THE OVERCOMER OF
The problem of the identity of the "overcomer" in the book of
Revelation has resulted in a multiplicity of interpretations. Interest in
this issue has been heightened by a number of recent publications.
However, only the view that all genuine believers are "overcomers,"
not only those who are "more victorious" in their Christian living,
does justice to all the evidence. Thus, erroneous ideas of what it
means to be an "overcomer" must be refuted. Maintaining the
viewpoint that all true believers are "overcomers" also involves a
defense of the doctrines of eternal security and of the perseverance of
* * *
IN Revelation 2-3, Christ addresses seven historical churches of
conditions recur in churches that claim his name down through the
centuries. In a letter to each of the seven churches he promises a
specific blessing to every person who overcomes (nika<w, "to over-
come," "be victor"). It is profitable to inquire into the nature of the
blessing (reward) for overcoming, but the main purpose in this article
is to address one question: who is the overcomer who receives the
A SURVEY OF MAIN VIEWS
The leading interpretations are:
A saved person who retains salvation, which some forfeit
Those persuaded to this view often hold that all seven promises
pertain only to that number among the saved who finally prove
262 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
faithful, whether or not their commitment reaches martyrdom. In this
interpretation, some who once were truly saved do not persevere; they
forfeit the privilege of ever receiving the final reward, understood as
eternal salvation, which Christ promises the overcomer.1 A variation,
however, is the position of Kiddle. He sees the overcomer as especially
the martyr in all seven letters, and limits him only to the martyr in
A saved person who conquers, distinguished from a defeated
This interpretation is to the effect that the overcomer is only the
more victorious believer, so only such a one will receive the rewards
Christ promises. The saved person with much unfaithfulness mingled
with some fruit in his life will still remain saved eternally. He stands
simply to fail to gain aspects of reward that are held to be distinct
from salvation, blessings sometimes claimed to be in addition to
salvation,3 which Christ assures to the overcomer. Evidence for the
1 Guy Duty, If Ye Continue (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1966), 148-55; G. H. Lang, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (London: Oliphants, Ltd., 1945), 91-108,
especially 91-93; Robert Shank, Life in the Son (
Publishers, 1961), 337.
2 Martin Kiddle, The Revelation of
(p. 63). Only the martyr, having been fully proved and having fully proved his
faithfulness, is assured "beyond any shadow of uncertainty" as to his immortality
(p. 46; cf. also p. 62). Five of the promises are not alone to the martyr but to all the
faithful among the saved. For example, all whose names are found in the Book of Life
in the Day of Judgment are admitted into the New Jerusalem (2:7; ; 22:2, p. 62).
But the saved who do not persevere lose the "citizenship of the heavenly society" (p. 45;
also 55), for they can yet be erased from the book (3:5; p. 62). The two cases Kiddle
limits only to martyrs probably should not be so restricted. The promise of ruling with
Christ (-28; ; 20:4, 5) seems to be a prospect for all of those among the saved,
without excluding some (5:9, 10; 22:5). So 5:9, 10 and 22:5 expand on 20:4, 5. An
analogy is the crown of life, promised to those faithful unto death (). It is elsewhere
assured to all who endure testing, without specifying unto death (James ).
can hold up the bright promise as a powerfully relevant encouragement in the crisis of
saved. To be reminded of "life" which would overcome a martyr's death would be
particularly meaningful when death could
be so imminent.
evaluating and showing weaknesses of Kiddle's conception, argues rightly that blessings
Christ promises the overcomer in Revelation 2-3 he pledges to all the redeemed in
other passages of the Apocalypse (Kept By the Power of God [
Fellowship, 1975], 453-54, n. 3).
3 Donald G. Barnhouse, Messages to the Seven Churches (
Book Service, 1953). He reasons that eating from the tree of life (2:7) is for only some
of the saved, a blessing "in addition to salvation" (p. 38); the crown of life is only for
"the select few whom He chooses to suffer with Him, even unto physical death," or
ROSSCUP: THE OVERCOMER OF THE APOCALYPSE 263
third view, while not exhaustive, will hopefully show that this concep-
tion does not adequately account for the biblical testimony.
Every saved person
All of the genuinely saved will turn out to be overcomers and
receive the reward Christ promises them.4 When Scripture is properly
correlated, it supports this view. Considerations that point in this
direction now follow.
SUPPORT FOR THE THIRD VIEW
1. 1 John 5:4, 5 more naturally favors this explanation. Verse 4
says that whatever has been born of God overcomes the world. The
key to being born of God is believing that Jesus is the Messiah (v 1).
The key to overcoming, whether in this rebirth or in matters that
follow, is faith (v 4b). Every person who believes that Jesus is the Son
of God is an overcomer (v 5), just as everyone who believes that Jesus
is the Messiah has been born of God (v 1). Believing in Jesus as the
Messiah and as Son of God appears also in John , 31. There,
those who believe have life (cf. 1 John , 11, 13). And in John 20
as well as 1 John 5, the assertions embrace every saved person.
Verse 4 shows that John is not claiming that the person by virtue
of what he is in himself automatically is able to overcome. The power
within him, the dynamic of God's life, is what overcomes. "Whatever
is born of God" features the neuter gender, and draws attention to the
those otherwise faithful (; James , p. 47). Cf. also p. 84. Barnhouse, discussing
some of the seven promises, does not follow through with remarks that suggest any
such distinction, but expounds the aspects of reward just as if he thinks they are
blessings all the saved will receive. This poses a question as to his consistency (cf. ;
pp. 56-57; 3:5, pp. 74-75; 3:21, pp. 94-95). Or, Barnhouse simply does not comment,
as in the promise of not being hurt by the second death (, p. 47). Cf. for this view
also several master's theses at Dallas Theological Seminary: Ralph D. Richardson,
"The Johannine Doctrine of Victory," 1955, pp. 20-29; R. R. Benedict, "The Use of
Nikao in the Letters to the Seven Churches of Revelation," 1966, p. 13; Wm. R. Ross,
Jr., "An Analysis of the Rewards and Judgments in Revelation 2 and 3," 1971, p. 20;
Harlan D. Betz, "The Nature of Rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ," 1974,
4 L. S. Chafer, Systematic Theology (Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press, 1948),3.306;
W. Robert Cook, The Theology of John (Chicago: Moody, 1979), 173-83; R. E.
Manahan, “'Overcomes the World'-1 John
5:4," M.Div. Thesis (
cf. 28-43; William Newell, The Book of Revelation (Chicago: Moody, 1935), 42, 52,
339; John R. W. Stott, What Christ Thinks of the Church (
1958), 97f., 118-25; Lehman Strauss, The Book of the Revelation (Neptune, New
Christ (Chicago: Moody, 1966), 59 (2:7) and 98-99 ().
264 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
very principle of overcoming "in its most general and abstract form.”5
It lays special focus on the victorious power, not the person himself.
But in v 5 the focus turns to "the person who overcomes the world."
God himself is the resource of victory as in 4:4: "You...have
overcome them; because greater is he who is in you than he who is in
the world" (cf. Christ as overcomer in John ; Rev 5:5; ).
In v 4, literally, "For whatever has been born and is born of God
(perfect tense) overcomes (present tense) the world." John adds: "and
this is the victory that has overcome (nikh<sasa) the world—our
faith." The aorist can refer back to a definite act of victory over the
world by faith at conversion, or any past resolute act or trend of
rejecting error in doctrine after conversion (I John 4:4), or a past
by-faith life-style of having overcome the world gathered up as a
whole, and, of course, including the other instances of overcoming
(cf. e@gnw in 4:8). The last appears more probable in view of the
perfect tense for being born, a fact that still stands true, and the
present tense for a customary pattern preceding the aorist in v 4.
Verse 5 goes on to utilize present tenses, quite plausibly cus-
tomary or iterative presents, to denote the general overall pattern of
overcoming for the Christian who believes in an ongoing sense (v I,
pisteuw, present tense) that Jesus is the Son of God. Later, in
Revelation 2-3, "he who overcomes" is virtually the same as "he who
believes." As Robertson says: "...nikao [is] a common Johannine
verb....Faith is dominant in Paul, victory in John, faith is victory
(1 John 5:4).”(6) John also uses the present tense of nika<w in Revelation
2-3, suggesting that continuing victory is characteristic of the saved
just as continuing faith is (1 John 5:1).
Does every saved person in fact overcome in the Christian
struggle? In the biblical sense, yes. The context emphasizes attitudes
of commitment that continue. For example, "whoever loves (v 1b,
present tense) the Father who begets loves (present tense) the one
begotten by him," i.e., another saved person. Verses 2 and 3 stress
that Christians manifest their love by love for God and obeying him.
This obedience is not an irksome burden. The "for" which connects
v 4 with v 3 links overcoming in v 4 with obedience through love in
the Christian life that follows one's initial act of faith and his new
birth. A distinction between two genuine Christians would not be that
one overcomes the world in the present tense way that John means
and the other does not. Rather, both overcome though one may
overcome to a richer, more thorough degree than another. And any
Christian might overcome to a further degree as he matures in Christ.
5 Stott, 174.
6 A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in The New Testament (Nashville: Broadman, 1930), 6.300.
ROSSCUP: THE OVERCOMER OF THE APOCALYPSE 265
2. 1 John 4:4 shows that the "little children" have "overcome
them," i.e., every spirit of antichrist in the world. "Children" (te<kna)
and "little children" (te<knia) are common Johannine words for all
believers. In 1 John, these words refer to all of the saved except for
"children" of Satan () and possibly in 2:12.7 Most instances
definitely mean all of the saved (2: 1, 28; 3:1, 2, 7, 10, 18; 4:4; 5:2, 21).
God's power is the resource for overcoming; as John claims:
"greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world" (4:4b).
Reasonably, "you" finally applies to all of the saved, in that the
resource of the Lord being greater is not limited to a special class
among the saved. The contrast is between the saved—all of them—
and those of the world.
3. Rev 21:7 refers to any saved person. "He who overcomes shall
inherit these things." The context conveys the natural impression that
blessings the overcomer inherits are for any saved person. God shall
dwell among his people (v 3); he wipes away every tear (v 4); there is
no death, mourning, crying or pain (v 4); he makes all things new
(v 5). The passage distinguishes most naturally between only two
broad classes. If an interpreter claims he finds a third group, he reads
it in from a preconceived system, not from a natural exegesis of what
the text says. First, the text refers to the person who overcomes,
inherits, and is a son of God (v 7). Then, it immediately contrasts
those clearly unsaved, cowardly, unbelieving, who are not inheritors
of the city but inhabitants of the lake of fire (v 8). The same contrast
between two categories of people appears in these climactic verses
(; 22:11, 14, 15). In , all whose names are in the Lamb's
book of life are marked off from any person who is "unclean" and
"who practices abomination and lying." Those in the Lamb's book
apparently have practiced a clean, godly life since being saved (cf. 3:4,
5; 19:8; also cf. Titus 2:11ff.). That involves overcoming, though
saints can differ in their degree of overcoming and in the suitable
degree of reward!
So it appears that, in distinction to the unsaved, John means that
"he who overcomes" is any saved person. He is not one of a special
class among the saved, a spiritual victor in contrast to a saint who is
supposedly not a victor.
7In the word possibly refers to the same group as paidi<a in v 14. If so, John
addresses the believers by three
designations in the same order,
paidi<a seems to mean all the believers. If tekni<a in v 12 means all the born again, it of
course would fit well with our view in 4:4. Even if it distinguishes one group among the
born again, the recent converts (a sense different from its usage in the rest of 1 John), it
would not actually detract from our view. This is because tekni<a has well-established
reference to all the born again everywhere else in 1 John (except ). And 4:4 appears
to bear this sense.
266 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
4. The overall concept in 1 John gives one confidence that John
thinks of all who are born of God as overcomers. Real obedience can
assure one that he indeed knows Christ (2:4). A person who hates a
brother in that pervasive, continuing pattern that John's present tense
embraces in a sweep is not a bona fide Christian. He never was, for
John carefully tells us that he "is in darkness until now [or even now,
i.e., he is still there]" (2:9). John does not say that he is in darkness in
some particular experience of the moment only. Later, not only some
of the saved but "every one" who has his hope in Christ purifies
himself as Christ is pure (3:3; cf. Titus 2:11ff.). He does that in the
dynamic of faith which overcomes (5:4, 5), enabled by the One within
him (4:4b). Faith sets the desire at work within him to be like his
Savior. At the same time, "anyone" who does not practice righteous-
ness in the present tense way is not of God ().
John insists that in "every one" who is a Christian there will
emerge distinct characteristics of an authentically overcoming life.
These are characteristics such as obedience, loving a brother, purify-
ing the life, practicing righteousness, and being kept from the evil one
(cf. ). The frequent present tense suggests an overall trend of life.
This is not a set, static mold but dynamic. It allows for growth; it
does not denote absolute, sinless perfection now! In fact, while John
insists on marks of a Christian life-style for one who has eternal life,
and even boldly claims that one who is born of God does not sin,8 he
8 This may be variously explained. Zane Hodges relates 3:6, 9 to the saved "when
he is viewed only as 'abiding' or as one who is 'born of God.' That is, sin is never the
product of our abiding experience... of the regenerate self per se.” He adduces
Rom 7:20-25; Paul sins, yet can say "It is no longer I that do it" (The Gospel Under
Siege: A Study on Faith and Works [
argues that "cannot" (as 3:6) need not deny absolutely that a thing can occur but that it
is "wholly against the nature of things," e.g., Matt , "a good tree cannot bring forth
evil fruit" contrary to its nature, though it sometimes does; Mark , men "cannot"
fast while the Bridegroom is with them; it is incongruous and unnatural; Luke 11:7b;
; John 7:7; , etc. (God's Way of Holiness [
similarly, though arguing differently, R. E. O. White, An Open Letter to Evangelicals
ought to be, his ideal character, free from sin insofar as he abides; it is an eschatological
fact, conditioned on "if he lives in
Christ" (The Epistles of John [
Eerdmans, 1978], 180-84). Cf, John R. W. Stott's arguments against an ideal view (The
Epistles of John [
common view that the present tenses refer to sin as an overall, habitual pattern without
the victory that Christ gives when he is within (pp, 131-32). C. C. Ryrie, a colleague of
Hodges, inclines to this view ("The First Epistle of John," The Wycliffe Bible
Commentary, ed. C. Pfeiffer and E. F. Harrison (Chicago: Moody, 1962), 1473;
similarly Leon Morris, "1 John, 2 John, 3 John," New Bible Commentary: Revised
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 1265; A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in The New
Testament (Nashville: Broadman, 1933), 6.222. Sin as a pattern also appears to be in
ROSSCUP: THE OVERCOMER OF THE APOCALYPSE 267
is aware that acts of sin can break into the experience of real
Christians (1:9, 2:1, aorist tense twice; 3:3, implied possibility). But,
while aggressive for a godly life-style, he shows that God in Christ has
graciously made provision to forgive and cleanse sin when the one
born of God does falter (1:7, 9; 2:1, 2).
5. If in Revelation 2-3 God will admit some saved persons into
eternal blessing but not the aspects of reward meant for the over-
comer, these chapters never spell out what their aspects of blessing
will be. The curtain of silence drawn on a distinguishable future for a
non-overcoming group of the saved provokes a serious question.
Does such a saved group, which is to gain some reward distinct in its
essential nature from that of committed believers, in fact exist?
The rest of the Book of Revelation does not mark off such a
group in a convincingly recognizable way. A multitude of overcomers
in 15:2 partake of certain privileges beyond this life. If some of the
saved in heaven have not overcome, God never definitely distinguishes
them as being in a special category and extends them any encourage-
ment, such as "You at least have eternal life; you will dwell in the
presence of the Lord forever." The book nowhere identifies any saved
who enter into any kind of ultimate blessing except those naturally
understood as overcomers, who are marked by obedience to the
Word of God (as 3:8, 10; 6:9; 12:11; 13:8; 14:9-12; 22:7, 9, 11).
Passages which say directly that eternal life is free (1:5; 7:14, 21:6;
22:14, 17) are no exception to this. They can be grasped in relation to
their contexts, rather than misconstrued in isolation or in inept cor-
relations with other texts. Other verses in the contexts nearby usually
refer to the life-style that the people of faith live, which manifests the
faith that received the gift and works in channels of committed love,
as in Gal 5:6 (22:7, 9, 11, 12). In 21:6, access to the water of life is
"without cost." Yet in 7:9, 15-18 access to the springs of the water of
life is a blessing after the saints wash their robes in Christ's blood and
view in Gal , where it can keep a man from inheriting God's kingdom in that it
reflects lack of faith that works through love (5:6). John Murray relates 1 John 3:6, 9
to the sin of rejecting Christ, denying that he has come in the flesh, that he is the Son
of God, a specific sin as in certain other texts (John ; ; 1 John 4:2, 3; 5:1, etc.)
("Definitive Sanctification," Calvin Theological Journal 21 
however, does not sufficiently explain the present tense, which John uses often in
contrasts between godly aspects and sins in general, such as loving or not loving
(cf., for example, often in 3:4-10 which contrasts sons of God and sons of the devil, as
compared with the aorist tense twice in 2:1).
sometimes does not appear to be the
the above views is compatible with the concept that every saved person is an
overcomer. At this juncture it appears best to see true elements in each view but agree
most fully with Ryrie and Stott; to argue sufficiently would demand another article,
but cf. Stott's rather detailed reasoning.
268 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
come out of great tribulation. The saints involved indeed "paid the
price" in terms of commitment that lived out faith, being true to
Christ's cause; but they did not pay any "cost" in the sense of earning
or meriting access to that water of life! Jesus paid it all by his blood
NT passages outside the Apocalypse refer to all of the saved in
terms which classify them as victors in other ways. So they are
plausibly victors in their life-styles as well, in some vital degree. Paul
sees all the saved as victors over death (1 Cor 15:54) and over every
threat in general (Rom 8:37). His statement in 8:37 follows in context
after 8:14 which shows what characterizes the saved: ''as many as are
led by the Spirit of God are sons of God." Paul is convinced that
those persons are true sons of God who are led by God's Spirit. If this
characteristic reveals the real sons, the life-styles of the sons evidently
feature some degree of overcoming.
6. There are reasonable solutions to the problems of this pre-
ferred view. Many reactions turn out to be "straw men" made from
the stuff of misconceptions about how certain details best integrate
into a harmonious, overall picture.
Take, for instance, this claim: many who are saved do not, in
fact, overcome. Evaluation: If we do not decide by rare cases like
death-bed converts or the thief on the cross, we may still acknowledge
that every saved person with normal time and opportunity fails to
overcome some or many times in his life-span following his new birth.
All fall short of absolute, sinless perfection. Still, the real point is that
the Bible by its terminology describes the saved person as belonging
within a general class of people. He follows in the direction of faith
toward God in the thrust of his life. Christ's words embrace all the
saved, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow
Me ..." (John 10:27). Admittedly, these sheep are inconsistent. At
times they wander, follow at a strained distance, or temporarily go in
the opposite direction from God's will, as in Ps 119:176. Jonah is a
further example. Yet Jesus did not hesitate to define his people, all of
them, as those who "hear" and "follow." These words in the present
tense look at more than the initial act of faith alone. They do look at
this, to be sure, but also survey the sweep of their lives, the basic
direction and bent of character and action. The sheep persist despite
failures along life's trail. Some true followers of Christ may overcome
to a lesser degree than others, but all fit within the panorama of
Hodges unfortunately diminishes the statement of John 10:27
into a myopic either / or logic: ". ..the term 'follow' is simply another
Johannine metaphor for saving faith. ...It is a mistake to construe
the word 'follow' in John 10:27 as though it indicates something
about the future of the believer's experience after he receives eternal
ROSSCUP: THE OVERCOMER OF THE APOCALYPSE 269
life. In fact, it has nothing to do with it at all…”9 This does not
appear to hold up because:
(1) "Follow" in its usage applies both to the first step in respond-
ing to Christ for salvation and to the subsequent process of the life as
believers. The word "to follow," a]kolouqe<w, often appears to relate
to the entire sweep of obedient discipleship and is not confined only
to initial salvation in John's Gospel (8:12; 10:4, 5; 12:26, "follow"
seems co-extensive with "serve"; 21:19, 22, both refer to Peter after he
was saved initially). The other gospels use the term also in a far wider
sense than only the beginning step of faith (Matt 4:20; 8:19, 22, 23;
19:27, 28; Lk 9:23, "daily"; 9:57, "wherever you go"; 9:62, following
Jesus involves putting one's hand to the plow and going on with it
along the furrow; 18:28; cf. Rev 14:4, etc.). "Hear" and "follow," like
the word "abides" in John 6:56, even become characteristics of the
(2) It is grammatically natural, in view of present indicative
actives a]kou<ousin and a]kolouqou?sin, to relate the statement even to
general life-style. To bind the verbs only to the initial act of faith
(3) Relating the verbs to ongoing lives fits the natural, pastoral
metaphor of "sheep" that Jesus selects (10:2-5). A shepherd put his
sheep out for the day and then went ahead of them. They "heard" and
"followed" him, not simply in the first act of coming after him but for
all day and many days.
(4) Hodges draws a questionable conclusion as to Jesus' placing
his promise to "give them eternal life" (v 28) after "hear" and
"follow." He reasons that if "hear" and "follow" relate at all to
believers after initial salvation the order of the promise demands that
believers must have followed to earn the eternal life. But contrary to
his fears, "hear" and "follow" pose no element incompatible with
eternal life through grace. The order is similar to that in Matt 19:29.
There, to all who in faith sacrificially have left houses, lands, and
loved ones for Jesus' sake, he will give many times as much (Mk 10:29
and Lk 18:29 say in this life) and eternal life. While from one
perspective he can give eternal life already now initially in grace, he
can also promise life in its full potential for blessing in its ultimate,
crowning sense as the greatest prospect of grace that can encourage
believers. A life of faith that works through obedient love leads on to
the finest realization of all that is worthwhile; it can never turn out to
have been in vain!
This interpretation is more reasonable than Hodges' system,
which sees eternal life now as a free gift but construes eternal life in
its future aspect as "a reward merited" by obedience.10
9Hodges, Gospel Under Siege, 44-45.
10Hodges, Gospel Under Siege, 82.
270 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
Some reject the view this article defends on another claim. They
misconstrue it as tantamount to saying that none of the saved can
backslide. Lang charges: "It avoids and nullifies the solemn warnings
and urgent pleadings of the Spirit addressed to believers, and, by
depriving the Christian of these, leaves him dangerously exposed to
the perils they reveal….”11
Evaluation: First, it is a "straw man" argument to insist that the
logic of the favored view means none of the saved can backslide.
Actually, while all the truly saved will be overcomers, all can and still
do commit sins in this life (James 3:2). Never in this life will they
scale heights beyond the need for further purification from sins
(1 John 3:3). Christ has made provision for this need when they sin
(1 John 2: 1, 2). Some flounder in sad seasons of spiritual failure, but
do not lose salvation even if for a time they seem no longer to have it.
New revivals may be needed to stir them afresh to a closer walk with
God, but Christ's marks of his true sheep are that they "hear" and
"follow." The overcoming vitality of God-given faith (cf. 1 John 5:4,
5) and care as a practical dynamic doggedly continues to reassert
itself in their experience (cf. Ps 119:176). And in a total lifetime as
believers God's people will, despite times of decline, bear some fruit
Second, a trait of true faith is that it gives a heart to heed God's
warnings, gain victory (1 John 5:4, 5), and forge on with him. Those
whose believing on the Savior is backed by reality continue with him,
as in John 8:31 and John 15:1-6.12 The truly saved ones are the brand
of people who, when they sin, confess, seek God's forgiveness and
cleansing, and desire to live in the light with God (1 John 1:5-9). If
they are negligent here, God may take them home to heaven early
(1 Cor 11:30-32). That those who "believed" in John 8:30, or at least
some among them, were not genuinely saved is the natural import of
Jesus' words directly aimed at his audience in the following verses (vv
31-49). While "believe" in the Gospel of John usually refers to true
faith, the term can even be used for a superficial belief that does not
turn out to be properly based and genuine (2:23; 7:31; 12:42; cf. 6:66).
Third, the favored view allows the possibility that some may for
a time be thought to be true believers, yet not heed the warnings, and
end up unsaved. This does not reveal that they lost salvation but that
they lacked it all along. This is true despite the fact that they
professed allegiance to the Lord, as in Matt 7:23 and 1 John 2:19.
11 Lang, Revelation, 91-92.
12 Cf. J. E. Rosscup, Abiding in Christ: Studies in John 15 (
Zondervan, 1973): those in 15:1-6 who do not abide and bear fruit (v 15:2a etc.) are
not saved and never were (cf. all the saved abiding in John 6:54, 56).
271 ROSSCUP: THE OVERCOMER OF THE APOCALYPSE
A further objection against the preferred view is the context of
Revelation 2-3. This material concerns churches, Christians, and
their works. So, the argument goes, the issue of salvation has already
been settled and the passage cannot pertain to salvation; it only
relates to Christian living of the surely saved. Evaluation: Christ is
speaking to churches! But often NT passages which address believers
weave in warnings that lift an appeal even to the unsaved. These, mingled among the saved, may fancy themselves as saved and be
insensitive to their need. The tough words register a healthy, sobering
effect on two groups. First are those who really are saved but are
living in backslidden slackness. Second, some among the fellowships
might not prove to have been in fact begotten of God. Their charac-
ter, attitudes, words and works can betray their barrenness, and they
stand in grave peril. So the issue of salvation can be relevant even in a
church context. The lack of salvation's fruit and bearing of bad fruit
can reveal men as counterfeit or at least place them under suspicion.
the church at
Balaam, who support idolatry and immorality (2:14), are probably
not saved. One might, of course, allow himself to fall into immorality
as David did, then recover m sterlng repentance (Ps 51). Still, the NT
even in church contexts associates a life pattern of immorality with
the sobering peril of not inheriting the future kingdom. Failure to
inherit the kingdom due to tolerating a sinfully indulgent life-style
must mean that one will turn out not to be saved (1 Cor 6:9-11; Gal
5:21; Eph 5:3-5; cf. n. 17). Also, other NT references to Balaam do
not register the impression that we are to think of him as saved or as
ever having been saved (2 Pet 2:15; cf. v 17; Jude 1113). Those in the
church or under the influence of the church's message who follow the
Balaam-like teaching of the Nicolaitans, if they do not repent, will
find Christ waging war against them with the sword of his mouth
(Rev 2:16)! Since the kind of war that Christ pursues with the sword
of his mouth is later clearly against the "beast," "false prophet," and
their unsaved hosts (19:11ff.), the guilty ones in the church context of
gain the real faith.
Another criticism of the proposed view lies in the question: if all
the saved are sure to overcome and receive the crown, why does
Rev 3: 11 warn lest one lose the crown?14 Ironside, favoring a varia-
tion of view two as described at the outset of this article, held that
13 Jude 11 combines the "error of Balaam" with "the way of Cain" and "the
rebellion of Korah." Cain is unsaved unless 1 John 3:12 is misconstrued. Jude, by
linking Balaam and Korah with Cain, suggests that he, assuming agreement with John
about Cain, thinks them unsaved.
14 Betz, "The Nature of Rewards," 36.
272 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
one saved man may "take" for himself the very crown of reward that
another saved person might have gained.15 He illustrates. A Christian
gospel tract distributor, discouraged by seeing little fruit, gave up his
ministry. Later he spotted another Christian man fulfilling his old
task in the same vicinity. The man even handed him a tract. Smitten
with heart-broken remorse, the recipient cried, "Oh, you have taken
away my crown!" However, Rev 3:11 more probably refers to an
unsaved persecutor who can "take" the crown from a person who has
only a professed relationship with Christ and his church. The victim
permits an enemy of his soul to first seduce him away from com-
mitting himself in true faith, and then from living the life of faith that
leads on to the crown (as James 1:12; Rev 2:10, indeed all the crown
passages). So the seducer does not by his work against Christ's cause
take the crown for himself He prevents his victim from gaining it. A
person even in the church membership or attendance may fail to gain
the crown in that he turns away from the things Christ summons him
to face steadfastly. When put to the test, he denies the Lord and the
faith. And so, having never genuinely received the free gift of eternal
life to begin with, he fails finally to secure the crown which consists of
eternal life. Christ promises this crown to those trusting him in real
faith that results in faithfulness (2:10; cf. Eph 2:10).
This interpretation differs from Ironside's and is the probable
meaning of 3:11 because: (1) False leaders diverted many in the OT
(Ezek 22:25-28) and the NT (Matt 24:11;
2:17, 18; Rev 2:14,15, 20-25). (2) Rev 3:11 is similar in thrust to cases
where men prevent others from an effectual relationship with God
and entering into his kingdom (Matt 23:13; Luke 11:52). (3) The
exhortation to "hold fast what you have" is compatible with the
preferred view. Those surely saved will heed the exhortation, per-
severe, and hold what they do have. But others, though mingling in a
local church and claiming a relationship, do not genuinely possess it
(cf. Rev. 2:24; 3:4 in context). They are allowing someone opposed to
God to take from them—to prevent from being theirs in reality—what
they could have by true faith. So far they only think they have the
reality (cf. Luke 8:18). (4) God can take away a man's part from the
tree of life (Rev 22:19). He does not take it for himself, but prevents
the man from gaining what potentially might have been his, because
the person has not really grasped the privilege by faith. Rather, he
has worked against God.
To be finally deprived of the crown does not infer, then, that a
person at one time was genuinely saved and qualifying for it but later
is not. The idea is not the forfeiture of salvation one has. It is the
15 H. A. Ironside, Salvation and Reward (
ROSSCUP: THE OVERCOMER OF THE APOCALYPSE 273
tragedy of losing out on what potentially might be given. None of the
truly elect will turn away from Christ and fail to heed his warning
and persevere: all will gain the crown that the context specifies,
namely "the crown which consists of [eternal] life" (Rev 2:10).16
Still a further objection to the favored view is this. Exhortations
in Revelation 2-3 can be relevant only for the saved because the Bible
never makes an appeal to the unsaved about works. For the unsaved
works are not the issue. God's summons to them is to believe.
Evaluation: This generalization overlooks much in the Bible. Cer-
tainly it is true that no man can merit salvation by works. Yet this is
not incompatible with another emphasis, that God calls on men to do
the works they can do by faith if they only will respond to God's
grace. God appeals to Cain (Gen 4:7), and Daniel to Nebuchadnezzar
(Dan 4:27). John the Baptist calls on religious but unsaved men to
bring forth fruit that corresponds with repentance (Matt 3:8). Paul is
concerned for those at
"rejected" (a)do<kimoi), not having Christ in them (2 Cor 13:5-7).
Then, some reject this view due to what they believe about
church membership. They reason that the standards Revelation 2-3
describes for the overcomer fit some Christians but are not true of all
of the saved in churches. They do not imply this with regard to
churches that do not pervasively teach the Bible, but Bible-teaching
churches. Scores in these churches do not appear to experience
anything that convincingly links them with an overcoming life. Yet,
the logic assumes, they must be saved. Evaluation: Scores do not
appear to know this overcoming life, but all genuine Christians do, at
least in some degree. Even in the days of Jesus, John, and Paul, many
punctiliously bound themselves to certain forms of belief and conduct.
But they lacked the reality with God that real faith fosters.
Others react against the proposed view by rejecting a caricature,
a straw man they have erected. They imagine that it requires unrealis-
tically that a Christian measure up to an ideal, super life to be a real
Christian and an overcomer. Evaluation: As in other NT descriptions
of Christian living (i.e., abiding, being a disciple, serving, following
Christ as sheep, mortifying the flesh, loving Christ, enduring trials,
16 The Father and Christ secure the saved in their hand from falling out of
salvation. No one will pluck them out (John 10:28, 29). Christ defined his "sheep" as
those who "hear" and "follow" (cf. Sect. 2, No.6 of this article), not implying that such
sheep can be lost again if they cease to persevere, as if they may not persevere, but to
assume that they surely do persevere. God's preservation further assures their per-
severance. One has to read into the passage what it does not say to have it teach that
some defined as true sheep may, on their own initiative, fall, jump, or wiggle out of
God's hand. Christ also prays for preservation of the saved (John 17:11, 12, 15, 24), as
he prayed Peter's faith would not fail, and it did not, though sorely tested (Luke 22:31,
32; cf. Rom 8:34).
274 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
etc.), the difference between two real Christians is not that one is
overcoming in the overall picture while the other is not. The real
difference is that one is overcoming to a fuller, deeper, or more
thoroughly consistent degree than the other. The extent of Christian
commitment, maturity, receptivity to the Word of God, and aban-
donment to God's will enter into this matter. Two bona fide Chris-
tians may be at widely different stages of growth in regard to these
and yet both be overcoming, manifesting the fruit of faith to men or
to God or both in differing degrees, measure and consistency.
A final objection is this. The "crown of life" supposedly denotes
a special capacity to enjoy "eternal life," sometimes said to be distinct
from or added to "eternal life" that every saved person will have.17
17 Cf. this and similar views in Benedict, "The Use of Nikao," 13-15; Ross,
"Rewards and Judgments," 19-20; Hodges, The Hungry Inherit: Refreshing Insights
on Salvation, Discipleship, and Rewards (Chicago: Moody, 1972), 113-14, 119; and
Hodges, Gospel Under Siege, en toto. Hodges insists rightly that eternal life is free to
the sinner. Then he has a problem with the concept that Christ promises aspects of
reward to the overcomer as encouragements for discipleship that can be costly (The
Hungry Inherit, 114). He distinguishes truly committed believers who will inherit the
future kingdom from other saved men who only enter it (cf. also his Gospel Under
Siege, 115-16, 120). In Scripture, however, to "inherit the kingdom" and to "enter the
kingdom" are, for all intents and purposes synonymous (B. Klappert, "Kind," The New
International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, ed. Colin Brown [
Zondervan, 1976], 2.387-88). Leon Morris defines klhronome<ou in 1 Cor 6:10 as
"enter into full possession of" (The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians [Grand
Rapids: Eerdmans, 1958], 97). G. Abbott-Smith defines the word "to inherit...
possess oneself of, receive as one's own, obtain...of the Messianic Kingdom...and
its blessings and privileges" (A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament [Edin-
burgh: T. & T. Clark, 1956], 248). All the saved will receive = obtain = inherit the
blessings, each in what God deems the appropriate degree, position, capacity, role of
higher service (Rev 22:3) appropriate to the way in which they prepared for this in
present service (cf. Luke 19:17, 19; 1 Cor 3:8, etc.). Yet God's rewarding is not strictly
tit for tat but on an order of lavish grace that far exceeds any human calculation or any
idea of earning. Observe the "hundred times as much," or "many times," and "eternal
life besides" in Matt 19:29 with its parallels, and cf. 2 Cor 4:17f.
Another Hodges' distinction allows eternal life to be a gift to all the saved, but
heirship and sonship not a gift, rather earned by only some of the saved through
faithful living (The Hungry Inherit, 119). So, in Rev 21:6, 7 where we see one class,
Hodges makes two (The Hungry Inherit, 113-14): one thirsts and receives freely as a
gift the water of life, a second overcomes and inherits! This scheme fails to integrate
both aspects as true of the one category of person who is both in the New Jerusalem
and inherits it, who contrasts with a second class that is excluded in v 8. Actually, in
Revelation 21-22 every saved person enjoys every blessing described in the context.
Hodges brings his distinction into the text against the more natural sense of things the
text sees as a unit. The NT is clear that eternal life is a gift, yet is compatible with this
in saying that eternal life as this gift is the fitting blessed outcome of a way of life lived
in faith through grace for the sake of Christ, his gospel, his kingdom (Matt 19:29 =
Mark 10:29 = Luke 18:29; cf. Rom 6:22). Sonship is a gift when one is initially saved
(John 1:12), like heirship (Rom 4:13). But alas, Hodges unveils another artificial
distinction: all the saved will inherit glory, but only co-sufferers, overcomers will
ROSSCUP: THE OVERCOMER OF THE APOCALYPSE 275
The logic of this claim is that God does not confer eternal life as a
blessing that can be called a reward for men being faithful in life's
struggles; he bestows life as a free gift which they receive by faith. A
Christian already "has" eternal life in the present tense (1 John 5: 11,
12), whereas the "crown" refers to "life" Christians are to receive in a
yet future sense. Evaluation: Eternal life is both, in a beautifully
compatible relationship. It is a gift now and always (Rom 6:23), and
it is, in its future, ultimate aspect, also the goal or outcome to which a
life of sanctification moves (Rom 6:22; Gal 6:8), a life lived "for my
sake" (Matt 19:29). Only those who genuinely do receive eternal life
as a gift now will share in eternal life in its crowning realization at the
Lord's appearing. And they are the people who now live a life with
fruit to God in some real degree, a life which answers to the marks of
genuineness that keep cropping up in 1 John (2:3, 4, etc.).
As to merit, eternal life is always a gift absolutely dependent only
on the work of Christ. As to manifestation, the quality that is eternal
life is expressed now and also is the final goal, outcome, or reward
related to the reality of faith which lives the quality of life out into
good works. These works are fruit of the eternal life genuinely
already within (Rom 6:22). They are not conditions that merit eternal
inherit in a greater, more special sense as co-heirs with Christ in Rom , 17 and
2 Tim (Gospel Under Siege, 109-11). This idea melts when one sees that suffering
with Christ affects all the saved in some degree and form in Rom , 17; 2 Cor 1:5;
2 Tim 2:11; 1 Pet , 13. John Murray says:" 'Joint-heirs with Christ' is not a loftier
conception than 'heirs of God' but it gives concrete expression and elucidation to what
is involved in being 'heirs of God'" (NICNT The Epistle to the Romans [Grand
Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968], 1.298-99). C. E. B. Cranfield says that "…sugklhrono<moi
de> xristou? expresses the certainty of our hope. Our sonship and our heirship rest on
our relation to Him, on His having claimed us for His own. But he has already entered
upon the inheritance for which we have still to wait, and this fact is the guarantee that
we too, who are His joint-heirs, will enjoy the fulfilment of our expectations" (A
Critical and Exegetical Commentary on The Epistle to the Romans, [2 vols.; ICC;
God and His Son (Rev 22:5; cf. the throne of God and of the Lamb in v 3). Biblically-
valid thinking is that every son of God (= every saved person) is an heir, the one
legitimate kind of heir of which the Bible speaks (Gal 4:7; Heb 11:7). Heirship links
with grace (1 Pet 3:7), promise (Gal ), and forgiveness of all the saved (Acts 26:18;
Eph 1:7, 11). Saved Jews and Gentiles are fellow-heirs (Eph 3:6). Heirs are all the
sanctified (Acts ), and without sanctification no man will see the Lord (Heb
). Everyone effectually called under the New Covenant is to receive the eternal
inheritance (Heb ), based on Christ's blood (vv 12, 14). All the saved will obtain
the imperishable inheritance (1 Pet 1:4), which links easily with the unfading crown of
glory (5:4). So Christ even speaks of inheriting eternal life (Matt ; cf. Heb ).
Paul says that the ones who will not inherit the kingdom are the unrighteous (1 Cor
6:9f.), not a class of saved who are not so committed.
In view of biblical evidence rightly correlated, the overcomer/heir in Rev 21:7 is
any saved person.
276 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
life but characteristics that manifest its presence. This is just as apples
are not the conditions of the tree being an apple tree but the
characteristics of the apple-tree nature. The blessings God gives to the
overcomer as reward he does not tender with the understanding that
the person has merited them in life's struggles or paid a price that
earns them. Rev 21:6 shouts from the text that the water of life is
"without cost" to the overcomer, though it cost God much. Yet this
water of life is only one of various descriptions of blessedness
celebrated in 21:3-6, and immediately v 7 relates God's grace and
what it bestows with "the overcomer shall inherit these things."
Contrary to any intrusion of the word "merit," what one receives for
his overcoming—all of it—is "without cost!" So, we impose a distinc-
tion from our own errant logic that we cannot validly draw from the
Bible if we imagine that we receive eternal life originally by faith
through grace but receive the "crown of life" in the future because we
deserved it on some order of merit-laden good works by faith. The
process of the saved life is just as totally of grace as initial salvation
(cf. 1 Cor 3:10a; 4:8; 15:10; Phil 2:12, 13). M'Neile rightly says from
Matthew that "...since the opportunities for good actions are
themselves a divine gift (xxv.14f.), service is a mere duty which
cannot merit reward (Luke sxvii.9f.).”18 Reicke emphasizes that it is
"God's due to require our obedience and readiness on account of the
advance we have already received from him, and this is pure grace,
without any merits on our side….”19 Preisker reasons that anything
one can ever do that God will accept as a legitimate carrying out of
his will must be done in "living power...given by God.”20
PROMISES TO THE OVERCOMER FIT THE FAVORED VIEW
Several blessings Christ assures to the overcomer definitely will
be applied to all the saved. Others also fit very reasonably. A mere
selection of examples should show that this is true.
1. Rev 2:7
When man sinned in Genesis 3 the Lord barred him from eating
of the tree of life "lest he live forever." Christ promises the overcomer
that he will eat of this tree in the future (Rev 22:2, 14, 19). Whether
the eating is a memorial of living forever, or enjoying some blessed
18 Alan M'Neile, The Gospel According to St. Matthew (
19 Bo Reicke, "The New Testament Conception of Reward," in Aux Sources de la
Tradition Chretienne. Melanges offerts a Maurice Goguel, ed. J. J. von
20 H. Preisker, "misqo<j," TDNT 4 (1967) 718-19.
ROSSCUP: THE OVERCOMER OF THE APOCALYPSE 277
aspect of the eternal city that we do not yet understand, the blessing
must be true of all the redeemed. In 22:14 it appears that all the
genuinely saved partake. Why? First, the verse closely links access to
the tree and admission into the New Jerusalem. God will admit all of
the saved within the gates. If so, it is natural to assume that the other
blessing as well is for all of the saved unless there is a compelling
reason why it cannot be. Second, either of two readings in 22:14a fits
very easily with the idea that all of the saved partake. Some manu-
scripts favor the wording, "Blessed are those who wash their robes,
that they may have right to the tree….”21 This suits all the saved.
When the Apocalypse refers to garments, it never refers to a group
with unwashed or unclean robes receiving any of God's blessing.
Those admitted into his presence are clad in washed garments (7:14);
have not soiled their (spiritual) garments (3:4; 16: 15); will walk with
Christ in white linen (3:5; 7:9; 19:8).
Even another reading in 22:14 fits all the redeemed: "Blessed are
those who do his commandments, that they may have right to the
tree…." This does not focus on the way they are saved, as if their
doing runs up a score of merit. Rather it looks at their characteristic
as the truly saved, the obedience that manifests the faith that takes
God's gracious gift. It is like John 10:27, 28 where Jesus profiled his
true sheep as those who "hear" and "follow" him. Both words, in the
present tense, look at a continuing, overall pattern of commitment in
faith lived out through faithfulness. Yet eternal life is God's gift
The Apocalypse consistently views those blessed in God's king-
dom as people who kept his Word (1:3;22 12:17; 14:12; 22:7, 9). They
21 The reading "those who wash their robes" (cf. , 1 Cor. ) is favored by N,
A, ca. fifteen minuscules (1006, 2020, 2053, etc.), it, vg, cop, al. Another reading,
"those who do his commandments," appears in the Textus Receptus, 046, most
minuscules, it(gig), syr(ph), h, cop(bo), al. Bruce M. Metzger prefers the first reading, most
notably because the Apocalypse elsewhere has threi?n ta>j e]ntola>j (; ; also
cf. phrei?n in 1:3; 22:7, 9), not poie<w ta>j e]ntola>j (A Textual Commentary on the
Greek New Testament [
1 John 5:2 is not enough to offset this pattern.)
22 "Blessed" (1:3) occurs seven times in the book. Some blessings are of the nature
that all the saved receive (19:9; 20:6; 22:7); others fit a pattern of references that apply
to all the saved (1:3; , blessing for tribulation saints but applicable to all the
saved; ); then refers to a tribulation saint who is spiritually alert, agreeing
with exhortations to watch, wait, or look. These sometimes appear in contexts
developing contrasts between people who are not prepared, who turn out to be
unsaved, and people who are prepared, who turn out to be saved (Matt 24:37-51;
25:1-13; 25:14-30; Luke 12:35-48; 1 Thess 5:6). References to wait also fit this pattern
(Luke ; Gal 5:5; 1 Thess ), as do other passages about waiting where the
context favors application to all the saved (Rom ; 1 Cor 1:7; 2 Thess 3:5). The
same is true of verses about looking (Phil ; Titus 2:13; Heb 9:28; 2 Pet , 13;
278 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
persevered in fidelity because of that Word (1:9; 6:9; 20:4). This
harmonizes naturally with the line of biblical truth that keeping God's
commandments is a hallmark of the saved.23
In 22:19, to be excluded from the tree sounds like being barred
from a privilege any saved person is to enjoy. The person God denies
is not a saved, albeit unfruitful person who misses special reward, set
in contrast to a fruitful one who gains that reward. He is unsaved,
regardless of his profession, so God distinguishes him from the saved.
2. Rev 2:11
The overcomer will not suffer "hurt" by the second death. This is
a privilege of all the saved, whether or not they become martyrs, the
peril that looms in this passage. Faithfulness in trials, even when
martyrdom is not a result, leads to the crown of life, as James 1:12
shows. But the crown of life (positive) and avoiding the second death
(negative) still have powerful relevance to any of the saved who face
the imminent threat of sealing their testimonies with their blood. An
example close at hand is "Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put
to death among you" (v 13). Christ exhorts his people, when sub-
jected to this extremity, to be faithful, inspired by his consolation
here. After they have laid down their physical lives, God assures them
the triumph of eternal, spiritual life; and they will not experience the
ultimate death which is unutterably worse than physical death. They,
with Paul, can exult that "death is swallowed up in victory" (1 Cor
15:54). And they can say, "O death, where is thy sting, O grave, where
is thy victory?" (v 55).24
An effort to argue that only some of the saved are overcomers
who gain this crown is based on the idea of being hurt or injured
(a[dike<w) by the second death. The logic is that a saved person who is
not an overcomer can be hurt by this death in a sense which the saved
man who is an overcomer eludes. Benedict supplies the example of a
saved person in jeopardy of becoming a martyr at the hands of
unsaved men who are destined for the second death. Should that
believer recant and deny Christ, the second death would "hurt" him.
In what sense? Benedict explains: "he would thus forfeit the crown of
life, and be in that sense injured, hurt, or affected by the second
death.”25 He holds that the person remains saved but loses out on
gaining the special crown, a reward distinct from salvation.
23 Cf. Ps 37:34; 103:18; Ezek 18:9, 21; Dan 9:4 (a verse that links loving God with
keeping his commandments, as Jesus does in John 14:15, 23; cf. also 1 John 2:3-6);
Matt ; Lk ; ; John ; ; 1 John 3:24; 5:2, 3; Rev 3:8, 10.
24 The promise in is much like Jesus' reassurance in Matt 10:28-33. Note
the similarity between "fear not" (v 28) and the phrase in .
25 Benedict, "The Use of Nikao," pp. 14-15.
ROSSCUP: THE OVERCOMER OF THE APOCALYPSE 279
This does not have the ring of truth. When John uses a]dike<w he
always refers to inflicting direct, positive "injury" on some object
(Rev 6:6, 7:2, 3; 9:4, 10, 19; 11:5). In the strained view above, the
"injury" is not that of the death itself, directly, but in being prevented
from receiving the crown of life, which is indirect. The problem with
this is that wherever the second death elsewhere affects a person it
affects him directly, fully, eternally. He is actually placed in it (20:6,
14). Also, the second death in Revelation 20 is a destiny absolutely
opposite to eternal life (note the "book of life"), that life which is the
privilege of all the saved. It is not death set in contrast to life thought
of as a special, added reward for only a part of the redeemed, which
is the meaning that Benedict proposes for the "crown of life."
Also, the genitive phrase linked with the crown in various
passages is probably a genitive of apposition: "the crown which
consists of [eternal] life," i.e., life in its final, consummative, fully-
realized sense (James 1:12; Rev 2:10); "the crown which consists of
[eternal] glory" (1 Pet 5:4); "the crown which consists of [ultimate]
righteousness" (2 Tim 4:8).26
More persuasively, then, Rev 2:11 harmonizes with the concept
that every saved person overcomes.
3. Rev 2:17
Christ promises hidden manna. The main views permit the
manna to be a reward for all the saved. To Ladd it is a figure
depicting admission to the Messianic feast, the Messiah's kingdom.27
Others see the manna as a symbol for Christ, the bread of life, getting
their cue from John 6:50f., 53-58.(28) If so, Christ is "hidden" in that
we do not now see him (2 Cor 5:16; 1 Pet 1:8), but shall see him when
he comes for his saints (1 John 3:1,2). Such explanations go well
with the idea that every saved person will be an overcomer and
receive such a reward that Christ guarantees to the overcomer.
4. Rev 2:17
Any view of the "white stone" yet proposed has some difficulty
for those who do not take the view proposed here. We cannot be
dogmatic about what Christ meant, but if the "hidden manna" is a
reward for every saved person the "white stone" in the same verse
probably also is. From the background of Greek and Roman customs
Ross, The Epistles of James and John (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954),32.
27 George E. Ladd, A
Commentary on the Revelation of John (
Eerdmans, 1972), 49.
28 Stott, What Christ Thinks, 65.
280 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
arise such possible meanings for the stone as vindication, acceptance,
identification, and honor as a victor. Any such idea suits every
Suppose, then, that eating the "hidden manna" is but another
way of picturing what can also be represented as the joyous boon of
feasting at the Messianic banquet (cf. Rev 19:9), experiencing the
delights of the eternal kingdom. Just so, the "white stone" could
represent a complementary idea—acceptance, identification with
Christ, or honor in that kingdom (cf. Rom 2:7).
Even if the background for the stone is in Israelite custom, we
can have a meaning that relates to every saint. Manna can picture
God satisfying His people's needs in contrast to foods associated with
false gods that do not satisfy lastingly (Rev 2:14). One of the many
possibilities for the point of reference for the white stone in Israelite
history is plate stones on which God inscribed his moral will. This
could be directly relevant in Revelation 2
to sins at
committed against God's moral standard (vv 14-23). As the over-
comer received and honored the Word disclosing God's Person and
will, Christ assures that he is to receive the ultimate disclosure of
God's Person and will. His symbol for this is the "white stone.”29
With either a Graeco-Roman or an Israelite background, then,
the stone can portray a blessed reward possessed by all of the redeemed.
5. Rev 2:26-27
Christ will give the overcomer authority over the nations, to help
rule them with a rod of iron. Quite naturally the rule relates to every
In Rev 5:9, 10 all of the blood-bought of all nations are a
kingdom and priests. They will reign on earth. In 20:4-6 all who
29 Others think of the white stone as like the "Urim" fitted within the fold of the
high priest's breastplate, in which were twelve stones (Exod 28:17ff.). Each stone was
inscribed with the name of a tribe of
the Lord in the bond of the covenant. In this view the "Urim" may have been a "white
stone" or diamond on which God's secret name was written. It would symbolize a
position of priestly prerogative before the Lord. If so, the promise suits any saved
person, for all are priests (1 Pet 2:5; ). Stott leans to this position (What Christ
Thinks, pp. 65-67). Moses Stuart proposed still other high priestly background for the
stone ("The White Stone of the Apocalypse," BSac 1 (1843) 469-76). The white stone is
a precious stone comparable to the gold band gracing the high priest's mitre with the
words "Holiness to the Lord" (Exod 28:36ff.). Every overcomer, a priest, will bear the
name of Christ the Lord, corresponding to the OT "Jehovah," which none but the high
priest knew how to utter (p. 473). Stuart says the new name is the Logos (p. 476). His
idea is consonant with every believer being an overcomer, but is not without problems.
Christ says that it is a white stone, which does not correspond convincingly with a gold
band; Christ says nothing of a headdress, etc.
ROSSCUP: THE OVERCOMER OF THE APOCALYPSE 281
belong to the "first resurrection "—to that classification of resurrection
—reign with Christ for a thousand years.
All who have exercised the spiritual commitment of v 4 (loyalty
to God's Word and to God rather than to the beast and his image)
will no doubt share in the millennial reign. Other passages show that
a general characteristic of the saved is that they keep the Word of
God. This obedience is evidence that they truly love God.30 And in
the ultimate blessedness, all the saved reign eternally (22:5) as surely
as they all enjoy other aspects described in 22:3-5.
In view of this it is reasonable that all the saved rule with Christ.
We should not restrict this reward only to an elite, more faithful
group among the saved.
To venture outside the Apocalypse for a moment, it is of interest
to note that even in this life Paul expects everyone who has been
justified to reign in life by Jesus Christ (Rom 5:17). He looks for
faith 's fruit with respect to sanctification to show up in every justified
life (6:22f.; 7:4, 6). To him, the life of being led by the Spirit is God's
norm for all (not some) of his authentic sons (8:14).
Suffering with Christ is an experience common in varying degrees
and forms to all the saved, all who will someday be glorified (Rom
8:17; 2 Cor 4:17; 2 Tim 2:12).
Returning to the Apocalypse, authority over the nations is in
terms of an iron-like rule over them. The psalmist predicts such rule
for God's anointed One (Ps 2:9), and John envisions this as realized
in Jesus Christ (Rev 12:5; 19:15). The primary focus of the ruling with
a rod of iron seems to be on the authority demonstrated in subjugat-
ing the peoples. In comparison with Christ's strength, the nations are
weak and fragile. He shatters them (cf. Exod 15:6b).
This primary idea seems correct for two reasons. First, the
illustration in Rev 2:27b portrays destruction. Similarly, Jeremiah
shattered a vessel into bits to illustrate what the Lord by his authority
would do in judging
Rev 19:15 locates this phrase, ruling with a rod of iron, in a context
30 The truly saved love God (Exod 20:6; Ps 91:14; 97:10; 145:20; Matt -26;
Rom 8:28; 1 Cor 2:9; 16:22; 1 Pet 1:7,8; 1 John 4:7,8, 12, 15, 16, 20). Keeping God's
Word manifests love for him (John , 23-24; 1 John 5:2). It is not surprising, then,
that Jesus can speak of keeping the commandments in the same breath with entering
into life (Matt ). Apparently he means that faith, which receives God's gift,
expresses itself in fidelity to his Word, just as Paul speaks of faith that works through
the channel of love (Gal 5:6). So, one enters into life and he avoids death by a proper
response to the Word (John ). And keeping the Word is involved when one fulfills
aspects of God's will, such as in 1 Tim ; ; James ; Jude 21.
31 Isbon T. Beckwith, The Revelation of John (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1967), 471:
"...its mention here is perhaps suggested by the former clause; the victor's share in the
Messiah's conquest over his enemies may suggest the glory that is to follow."
282 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
of authoritative judgment at the second advent, prior to the descrip-
tion of Christ's millennial rule in chapter 20.
The idea that the saved will exercise dominion with Christ over
the nations emerges in Rev 19:14. Armies of heaven accompany
Christ at his second advent. These, arrayed in white, are conceivably
the believers dressed in white linen earlier (v 8), angels (15:6), or all of
these. They share in the Lord's iron-like, devastating victory over the
beast and his armies. The believers in Christ's armies are "the bride,"
that is, the saints, not just saints allegedly victorious as distinguished
from spiritually barren saints.
So, the reward which Christ pledges to the overcomer in Rev
2:26, 27 he will apparently provide for all of the redeemed.
6. Rev 2:28
Christ will confer the morning star to overcomers. Many think
this is a symbol of Christ, who will come shining with glory to
inaugurate his kingdom (Matt 24:30; 25:31, 2 Thess 1:9). The star
depicts the Messiah who has risen out of Jacob (Num 24:17). The fact
that Christ styles himself "the bright morning star" in Rev 22:16
enhances this meaning. Just as the morning star is the harbinger of
the dawn and shows that the full light of the day will soon brighten
the earth, Christ in his coming will usher in the day of abundant
Messianic glory (2 Pet 1:19). He will give himself as the "morning
star" to the person who keeps his works (Rev 2:26), an idea in
principle essentially like John 14:21. There, when a person obeys
Christ's word, Christ manifests himself to him.
A similar view makes the star a symbol of believers' victorious
glory in the future day.31 The godly will shine as the stars (Dan 12:3);
appear with Christ "in glory" (
8:30; 2 Thess 1:9, 10). Good angels, too, are called "morning stars"
(Job 38:7), because they can manifest bright glory (cf. Rev 18:1).
Believers are also to shine brightly, whether as the stars or the sun
(Matt 13:43; cf. 4 Ezra 7:97).32
In either view above or in the two combined, all saints will share
the reward which the morning star portrays. It is arbitrary to restrict
this reward to certain of the saved, as if only they overcome, and
deny it to others as though they do not overcome.
32 Believers are to shine as stars not only in Dan 12:3 but in the Pseudepigrapha:
1 Enoch 104:2; 4 Ezra 7:97, their faces are to shine as the sun and they are to be made
like the light of the stars; v 125; cf. also 1 Enoch 62: 15, 16, the righteous shall be
arrayed in garments of glory and life; 2 Bar 50:1-4; 51:3, 10.
ROSSCUP: THE OVERCOMER OF THE APOCALYPSE 283
7. Rev 3:5
Christ will clothe the overcomer in white garments. The Apoca-
lypse describes all the saved as finally arrayed in white. The blessing
is for all who are part of the "bride," not confined only to the more
fruitful (19:8). The martyrs taken to heaven appear in white (6:11a).
These have overcome, as shown by faithfulness to the Word and their
testimony (v 9). In the perspective of the book, the only ones eligible
for the overcomer's blessing from the Lord are those who have been
true to him. The burden of proof is on the interpreter who imagines
that some who are truly saved are not faithful, that they do not have
some degree of godly victory in the overall trend of their lives since
they were initially saved.
In a passage about saved people during the tribulation (7:9ff.), it
is said that they "washed their robes and made them white in the
blood of the lamb." All are cleansed by the blood. And so, apparently,
whether the saved during the tribulation suffer as martyrs or survive
while maintaining spiritual integrity, all alike have washed their robes
in the blood.33 And the blessings they enjoy (vv 15-17) are of the
nature that all the saints receive. They are in God's presence (cf. John
17:24), serving him (cf. Rev 22:3), no longer suffering from hunger,
thirst, etc. (cf. 21:4).
The overcomer in 3:5 is one of those in v 4 "who have not soiled
their garments." This pictures keeping their spiritual lives clean in a
walk with the Lord (cf. James 1:27). It is similar to "the righteous acts
of the saints" in 19:8. All true saints have these righteous acts
(cf. 1 John 3:4-10), and fittingly God will commemorate this with a
heavenly dress, whatever it finally means.
The saints' ultimate worship in principle answers to the call to
"Worship the Lord in holy attire [in the splendor of holiness]"
(Ps 96:9). God constitutes all the saints priests before him (1 Pet 2:5,
9; Rev 5:9, 10), so his principle is to array them consistently with his
own decorum for priests: "Let thy priests be clothed with righteous-
ness" (Ps 132:9a; cf. v 16; Isa 61:10). Two words in Psalm 132
apparently are interchangeable—righteousness and salvation34—since
33 Rev 7:4-8 most naturally speaks of literal, saved Jews and 7:9ff. expands to the
saved of all nations; 7:9ff. depicts blessings beyond this life that even saved Jews will
receive. Indeed, -18 sounds like the spiritual boon God promised Israelites in Isa
49: 10, which in principle expands also to the saved of all nations.
34 And so the reward in its general sense is the crown which consists of eternal life
(James ; ); which consists of eternal glory (1 Pet 5:4); which consists of
righteousness in its ultimate sense (2 Tim 4:8). All of the saved will belong to a sphere
that features these realities.
284 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
the second part of both vv 9 and 16 is the same. But God who garbs
the righteous will also clothe his enemies—with shame (v 18)!
In Rev 3:5, then, the overcomer is any saved person.
Another aspect in 3:5 is Christ's promise to the overcomer: "I
will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels."
Benedict says that passages about Christ confessing or not confessing
men contrast two categories among the saved. They are "promises of
reward or loss of reward for discipleship",35 assuming a system in
which really committed believers are disciples and other saved people
are not. But the evidence actually supports a different distinction:
Christ will confess all the saved but deny the unsaved.
Evidence for relating the last part of 3:5 to all the truly saved is
as follows. First, Luke 9:26 makes it clear that a person's salvation is
very doubtful if he can be described as ashamed of Christ and his
words. The biblical pattern says that the saved keep Christ's words or
some wording to the same basic effect.36 Second, in Luke 9:24, 25,
salvation appears to be involved in Christ's words: "...whosoever
shall lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it." Only Christ
finally can save, to be sure, but men save themselves in that they heed
the invitation to salvation and then see that they go on with Christ
(Acts 2:40; 1 Tim 4:16). Luke 9:25 probably refers to failure to gain
salvation when it says, "For what is a man profited, if he gains the
whole world, and loses or forfeits himself?" Third, the term "denied"
in Luke 12:9 more naturally fits with the view that Christ will not
regard such a person as saved: "but he who defiles me before men
shall be denied before the angels of God." Fourth, confessing Christ
is definitely related to genuine faith and salvation in Rom 10:9, 10.
Since this passage clearly casts confession of Christ in the context of
relationship, the probability is strong that in the other texts as well
the person who confesses Christ is saved and the person who denies
him is not. The contrast is not between a spiritual Christian who
confesses him and a carnal Christian who does not. Fifth, while the
meaning of 2 Tim 2:12 is not in itself unequivocal, to deny Christ
most probably refers to the unbelief that springs from an unsaved
mind-set. Christ denying a person probably means that he rejects him
at the future judgment. This is evidently the case, since v 11 is no
doubt dealing with a person really saved as distinguished from one
who is not. The saved person indeed has died with Christ and will live
with him! Further, to endure (v 12) is a mark of the redeemed person.
And it has already been pointed out that all of the saved will reign
with Christ (Rev 22:5).
35 Benedict, "The Use of Nikao," 33-34.
36 Cf. nn. 23, 30.
ROSSCUP: THE OVERCOMER OF THE APOCALYPSE 285
The evidence, then, supports the conviction that in Rev 3:5 the
overcomer Christ confesses is any saved person. The man Christ will
deny is not a saved man who is unfruitful; he is the unsaved man,
even if a professing church member!
Another relevant problem in Rev 3:5 is Christ's promise not to
remove the overcomer from the "book of life." Those who believe
that saved men may lose salvation (view 1 above) connect the idea of
removal with this loss.37 Others suppose God records all men in the
"book," but removes those who fail to become saved.38 A preferable
view is that Christ records only the saved39 and promises never to
remove them. Reasons supporting his preservation of these follow.
(1) He makes no direct statement that he will delete a name once
it is in the book. That he implies the possibility is not certain enough
to be the basis for a view. Even what seems to some to be implied can
be explained from the standpoint of a contrast between a human,
earthly, public register from which men remove names after physical
death and God's book from which names are not scratched. Christ's
point is that the insecurity that men know prevails in this world will
not happen with regard to this spiritual book. An analogy is 2:10, 11.
A Christian can face physical death, but assuredly will never suffer
the second death. Christ pledges his security. In 3:12, one can go out
of a present, earthly temple, but the overcomer will not go out of the
Similarly, the OT has registers of names in this life (Ezek 13:9;
Exod 32:32, 33; Isa 4:1, 2; Jer 22:30). These are lists on this earth
among men (or Exodus 32: God’s list of the physically living) which
keep a person's name until he dies; then his name is scratched out as
no longer pertinent. In Ps 9:5 God has blotted out names of the
wicked in destroying them physically from this life. Ps 69:28 can be
understood in different ways. It may refer to God’s awareness of
those physically alive; human records of the living (Dan 12:1?); a
37 Cf. nn. I, 2.
38 Strauss, Book of Revelation, 120; Walvoord, Revelation, 82-83.
39 That only the saved are ever listed in the "Book of Life" is proved by various
factors. (1) Some passages speak of being written in heaven (Luke ; Heb ), a
unique privilege of the saved. (2) Other texts speak not of being written in heaven, but
being in the book of life. These, too, convey the strong impression that only the saved
are so recorded (Phil 4:3; Rev 13:8; 17:8; , 15; ). No one unsaved is ever
directly said to be in this book now, to have been removed, or to have once been in it
but not so now. (3) Some references speak of unsaved as not written in the book. They
do not hint that they were ever in it (Rev 13:8; 17:8; , 15); the unsaved are shown
not to be listed here; it seems to be eisegesis to suggest that they were in it but later
removed when they failed to receive Christ. The texts do not say or intimate this. In
, only those in the book may enter the New Jerusalem; it does not refer to
those who remain in the book, as if they once were in it but did not continue.
286 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
human list of the unrighteous who die and God's list of the godly
(Dan 12:1?) from which he withholds the unrighteous; or God’s book
from which he blots out unsaved but retains the godly.40 Only in the
NT do references appear that unequivocally mean a "book" of God
pertaining to eternal life.
(2) The promise embraces every "overcomer," admitting of no
exceptions. Every person who believes with true faith and has been
born again is an overcomer (1 John 5:1, 4, 5). So, if every born again
person is an overcomer, and no overcomer will be blotted out of the
book, no born again person can be removed.
(3) The phrase immediately linked with the book, "I will confess
his name," is Christ's promise that he will be loyal to all the truly
saved as in other NT teaching already discussed.
(4) Johannine passages teach that God keeps securely all those
truly saved (John 6:37-41, 54 with 56; 10:27-29, 1 John 5:18).
(5) Rev 3:5 agrees with a scriptural pattern which immediately
links a positive promise with a negative promise to teach a truth even
more emphatically (John 5:24, 10:28, 29, etc.). The negative aspect
does not drape a shroud of doubt over the saved man's security; it
erects a further pillar of support against a further consideration.
1. All of the saved are overcomers according to biblical ter-
minology and exegesis.
2. Reward promised to the overcomer in Revelation 2-3 fits very
well with the conclusion that all the saved will receive such reward.
The distinction between two categories of the saved will not be that
one receives the reward and another falls short of it. Rather, both
receive it, yet each in that distinguishable degree, position, capacity,
or role that befits his case as God sees it. Both enjoy in common the
fully satisfying sphere of reward in general depicted by various terms,
e.g., the kingdom, eternal life, glory, inheritance, etc. And both enjoy
in common the blessing that such a promise as hidden manna or the
white stone picture. Yet with that general blessedness that God
bestows on all the saved, each has reward in a more particular sense
in that degree, position, capacity or role of fellowship in holy service
(Rev 22:3) that suits his case.
40 This last opinion is not probable in view of clearer, more direct NT statements
(cf. n. 39).
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