VIII. The church within every church, the overcomers.

In every church that we have examined there is this precious group of people known as the overcomers. Every church had this group within it that was addressed by Christ; some churches had more of this number and some churches have less. This group is not the subject of any rebuke (not as overcomers though they are members of the churches that were rebuked) but they are only the subjects of promise. There are eight specific sets of promises which we will look at. Seven of those promise sets we find in these two chapters and the third at the end of this book. Before we look into these sets of promises we must ask ourselves this question: who are the overcomers? We know that every true church contains them. We might say that these are what make a church a true New Testament church. Without them there is no one to gather in His name for Him to be in their midst. To overcome means to conquer, to vanquish, and to subdue. It means to be the victor or to gain complete superiority. This victory that they gained or this superiority was not something that they had in and of themselves. The victory and the superiority belongs to Christ: “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). This though is a victory that we may share with Him. In the same way that He took the cup He said that we take the cup. In the same way that He took up the cross He said we have a cross to take up. We all have a cup to drink, a cross to bear, and a crown to wear; all of these things belong first and foremost to Him. Now it may be said to this company “ye have overcome the wicked one” (I John 2:13). So we can be sure of one thing concerning this group; they are indelibly connected with the person of Christ. So are these some sort of elite class of Christians? Surely each set of promises are connected with the particular trials that were present in each church; ones which this class particularly found victory over. For instance, the overcomers in Smyrna were faithful to death and were promised that they would not be hurt with the second death thus making them overcomers of death itself. These people of which we call overcomers are not just some elite class of faithful disciples they are all disciples of Christ. They represent all who are truly saved. John speaking to all Christians said this: “Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” (I John 4:4). If you are truly saved then every set of promises belongs to you for no matter what through Christ the world, the flesh, and the devil have been overcome by our King and us in Him. They overcame them by the blood of the Lamb as we shall later see. Unless there is still doubt that every believer is contained under the heading of overcomers John makes the following statement. “For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God” (I John 5:4, 5). Every New Testament church may be a mixture of sheep and goats; wheat and tares. The lost will be named under the membership of the churches while they are on the earth. Wicked men may creep in unaware. Every true church until Christ comes and makes them perfect in Him, will be blotted with unbelievers, hypocrites, and blasphemers. The church though exists solely because of this group known as the overcomers. It is for them that Christ died and every promise belongs to them. It is these that will spend eternity with Christ. It is these that are the church within every church.

An even more important point is that anyone can be a member of this group. Ultimately every message from Christ to every church was a salvation message: a call for men to overcome through Christ. “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches….” Faith comes by hearing. Anyone within the sound of the preaching of the gospel may respond and repent and be saved. The Spirit is the one that speaks. The Spirit is doing a work through the preaching. He is pricking hearts. He is convincing men of sin, righteousness, and judgment. And these messages are preached among the churches. What is needed is for men who have ears (that is the spiritual ear that is opened by the Spirit) for them to no longer stop their ears and to hear what the Lord is saying. You do not have to be lost. You do not have to endure those things which are threatened. We may overcome all through Christ if we will but hear and receive what Christ says. Henry summed this oft repeated phrase like this: “Observe, (1.) What is written in the scriptures is spoken by the Spirit of God. (2.) What is said to one church concerns all the churches, in every place and age. (3.) We can never employ our faculty of hearing better than in hearkening to the word of God: and we deserve to lose it if we do not employ it to this purpose. Those who will not hear the call of God now will wish at length they had never had a capacity of hearing any thing at all.”

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The first set of promises concerns the regaining of paradise. “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of  God.” For a church that had collectively fallen from their first estate, leaving their first love; it is an interesting correlation that the promise harkens back to the imagery of the fall. Paradise was lost by Adam leaving his first estate and so paradise is lost in any church when they leave their first love. Considering paradise as it was originally, we are amazed at the intimate fellowship that existed between man and God. Man freely ate of the tree of life. God made provision for the continuance of the physical existence of man and man freely partook. It is intimated that God Himself, in the person of the Son, walked with mankind in the cool of the day. Man consciously decided to leave this. For the Christian, paradise is regained through Christ both symbolically and one day literally. Churches may leave their first love but for the true Christian nothing is able to separate them from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8). Symbolically, Christ is the tree of life. It is by feeding on Him that we have eternal life. It is by Him dying on that precious tree that His blood was made drink indeed and His flesh became meat indeed. He saves us and He sustains us. He is the one in the midst of His church and they may sit at His feet and feed on Him. Symbolically, the paradise of God is where Christ is met with in the assembly. So in this symbol the promise is full fellowship and full sustenance found in Christ. Christ under the picture of the matron of wisdom is said to be “a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her…” (Prov. 3:18). That is a promise well worth clinging to. This promise though is futuristic. I am not sure exactly what the tree of life will look like but I know that it will be in our future. We are forever finite beings and for all eternity we will need to partake of something to sustain our physical existence. We are forever contingent and dependent beings. God alone is necessary and independent. The Mormon idea of us becoming God is foolishness for we will always need the provision of God to sustain the health of our existence. The promise to the Christian is that such a provision will be given. When man sinned a flaming sword kept man back from the tree of life; God’s provision for the continuance of their physical life. Death seized on them but in heaven the flaming sword will be gone. Christ will give us to eat of that tree. He will serve us and ensure our sustenance. This indeed is a promise for us. John will later tell us that the believer that enters heaven will not only be given to eat but will “have right to the tree of life.” It will be their right to have it. It will be a matter of God’s justice to allow them eternal sustenance. I fancy to myself that it is Christ Himself or God Himself that men partake of. The midst of Paradise is a place for Christ. It will be there and it will be there for our constant healing and it will always be something new and refreshing for us (Rev. 22:2). Jamieson stated this: “The main bliss of Paradise is that it is the Paradise of God; God Himself dwelling there (Revelation 21:3).” The first promise to the overcomer is that they will enjoy all of the blessings of paradise in which man lost by their sin.

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Secondly, the promise to the overcomer is the promise of overcoming death. “He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.” We remember that this promise was given to the true believers in a church that was experiencing the fires of persecution. They were faithful unto death. They were willing to give up their very lives for the faith of Christ. Death and loss were a reality for those Christians that served in this church. Christ has reminded us before that man can kill the body but can do no more. “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt 10:28). Man can do nothing else to us than to destroy our physical bodies but Christ has the keys of hell and death. Here the promise is that the true believers will not be hurt with the second death. Here we should discuss what death is for a minute. Death is not the end of anything as some wish to define it. Scientifically (the 1st law of thermodynamics) we may say that nothing can truly be destroyed it can only change from one form to another. In our experience nothing has truly come to an end and it would be a leap of faith for one to believe that it will. God did not create the soul of man in order for it to be extinguished. He created all men to endure in one form or another when He breathed into them the breath of life and made them in His very image. Death is simply this; separation. The first death occurred in the Garden of Eden. Man due to his rebellion died the moment he ate the fruit of disobedience. He was separated from God; hiding in the bushes, driven from the presence of his Creator. That was the first death. All men ever since have partaken of the first death and were dead in sins. Sin revived and I died; the day I first knew something to be wrong and did it anyway we became sinners and showed ourselves to be dead in sins. Physical death is the natural byproduct of that first death. Being alienated from God physical death was promised to all. The second death is eternal. If man remains in spiritual death when judgment comes they will be condemned to the second death; eternal death, eternal separation from God. For the believer, the promise is, once they are saved from the first death, that they will never die. Their physical bodies may perish but they will not die. The second death cannot touch them. They are upheld in life by Christ and shall never die. Even in the fires of martyrdom they will not die. Lay their bodies in the grave but the second death cannot hurt them. Paul said that there is now no condemnation for them that are in Christ. What a promise!

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The third promise is the promise of secret fellowship. “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.” This set of promises provides the saved with a secret sustenance, a clean slate, a new identity, and a supernatural knowledge. Consider them one by one. We know that manna is a type of Christ the bread which came down from heaven. The promise of Christ is that whoever will eat of the bread of life will have eternal life. For the Christian they continue to find substance in Christ. The Israelites were preserved 40 years by the manna that God sent. They never lacked bread. They never lacked what they needed. God provided for them until they came into the Promised Land. For the Christian marching through the wilderness of this life the promise is the same. We have in Christ a vast supply of which the world knows not. We are like our Savior to this ignorant world and we have meat which they know not of. The believer not only has the promise of sustenance but also of a clean slate. Johnson pointed out that “Among the Greeks a white stone was a symbol of acquittal, as a black stone was of guilt. The white stone implies justification, innocence and victory.” Henry agreed stating that “This white stone is absolution from the guilt of sin, alluding to the ancient custom of giving a white stone to those acquitted on trial and a black stone to those condemned….” All things are made new by Christ; though we were guilty we have been acquitted. Our consciences have been sprinkled by the blood of Christ. Our crimes are blotted off and will be remembered no more. And we have a continual cleansing (I John 1:9). Christ has given us a token of this in the precious gems of Scripture. On that stone a new name is written; a new identity for the believer. We sing the song “a new name written in heaven; and it is mine.” When Jacob the supplanter wrestled with the angel of the Lord there was given a new name to him; Israel the prince. A new name comes with the new nature. We are no longer known as sinners but as saints. We are no longer called the children of disobedience but the children of God. Henry stated that “the new name is the name of adoption: adopted persons took the name of the family into which they were adopted.” And there is a supernatural knowledge. We can each only know for ourselves. We can have full assurance that we have salvation but we can only have it for ourselves. Henry stated that “None can read the evidence of a man’s adoption but himself….” Assurance is given of God only to those who themselves have trusted in Christ.

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The next set of promises concerns the reign of the righteous. “And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father. And I will give him the morning star.” This is the only set of promises that involves a qualifier. This is the only promise that demands something more than simply believing. In some sense all have overcome in Christ; they presently enjoy the victory of Christ and shall yet share in His victory over the nations. These though are not promises to those who are saved alone but to those who are saved and endure to the end. I believe with all my heart that the reward will not all be the same. Eternity will not bare the banner of equality that our generation is so fond of. One star will differ from another star in glory (I Cor. 15). There will be reward in accordance with the works that are done in the flesh. Some will be rewarded for their ten talents and some will be rewarded for their two talents (Matt. 25). There will be some that will look to themselves that they receive a full reward and there will be others that will, as Peter, falter at the sight of the winds and waves and receive only a partial reward. There is meaning and purpose for the things we do. The more we glorify the Lord in this life the more of His glory we will share in His reign. If you are saved you have overcome but if you add to that salvation endurance for Christ this set of promises will take a special meaning for you. Notice that the promises here pertain not to those who keep (or maintain possession of) His words, for all who are saved will not cease to believe His words, but rather Christ says that these promises belong to those who keep His works. Blessed are those who will be found so doing. Every Christian will not stop believing but not every Christian will continue working. The work of some will not end until they are placed in the grave or meet with the martyr’s fire or get caught up together with Christ in the clouds. The aim of all who overcome through Christ is also to lay claim on these promises for the glory of Christ.

Christ has received power, rule, and glory from His Father. The promise of the Father to the Son was this: “I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee. Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” The rule of this earth has been given fully to Him. He will, one day, step foot on this earth and all nations will be ruled by Him. He will be the judge of the earth. He will rule with a rod of iron. He will demand holiness from those who loved wickedness. He will judge with absolute righteousness and will break in pieces all falsehood and dash in pieces all wickedness among men. To the most faithful among the saved there will be power given when the government is laid on the shoulders of the Prince of Peace. They will have authority with Christ. The nations will answer to them. They will exercise rule because of their closeness to the King. Johnson stated this: “A scepter of iron means a firm and enduring power. Rule: Shall rule as a shepherd is the meaning of the Greek word. The rule will not be a cruel, but a guardian rule. As the vessels of a potter; So the nations shall be broken in pieces and all become one under the rule of Christ.” What glory some will get to share with Christ in His kingdom! Not only will He give them great authority in His kingdom He will also give them great glory. He will give them the morning star. The morning star is Christ which is connected with the glory of Christ in the millennial reign (Rev. 22:16). Christ is basically saying that He will give of Himself to these. Johnson stated that “This, then, means that Christ will give them a fellowship with himself; they shall share his dominion.” Jamison summed it up somewhat better: “I will give unto him Myself, who am “the morning star” (Revelation 22:16); so that reflecting My perfect brightness, he shall shine like Me, the morning star, and share My kingly glory (of which a star is the symbol, Numbers 21:17, Matthew 2:2).” Moses due to his close communion with God had his face to shine before the people so will these shine like Christ. The faithful will get to share in a special way as reflectors of His very glory.

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The next set of promises to those who are saved concerns the security of the believer. “He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; 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.” I have run into those who have used this text as a proof text for the idea that those who are truly saved can be lost again. They do this not understanding that all who are saved are the recipients of these promises for those who overcome are those who have truly been saved by Christ. Three distinct promises are contained in this set which is given particularly to a church that is full of those who have fallen away and have defiled their garments with this world; They will be perfectly sanctified, they will forever have their names written, and they be confessed by Christ in heaven. First, we see that they will be perfectly sanctified for they shall be clothed in white. They will one day be perfectly free from sin. They have been made free from its wages and have been loosed from its power while here on earth and they will one day be freed from its presence to forever wear white. Each of these is guaranteed for the saved. There will be nothing that will spot them. There will be no blame or shame which they will be caused to bear in Kingdom of Christ. They shall be clothed and covered with purity. That is a wonderful promise but it gets better. Their names will not be blotted out of the book of life. We shall see at the end of the book that whosoever is not written in the book of life shall be cast into the Lake of Fire which is the second death. Those whose names are not written there are those who are completely and finally lost. Those who have overcome through faith in Christ are completely and finally saved. They shall never perish. They shall never come into condemnation. The Lord in no wise or under no circumstances will cast them out. They have been written permanently and shall not be blotted out. The idea of this promise is not that it is possible for names to once be written and then erased but rather that once their names are written they will under no circumstances be blotted out. We may indeed rejoice that we are written with the righteous in heaven (Ps. 69:28). We will deal with what the book of life is at another instance but for now let us suffice to say that it is a book that God alone has written of which the names of all that will be saved are written and all that will ultimately be lost are absent (Ex. 32:32, Dan. 12:1, Rev. 20:15). Jamieson said this: “In the sense of the “call,” many are enrolled among the called to salvation, who shall not be found among the chosen at last. The pale of salvation is wider than that of election. Election is fixed. Salvation is open to all and is pending (humanly speaking) in the case of those mentioned here.” Whatever one may believe about election though as it pertains to the book of life one thing is sure; this promise is sure that those who have come to Christ will never be lost. Lastly, those that overcome are promised of Christ to be confessed before the Father in heaven. Christ will proudly own them completely and finally. He will stand before the Father’s throne and say “these belong to Me. These are those you gave me to save. These are those who have come to you through me.” He will gladly rejoice with us and call our names before the Father and the angels will hear our names as well. This is what Christ will do as our Advocate in heaven and as our Intercessor with the Father. I fancy that this is part of what we find in the fifteenth chapter of Luke when it says that there will be rejoicing with the Father in the presence of the angels when one sinner comes to repentance. I fancy that Christ the great intercessor there first says our names and all heaven rejoices. I also fancy that before we hear the words “well done thou good and faithful servant” it will first occur that our great Advocate names our names. This is the great graduation ceremony. Christ will present us once and all to the Father, those of us that are saved. This end is secured. “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 10:32, 33). Matthew Henry summed up this set of promises well: “Observe, (1.) Christ has his book of life, a register and roll of all who shall inherit eternal life. [1.] The book of eternal election. [2.] The book of remembrance of all those who have lived to God, and have kept up the life and power of godliness in evil times. (2.) Christ will not blot the names of his chosen and faithful ones out of this book of life; men may be enrolled in the registers of the church, as baptized, as making a profession, as having a name to live, and that name may come to be blotted out of the roll, when it appears that it was but a name, a name to live, without spiritual life; such often lose the very name before they die, they are left of God to blot out their own names by their gross and open wickedness. But the names of those that overcome shall never be blotted out. (3.) Christ will produce this book of life, and confess the names of the faithful who stand there, before God, and all the angels; he will do this as their Judge, when the books shall be opened; he will do this as their captain and head, leading them with him triumphantly to heaven, presenting them to the Father: Behold me, and the children that thou hast given me. How great will this honour and reward be!” These indeed are exceeding great and precious promises.

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The next promise that we see is concerning the permanency of eternity for those that overcome. “Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.” Here we have no permanent place. We in this ever changing world being bound and swept on in the tide of time can never have a permanent place. We are Pilgrims that are just passing through. We pitch our tents only for a while. We can never step out foot in the same river twice. The ways of this world are like the ways of the strange woman: her ways are moveable that we cannot know them. Those that wish to set up a place of permanency in the here and now are truly deluded. Fleeting experiences of satisfaction will always wash away like sands by waves of grieve. The lust of the flesh, the lust of eyes, and the pride of life are not only evil in their opposition to God but also in their inability to live up to their promises. No one who has ever chased them have found in them anything other than emptiness. There is no earthly utopia men will ever achieve in this life due to the lack of permanency in this world. “And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever” (I John 2:17). There is permanency only in the will of God. This set of promises concerns the permanency which the Christian will find in the world to come. Abraham and all that looked to these promises found themselves as pilgrims in search of a city whose builder and maker is God; for whatsoever God shall do shall be forever. “But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city” (Heb. 11:16). This is not “pie in the sky” ideology but built on the sure promises of God as we see in our text. The same God which accomplished the wonders of old and the wonders of our experience is the same God whom we trust to bring us to that place.

First, there is promised a permanency of position. The true Christian is promised that they will be pillars in the temple of the God of Jesus Christ; that is the God that Christ has reconciled us to (II Cor. 5:17-21, I Pet. 3:18, John 14:6). The temple is the place where God is met and the promise is that we will be pillars there. We will forever be there. A pillar is the indispensable support of building. Not only is there is a permanency of position but there is also a permanency of fellowship. It is promised here that we shall never go out of the temple. We shall never go out from the place of God’s presence. So shall we ever be with the Lord. At no point in our future will we ever go from God’s presence even the in the here and now we are “prone to wonder.” Lastly, there is a permanency of ownership. Christ said He would write on us three separate names as a show to which we really belong. We belong first and foremost to God. Christ has brought us to God and has written his name upon us. The high priest of old would have “holiness to the Lord” written above his head. It showed that he was fully set apart for the service of God. This will be true for all believers who are made kings and priests unto God. The second name of ownership is the name of the city which God prepared. Heaven belongs to us. We have been set aside for it (we will speak at length about this city at the end of this book). Then we belong to Christ. His new name is written upon us. His new name will be King of kings and Lord of lords. He is now called Savior by the believer but He will then be called by all the Lord of all the earth. We will permanently belong to God, the heaven, and to Christ.

The last set of promises given to those who overcome in Christ concerns the promise of glory. “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.” Christ overcame all for us. He cried out “it is finished.” He has risen from the grave and has sat down on the right hand of the Father. He has been exalted in glory and the promise here is that we will be exalted in the same way. We cannot sit on the throne of the Father for we are not deity as Christ. He set on the Father’s throne and only in our union with Him have we been so exalted to sit with Him in heavenly places, being brought to God by Him. But we will sit in the throne of Christ. Jamieson stated that “Two thrones are here mentioned: (1) His Father’s, upon which He now sits, and has sat since His ascension, after His victory over death, sin, the world; upon this none can sit save God, and the God-man Christ Jesus, for it is the incommunicable prerogative of God alone; (2) the throne which shall be peculiarly His as the once humbled and then glorified Son of man, to be set up over the whole earth (heretofore usurped by Satan) at His coming again; in this the victorious saints shall share (1 Corinthians 6:2).” We will be exalted with Him on this earth. He has a throne that He is waiting to sit upon and that throne is on this earth. We will share that throne with Him. We will be there when every knee bows before Him and we will share in His glory.

There is an eighth promise which is given to those who are truly saved, who have overcome through Chirst. It is worth mentioning here though it is proper to expound on it fully at another time. It will give us wonderful words to ponder on as we consider the promises of a God who cannot lie: “He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son” (Rev. 21:7). God has indeed given us exceeding great and precious promises.

 

 

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