus will confirm that He knows us and that we belong to Him. “I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.” (Revelation 3:5 ESV)  This is the opposite of the terrifying verse in Matthew 7:23 where He tells many “I never knew you”.
  13. Kept from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world (Rev 3:10) – The overcomers will be sheltered in heaven and given rest during the Day of the Lord, the entire “tribulation” period.  This is also described in Isaiah 26:20-21 (ESV) – “Come, my people, enter your chambers, and shut your doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until the fury has passed by. For behold, the Lord is coming out from his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity,
    and the earth will disclose the blood shed on it, and will no more cover its slain.”
  14. Made a pillar in the temple of God (Rev 3:12) – Being made a pillar signifies stability, permanence, remembrance, and honor.  Genesis 28:22 mentions a stone being set up as a pillar for God’s house.  Perhaps this passage indicates that we will become living pillars in the eternal temple of God.
  15. Written on them the name of God (Rev 3:12) – This is signifying belonging/ownership to God, like being branded with a seal.  We belong to God.
  16. Written on them the name of the New Jerusalem (Rev 3:12) – This is signifying eternal citizenship in New Jerusalem, the heavenly city.  We belong in New Jerusalem.
  17. Written on them the new name of Jesus (Rev 3:12) – This signifies taking on His name in union, like in marriage – we take on Christ’s name as the bride of Christ.  We belong to Jesus.
  18. Sit with Jesus on His throne (Rev 3:21) – Overcomers will reign with Jesus during His Millennial Kingdom.  “The saying is trustworthy, for:  If we have died with him, we will also live with him;  if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.” (2 Timothy 2:11-13 ESV)

The promises to the overcomers are ones that are made to all true followers of Jesus Christ.  All those who are “born again” are overcomers, and will receive these blessings!

Discussion on the Overcomers

The warnings to the 7 churches in Revelation are both stern and terrifying.  However, they are also bursting with promise!  We would do well to examine our hearts and repent, fully turning to the Lord.  For those who do, the reward far outweighs any earthly sacrifice.

Gary wrote a great article on Unsealed about the letters to the 7 churches, and in it he summarizes that each of the letters are ultimately about the gospel:

The Greek word used for “overcome” or “conquer” in each of the aforementioned seven verses is nikaó, which means “I conquer, am victorious, overcome, prevail” and as a matter of fact this exact word is defined for us elsewhere in the Bible by the author of the book of Revelation himself and in very explicit terms.  John tells us whowhy, and how:

Who overcomes (nikaó) the world?  Answer: Jesus.

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation.  But take heart; I have overcome the world.  – John 16:33

Why do we overcome (nikaó) the world?  Answer: Jesus.

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. – 1 John 4:4

How do we overcome (nikaó) the world?  Answer: Faith in Jesus.

For everyone born of God overcomes the world.  This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.  Who is it that overcomes the world?  Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. – 1 John 5:4-5

So the Scriptural answer to the question “how does someone overcome the world?” is through faith in Jesus Christ, which is the Gospel (i.e., Christianity 101; see hereherehereherehere, and here).  Notice especially the repetitious nature of 1 John 5:4-5: “overcomes…even our faith…overcomes…believes”.  It couldn’t be any clearer.  No amount of good deeds, law keeping, or right living will overcome the world.  The only way you can overcome the world is by trusting in the efficacy of the meritorious blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Just to leave absolutely no doubt about the connection between overcoming and Jesus’ blood, the book of Revelation connects them directly:

And they overcame [nikaó] him because of the blood of the Lamb, and because of the word of their testimony; and they loved not their life even unto death.  – Revelation 12:11

The sevenfold repetition in Revelation 2-3 of “he who overcomes” is a clear reminder that regardless of whether or not someone identifies with the Christian religion, the only people getting in Heaven’s door are those who trust in Christ alone for salvation.  The way is narrow.


Escape All These Things

But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.  Luke 21:36 ESV

Who will escape all these things and stand before the Son of Man?

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”  Revelation 7:9-10 ESV

All the overcomers, those who have been born again by the blood of the Lamb, will escape all these things and stand before the Son of Man – praising Him for their salvation!

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.  John 3:17 ESV

Are you CERTAIN of your Salvation, beyond a shadow of a doubt?  Do you KNOW that no matter when the rapture occurs, you will be counted worthy to escape?  If not, please read What Must I do to Be Saved.

Further Resources:

The Letters to the 7 Churches (Unsealed)

Examine Yourself, To See if You Are in the Faith (John MacArthur)

God’s Mosaic – A Whole Scripture Overview of Things To Come

Main Menu – God’s Mosaic Prophecy Model

The Bible is infallible.  I am not.  I am merely challenging traditional models and testing them against Scripture.  I believe that traditional pretribulation teachings provide a solid backbone upon which to lay the musculature of details, some of which I think might need to be adjusted slightly.  I encourage you to consider my thoughts as you also examine the scriptures to see if these things are so!



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