By Bill Fiess with Pam Esteven
Revelation 2-3 contain Jesus’ letters to seven churches in Asia Minor. These letters are filled with our Lord’s expectations for His people and are rich in rewards teaching. He repeatedly uses the Greek term ho nikōn (literally, “the one overcoming, the victor”) in these seven letters. Each time Jesus uses this term, it is in connection with the promise of a particular reward.
(Some readers are already aware that Nike, the athletic goods company, derived its name from the Greek word for “victory” which is in the same Greek word family as the term ho nikōn.)
Revelation 3:21 makes it clear that the victor or overcomer (ho nikōn) will receive the high privilege of ruling with Christ in the Kingdom: “To him who overcomes[“ho nikōn”] I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.” I believe that the composite picture presented in these seven letters of Revelation 2-3 shows us what Christ desires of those who will ultimately rule and reign with Him. We will consider each of the seven churches, the characteristics of a victor or overcomer, and the rewards our Lord promises to qualifying believers.
The first quality of a victorious life is found in Jesus’ letter to the church at Ephesus (Rev 2:1-7). These believers had persevered and had done works in Jesus’ name, yet He admonished them because they had left their First Love (see Rev 2:4-7). Christ should be our First Love if we desire to be victors.
Compare what Jesus says in Matt 6:24: “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (cf. Luke 14:26).
Consider what Paul writes in Rom 8:28: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”
Believers whose top priority is to love Jesus will find themselves living victorious lives and will enjoy the privilege of eating from the Tree of Life in the Paradise of God (Rev 2:7). Make sure Jesus is your First Love.
The second characteristic we should desire is that of endurance in times of testing, just as faithful believers in Smyrna demonstrated (Rev 2:8-11). Persecuted believers can find comfort in the fact that Jesus, Who “was dead and came to life” (Rev 2:8), can relate to their persecution by evil men. Those who overcome during times of testing will receive the crown of life (Rev 2:10; cf. Jas 1:12-14).
The third quality of a victorious life is found in Jesus’ letter to the believers in Pergamos (Rev 2:12-17). We are to continue to confess Christ. To deny Him is not the way to rule with Him (2 Tim 2:12). But we must avoid “the doctrine of Balaam,” which is sexual immorality. We must be victors over sexual immorality if we are to rule with Christ in His coming kingdom (see 1 Cor 6:9-10 and Eph 5:5). But the victorious believer will have the promised privilege of eating hidden manna and will receive a white stone engraved with a name known only by himself.
In Jesus’ letter to the church at Thyatira (Rev 2:18-29), we see the fourth characteristic He desires in His people: persevering to the end in obedience to Christ (cf 2 Tim 2:12 and Heb 3:6, 14). In Rev 2:25 Jesus exhorts those faithful believers in Thyatira (there were apparently a few) to hold fast what they have till He comes. Every believershould have as his goal to finish the race of life well (see 2 Tim 4:7). And the reward? Ruling with Christ over Gentile nations in the kingdom and receiving the Morning Star (Rev 2:26-28).
It is noteworthy that the two churches with the most severe problems (Thyatira and Laodicea) receive the greatest motivation from Christ: overcome, and rule with Him. Ruling with Christ is the greatest form of service in the kingdom. Do you want the privilege of serving Him in this tremendous way? Persevere in obedience to Christ for your remaining days.
Jesus’ letter to Sardis (Rev 3:1-6) contains the fifth characteristic of a victorious life. The believer’s life should be spotless and above reproach (cf. Rev 16:15 and 19:8 with Rev 3:4 in which a spotless garment symbolizes a spotless life).
Many believers in Sardis were not watchful, i.e., they were not vigilant with regards to Satan’s attacks on their morals. Compare Peter’s warning in 1 Pet 5:8: “Be sober, be vigilant [watchful]; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” Victorious believers must keep watch; we must watch ourselves, and we must watch out for Satan. Victors are promised not only the reward of having their names read publicly on the “Dean’s List” (see Rev 3:5) but also the privilege of wearing white while walking with Christ.
My friend, do you long to have this kind of close fellowship with Christ? Be watchful, and live a spotless life.
The sixth characteristic is found in Christ’s letter to the church in Philadelphia (Rev 3:7-13): a victor lives a sanctified life, a holy life, a life that is set apart from the world and to God.
What a comfort it is to know that in the midst of persecution, Jesus loves us and that love will be on display in eternity (cf Rev 3:8-9 with John 17:22-23). Even so, Jesus’ warning is clear: “hold fast so that no one may take your crown.” A crown is not a fashion statement but denotes a ruler. The privilege of ruling with Christ may be lost.
Jesus promises the victor that he will become a pillar in the Temple of God forever and that Jesus Himself “will write on him the name of My God and the name of . . . the New Jerusalem . . . and” that He “will write on him” His new name (Rev 3:12, passim). It is indeed an awesome privilege to bear the special marks of God. But to receive these, we must live sanctified lives.
And finally, the seventh quality of a victorious believer appears in the Lord’s letter to Laodicea (Rev 3:14-21). That quality is a life lived in fellowship with and obedience to Christ. Christ loves the church at Laodicea (Rev 3:19), but they have made Him sick (Rev 3:16). They are out of fellowship with Him: “Behold, I stand at the doorand knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (Rev 3:20).
Many people mistakenly import the word heart into this verse, but it’s not here. The door mentioned is not to the heart, but to the church itself. Where does church dining take place? In the fellowship hall, of course, not in the cardiac care unit! This verse is not for unbelievers but for believers who need to be reconnected with their Savior.
Consider Jesus’ words about fellowship in John 14:21-24; He says He and the Father will make their home with the one who keeps His commandments; this is rich fellowship with the Father and the Son. Like Thyatira, the church in Laodicea is promised the magnificent reward of reigning with Christ if they become zealous (instead of lukewarm) and repent. This is without a doubt a gracious promise. Do you want to sit with Christ on His throne in the Kingdom? In this passage He is teaching us what is necessary to do just that.
Live By Faith
To experience a victorious life, we must live by faith in Jesus Christ. First John 5:10 emphasizes the involvement of the Holy Spirit (the “Witness”) in the believer’s life, and John 16:33 addresses the benefits of abiding in Christ (“in Me”). It becomes clear that “overcoming” and “abiding in Christ” are equivalent expressions.
First John 5:5 sums up the victorious life nicely: “Who is he who is living victoriously [“ho nikōn”] over the world, but he who is believing that Jesus is the Son of God?” Believer, are you striving for Nike (victory)?
Bill Fiess teaches math in Virginia. Pam Esteven is a former school teacher and homeschooling mom who lives in Baton Rouge, LA.