In Revelation chapters 2 and 3, our Lord encourages the churches to overcome the issues he raises. Did Jesus intend for his warnings to refer to believers, or unbelievers? Do the blessings in these chapters apply to all believers, or only certain ones? Let’s look at an example of some warnings before we answer the question:
“Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds. I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works” (Revelation. 2:22-23). Is this warning for believers?
“Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you” (Revelation 3:3). If you are saved, can you safely ignore this?
These warnings have presented problems for some believers. Because of the severity of the punishment promised, some readers insist that Jesus was addressing unbelievers in the congregation. They insist that all the saved are overcomers and have no need to fear or repent. They point to 1 John’s usage of overcomer to justify their case. Here are the verses in 1 John:
“I write to you, young men, because you have overcome the wicked one. … I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the wicked one” (1 John 2:13, 14).
“You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
“For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith” (1 John 5:4).
The conclusion people have presented to me from these passages is: overcomer = saved. According to this train of thought, since John addresses the saved people in his epistle as overcomers, then all the saved people in the Revelation churches are also overcomers. The warnings therefore are directed to unbelievers. Are these conclusions correct?
Actually, Jesus separates the people in the troubled churches into two groups, but not as believers and unbelievers. Some may insist, “Yet are not today’s churches composed of believers and unbelievers?” The question’s logic is unsound, because biblically, the church is composed of a called-out people, Christ’s body on earth, not the building in which his people gather.
Let’s briefly consider John’s use of overcomer in his epistle. Then we’ll see that the groups in the Revelation churches are composed of two groups: of those who repent and those who don’t!
A person needs to overcome something before he can be called an overcomer. He needs to win a contest before he is called a winner. The readers of John’s epistle were formerly slaves of the wicked one and the world. As long as the readers had believed the lies of the Devil, they were captives. Through the gospel they believed God’s perspective of sin and escaped the enemy. They learned to detect the work of the enemy, resist the Devil, and maintain their relationship with God. Their overcomer status reflected a change in their attitude toward sin and God as a result of faith in the word preached to them.
So, overcomer = saved should be: overcomer = one who responded by faith and repented.
The churches in Revelation 2-3 are facing enemies in their midst and in their hearts. If they respond to the serious issues raised in the messages by faith and repent, they will be worthy of the term overcomer and of the rewards promised only to overcomers. The terrible dangers cited by the Lord are therefore for those believers who will not repent.
The warnings to the churches are to strike fear in our hearts in case we wish to pursue sin. The promises to the ovecomers are to remind us that God has something great in store for us who forsake our sin.
What Do You Think?
a. Are you overcoming sin, or do you treat sin indifferently?
b. Do you make sure to live in such a way as to obtain the promises Jesus gave, or not?