In Revelation chapters 2 and 3, our Lord encourages the churches to overcome the issues He raises. These passages tell us how to prepare for Judgment Day. Are the warnings of punishment about overcomers referring to believers, or not? Here is an example of such a passage:
“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.” (Rev. 2:22-23)
“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.” (Rev. 3:3)
These warnings present 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.
To spell it out: 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?
Jesus indeed 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 flimsy, for 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 actually composed of those who repent and those who don’t.
A person needs to overcome something before she can be called an overcomer. She needs to win a contest before she is called a winner. The readers of John’s epistle were formerly slaves of the wicked one and of 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 the attitude toward sin and God as a result of faith in the Word preached to them.
overcomer = saved
overcomer = one who responded by faith and repented
The churches in Rev. 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.
In this life we will never finish overcoming. Living with the end in view is to keep hearing what the Spirit is saying to the churches – and keep responding in humility.