Sunday December 6th
Here’s a little riddle to start off our study of Revelation chapters 2 and 3 this morning:
Guess this word:
1. The word has seven letters...
2. It was there before God...
3. It is greater than God...
4. It is more evil than the devil...
5. All poor people have it...
6. Wealthy people need it...
7. If you eat it, you will die.
The answer is:
And speaking of 7 letters, these next two chapters contain the seven letters that Jesus dictated for John to deliver to seven different churches in the area that we refer to as Asia Minor.
It starts with these words to the church in Ephesus:
“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:
The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this:
2 ‘I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; 3 and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 5 Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent. 6 Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.’
This first letter sets a pattern for all seven letters – Jesus commends the church for what they are doing well, then points out where they need to improve.
Then He promises a reward for those who overcome the challenges that they are facing.
These promises to the overcomers present us with some interesting questions:
(1) Who is an overcomer?
(2) What is the nature of obtaining these promises?
The term “overcome” means “to conquer, prevail, or triumph.” Overcomers are those who overcome sin and worldliness and who stand faithfully for the Lord in the midst of the spiritual battle around them.
The New Testament clearly teaches us that we are in a conflict or a battle. Even after our salvation that conflict still rages on.
Two key passages that illustrate the nature of our conflict with evil are Ephesians 2:1-2 and 6:12:
Ephesians 2:1-2 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.
Ephesians 6:12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.
These conflicts comes from 3 sources:
(1) Satan, who is our chief adversary
(2) A world system which under the control of the evil one and is opposed to God and His purposes
(3) Indwelling sin or the flesh and all its corrupting power and life dominating patterns
Thankfully Jesus Christ is the ultimate Overcomer - the ultimate source of our victory:
In John 16:33 Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”
2 Corinthians 2:14 says, “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in His triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place."
And 1st John 5:4 tells us - For whatever is born of God overcomes the world.
Nevertheless, the path to victory requires our cooperation with God. It takes discipline, diligence, and commitment to draw near to God and to act on His promises and His provision by faith.
The messages to the seven churches suggests that John is admonishing believers in each church to overcome specific trials and temptations by faithful obedience through the strength that comes with their new life in Christ.
Revelation 2:7 says, “To him who overcomes I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God.”
But this is directly connected the admonition in 2:5 which reads, “Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first …”
So the promise is only for the ones who heed the warning. It’s not automatic.
Let’s look at what Jesus says to the next church:
8 “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write:
The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life, says this:
9 ‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. 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.’
Again we see the admonitions “Do not fear …” and “Be faithful until death” are the context for the promise, “He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death”.
Every Christian is a new creation. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). A Christian is not simply an “improved” version of an old person; a Christian is an entirely new creature.
We are made new “in Christ.” But the Bible does not promise that we as believers will live victorious, holy lives. Even as believers we may experience temporary setbacks and ongoing bouts with sin.
Notice that a specific word is spoken by Jesus to the “overcomers” in each of these churches. Jesus speaks a special word of encouragement to each of them, and certainly we may apply these words to ourselves today.
Here is Jesus’ message to the third church:
12 “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write:
The One who has the sharp two-edged sword says this:
13 ‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is; and you hold fast My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days of Antipas, My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. 14 But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality. 15 So you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth. 17 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.’
Do you see the pattern? The call to repent in verse16 precedes the promise to the overcomer verse17.
18 “And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write:
The Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet are like burnished bronze, says this:
19 ‘I know your deeds, and your love and faith and service and perseverance, and that your deeds of late are greater than at first. 20 But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.
21 I gave her time to repent, and she does not want to repent of her immorality. 22 Behold, I will throw her on a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds. 23 And I will kill her children with pestilence, and all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds. 24 But I say to you, the rest who are in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not known the deep things of Satan, as they call them—I place no other burden on you. 25 Nevertheless what you have, hold fast until I come. 26 He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations; 27 and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, as the vessels of the potter are broken to pieces, as I also have received authority from My Father; 28 and I will give him the morning star. 29 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
A lot of people get focused on the identity of Jezebel. I think it’s more important to see that the challenge to “hold fast until I come” leads to the promise that, “to him I will give authority over the nations”. There is a clear connection between deeds and rewards. Salvation can’t be earned, but rewards can be, and they should be by sincere believers.
Chapter three starts off with more of the same:
3 “To the angel of the church in Sardis write:
He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars, says this: ‘I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God. 3 So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you. 4 But you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. 5 He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. 6 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
In verse 5, the promise to the overcomer is tied into verse 4 by the word “thus”. “But you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; and they will walk with Me in white; for they are worthy. He who overcomes shall thus clothed in white garments …”
Revelation 19:8 shows that the white garment mentioned in this verse consists of the “righteous acts of the saints.” It should be evident, then, that the white garment is a reward for works of righteousness that occur after salvation.
7 “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:
He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens, says this:
8 ‘I know your deeds. Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name. 9 Behold, I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan, who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—I will make them come and bow down at your feet, and make them know that I have loved you. 10 Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. 11 I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, so that no one will take your crown. 12 He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; and I will write on 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. 13 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
Yo, Philly! You want to be a pillar, don’t let anyone take your crown. Hold on to what you’ve got!
14 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:
The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this: 15 ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. 16 So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.
17 Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, 18 I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. 21 He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”
This final promise to the one who overcomes is set in the context of the Jesus’ invitation to fellowship. We can’t sit down to dine with Jesus unless we are willing to open the door to Him daily.
And ultimately, that’s going to be the source of any overcoming that we achieve – Being with Jesus!
These promises to the overcomers are promises of rewards for faithfulness. But the very source of our faithfulness is knowing the faithful one Himself! We draw our ability to be faithful from our intimacy with our faithful savior, who was obedient and faithful to the very end, even to the cross!
Let me sum it up this way - All of us as believers are overcomers in the sense that we have become children of God, we have been rescued out of darkness and brought into the glorious light of Christ. Every believer is an overcomer in that sense.
But as Christians we can still fail to live fully for the Lord and we can fall short in completely overcoming the desires of our flesh. If we have truly believed in Jesus Christ, we can’t lose our salvation, but we can lose out on some of our rewards by failing to overcome the challenges that we face with the spiritual weapons and resources that we’ve been given.
In every instance that Jesus speaks to the seven churches, He always says, To HIM who overcomes”.
It’s a personal choice. I know what my choice is. Do you?