So far in our series, we have learned that the way we live our lives here and now will have eternal and unchangeable consequences in the coming kingdom. In other words, what we do after we have been born again dramatically affects our roles, our positions, and our places in the future reign of Christ.
All believers will be with Christ in the coming Millennium, but only the overcomers—the ones who constantly recognize their choices and choose to turn around and follow Christ—will inherit levels of responsibility in that kingdom.
Last month, we stressed the importance that God puts on becoming “overcomers.” It’s imperative that we learn how to overcome the world, the flesh and the devil. Otherwise, we ourselves will be overcome by the same.
Overcomers are those Christians who, by being partakers of Christ’s eternal Life, are able to conquer, prevail and subdue the temptations of the world, the desires of the flesh and the wiles of the devil. Again, these believers are not perfect or religious, they have just learned how to make “faith choices” to follow God’s will and not their own. They have learned to love with God’s Love, depend upon His wisdom and implement His power to accomplish His will.
Just to show you how critical this subject is to God, let’s re-view the seven letters to the seven churches of Revelation (in chapters 2 and 3) and see what promises He makes to the overcomer. Again, all these promises are Millennial in scope. Remember, these letters are addressed not only to churches in general, but to each of us individually! It is to these overcomers that the “blessings” of the future kingdom are assured.1
Overcomers in the Churches of Revelation
If you haven’t already, take a moment to re-read Revelation 2:1 through Revelation 3:22, which talks about the “seven letters to the seven churches.” This passage of Scripture was given to John by Jesus not only about seven existing churches at that time, but also about all churches in general and about each of us individually. In other words, these letters are written to all churches of all ages and all individuals in every age.
The “rewards of inheritance” that are promised to each of these churches, and to the individuals in them who overcome, apply to all of us. Consequently, we need to listen carefully to what Jesus is saying because each of the “rewards” He gives correspond to the exact measure of faithfulness the believer manifested in his life.
It’s important to also note that seven times in these letters to the seven churches, Jesus says (through John), “I know your works.” In other words, Jesus is emphasizing “works” in these letters. In fact, in Revelation 2:26 He says, “He that over-cometh and keepeth MY works to the very end, I will give power (authority) over the nations.”
Here, again, Jesus is talking about the Millennium Kingdom and He is stressing a special kind of “work” that a believer must do. “My works.” Jesus says. He is talking about the things that are done by the Holy Spirit through us. He is not referring to the “works” of the flesh, but to the “works” of the Spirit.
The Seven Churches of Revelation
Let’s take a moment then to look at who the overcomers are in each of these seven churches, and let’s pay close attention to what God promises them in return for their faithfulness, obedience and endurance. Remember, these letters are addressed not only to churches in general, but to each of us individually!
1) Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-7) - Ephesus represents the apostolic church, which endured great hardships, but God said He knew their “good works,” their labor and their patience. These saints were strong on doctrine, but they had forgotten and forsaken the most important thing––their first love, that special intimacy with the Father. He then exhorts them to repent.
God’s promise to the faithful and obedient overcomer in the church of Ephesus was that he would eat of the “tree of life” (the tree of life means being equipped with a “special wisdom and knowledge” for the future kingdom).2
This tree of Life first appears in Genesis where it says man was created to rule and reign with the King of Kings over all the earth. (Genesis 1:26-28) Then, it disappears on the earth for 6000 years because man was not in a position to rule and reign with Christ. But, here in Revelation, it shows up again in the Millennial Kingdom as man will, once again, be in a position to co-reign (Genesis 1:26-28).
So, the “tree of life” has something to do with our future inheritance in the Millennial Kingdom. It has to do with special wisdom and knowledge in order to co-reign with Christ. (Proverbs 3:13-18)
2) Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11) - Smyrna represents the persecuted church or the suffering church, whose elders said they were Jews, but were really not. Some were Jews in name only. God tells this church that He knows their poverty and their suffering, but He promises them if they are faithful and obedient unto death, He will give them the “crown of life.” (James 1:12)
Interestingly enough, this is the only church (besides Philadelphia) that has nothing bad said about it.
God’s promise to the faithful and obedient overcomer in the church of Smyrna was that he would not be hurt in the “second death.” (The second death—where death and hell are cast into the lake of fire—comes at the end of the Millennium and involves unbelievers at the White Throne Judgment.)3 Because of his perseverance, even unto death, God promises the over-comer a victorious crown.
(Someone recently asked us a very good question, “If the overcomers in the church of Smyrna will not be hurt in the ‘second death,’ what about the non-overcomers in this church? What happens to them? And will they be hurt in the second death?” We wrestled with this question for awhile. But, we know that God’s Word always has an answer for everything, if we would just wait. We did. Finally, it came. Smyrna, re-member, is the only Church that has nothing “bad” said about it, so in essence, there are no non-overcomers! This letter is just assuring them that they all will be a part of the first resurrection and not be hurt in the second death).
3) Pergamos (Revelation 2:12-17) - Pergamos represents the church that was married to the world. (Constantine’s era) As God puts it, these are the ones that “dwell where Satan’s throne is.” This church had allowed the evil doctrine of Balaam (which means monetary gain by compromise) and the doctrine of the Nicolaitans (which means corruption of dele-gated authority) to come in.4 God exhorts them to repent.
God’s promise to the faithful and obedient overcomer in the church of Pergamos was that he would eat of the “hidden manna” (divine physical provision for the future) and receive a “white stone,” which is a victory stone for Christians whose works endure the fire. This stone will have a new name writ-ten on it that no one knows, except the one who receives it. (Revelation 2:17)
4) Thyatira (Revelation 2:18-29) - Thyatira represents the orthodox church where the evil spirit of Jezebel was allowed to reign. (You might want to read about Jezebel, the patron of Baal worship, in 1 Kings 16:30-34 and 21:25 because in the end times, this spirit is said to return.) The goal of the spirit of Jezebel was to (and will be to) seduce God’s faithful servants into disobedience and fornication.
As John phrases it, Thyatira hit the “depths of Satan.” In verse 22 of Revelation 2, it says that God is going to cast Jezebel and her followers into the great Tribulation unless they repent. Therefore, God exhorts the faithful to “hold fast” till He comes. He says they shall also receive the “morning star” (which means they will have a special relationship with Jesus Himself.) (Revelation 22:16) They will shine like the Lord, reflecting His brightness and glory.
God’s promise to the faithful and obedient overcomer in the church of Thyatira is that they will have authority over the nations and rule them with a rod of iron (speaking of the Millennial Kingdom).
We will explore the churches of Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea next month when we continue our study on God’s promises to the faithful and obedient overcomers of the seven churches of Revelation.
To be continued next month: “The Seven Churches of Revelation (cont.).” This article has been excerpted in part from Chuck and Nan’s new book The Kingdom, Power and Glory.