In each of Christ’s messages to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3, at the end of each message he makes promises to those who “overcome”. In the Greek text this word is “nikao” pronounced nik-ah’-o. It means to “subdue” (literally or figuratively): to conquer, overcome, prevail, get the victory. Let’s first look at these seven instances of the word and examine the promises made to those who do in fact overcome. Then within the context of the New Testament we will examine what overcoming actually entails in this life on earth.
“Overcomers” in the seven churches of Revelation
Rev 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 of the Tree of Life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.
Eating of the Tree of Life would appear to signify eternal life. In Genesis 22, Adam and Eve were banished from Garden of Eden after they sinned so that they would not eat from the Tree of Life and thus live forever.
Rev 2:11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death.
According to Revelation 20:14-15, the second death is the lake of fire—commonly known as hell. Those whose names are not found written in “the book of life” are thrown into the lake of fire. Therefore “not being hurt by the second death” would appear to signify salvation from the wages of sin and eternal life gained by one’s name being found in the book of life. And this is accomplished by faith in Jesus Christ.
Rev 2:17 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give to him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knows except he who receives it.
This somewhat cryptic promise to those who overcome arguably refers to eternal life. “Eating of the hidden manna” echoes eating from the Tree of Life.
Rev 2:26 And he who overcomes and keeps My works to the end, to him I will give authority over the nations. 27 And he will rule them with a rod of iron, as the vessels of a potter they will be broken to pieces, even as I received [authority] from My Father.
In his words to the angel of the church in Thyatira we see a new promise for overcomers. Those who overcome “keep His works to the end.” Those who do the Lord’s will to the end will receive authority to rule with Christ over the nations. From other Scriptures we know that this authority is an eternal reward based on obedience and fruitful works for the Lord in this life. It is beyond and in addition to the free gift of eternal life. Yet Christ here says that overcomers will keep His works to the end. They will actually do good works in obedience to His commands, and be rewarded with authority in the next age.
Rev 3:5 The one who overcomes, this one will be clothed in white clothing. And I will not blot out his name out of the Book of Life, but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.
The names of those who overcome will not be blotted out from the Book of Life. This is the promise of eternal life and salvation from the lake of fire.
Rev 3:12 Him who overcomes I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will go out no more. And I will write upon 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 My new name.
Those who overcome will remain in the temple of God in the New Jerusalem. This might be a reference to those who come out of the great tribulation and serve God day and night in his temple in Revelation 7. They suffered much from physical deprivation during the tribulation, and the Lord will wipe away their every tear in His temple.
Rev 3:21 To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me in My throne, even as I also overcame and have sat down with My Father in His throne.
This final promise repeats the earlier one of sitting with Christ on His throne to rule over the nations.
Summarizing the above findings, we see that in four cases overcomers receive eternal life and salvation from the lake of fire. In a fifth case those who come of the great tribulation will remain in the temple of God to serve Him and receive His comfort. And the remaining two cases speak of authority to rule with Christ for overcomers in the next age. The promises for those who overcome therefore range from salvation all the way to authority to reign with Christ in His kingdom. The first is by grace through faith. The second is related to our works in this life because of our faith.
What do “overcomers” do in this life on earth?
Let’s now examine other cases of overcoming believers in the New Testament to shed further light on this issue.
1 Jn 5:4 For everything that has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith. 5 Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
Those who truly believe that Jesus is the Son of God and Lord and Savior overcome the world. Therefore genuine believers are overcomers.
1 Jn 2:13 I write to you, fathers, because you have known Him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, little children, because you have known the Father. 14 I write to you, fathers, because you have known Him who is from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the Word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.
The reference here is to strong believers who know and obey the Word of God and therefore have overcome the evil one.
1 Jn 4:4 You are of God, little children, and you have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.
These believers overcome the false prophets through Christ who lives in them through the Holy Spirit.
Rev 12:11 And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb, and because of the word of their testimony. And they did not love their soul until death.
Those who overcome do not love their souls, even unto death.
In these references from outside the messages to the seven churches we see a parallel range in the definition of what is meant by “overcomers.” First of all, overcomers simply believe that Jesus is the Son of God. Overcomers also are strong and know the Word of God and overcome satan. They do not love the world, but rather overcome it. They overcome false prophets. Finally, they do not love their souls even unto death.
What can we conclude from this study?
The messages of Christ to overcomers in the seven churches appear to blur the distinction between the free gift of eternal life on the one hand, and on the other hand eternal reward consisting of authority to reign with Christ in the next age. Overcomers receive not only the right to eat from the Tree of Life, but also to sit on Christ’s throne to reign with Him. It is almost as if overcomers are expected not simply to believe in Jesus for eternal life, but also to obey His commands to do good works for eternal reward.
There is also a parallel situation in references from outside the messages to the seven churches with regard to what overcomers actually do in this life. Overcomers begin by simply believing from their heart that Jesus is the Son of God. But they end up with a willingness to die for Jesus Christ if called to do so. They do not shrink back from death.
From 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 we know that there is a definite difference between salvation and eternal reward. Yet many other Scriptures do not emphasize this difference. Instead they would appear to lump them together, as if God expects us disciples to be working toward our eternal reward in a very natural way after we are saved and born again through faith in Christ.
It would therefore appear to be very dangerous for a believer to be complacent by not putting his faith into action and obedient good works. Faith without works is dead, and cannot save us.
James 2:14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?
If we have not received God’s grace in vain, we should become overcomers. It is by grace that we become overcomers as taught in Revelation 2 & 3. This is the true grace of God, so different from the popular grace we hear for “effortless success” in this life. The true grace of God is not the “feel-good” type of grace which does not prepare us for the end times and the judgment seat of Christ where all believers will appear.
2 Corinthians 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.