The subject of “overcoming” is not only important to the Lord, it’s crucial to our own understanding of God’s plans for the future. We saw proof of this last month when we studied the incredible Millennial promises He makes to the “overcomers” in the churches of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos and Thyatira. He not only singles out the criticalness of our be-coming overcomers, He also guarantees our future if we do.
This month, we’ll continue our discussion of the overcomers in the final three churches—Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea—and see exactly what God promises them. As we said, these letters in Revelation 2 & 3 (and the promises made to the overcomers) are addressed not only to these specific seven churches, but also to churches in general and to each of us individually.
Again, it’s to these overcomers that the “blessings” of the future kingdom are assured.
5) Sardis (Revelation 3:1-6) - Sardis represents those in the denominational church who say they are alive, but who really are dead. The Spirit tells them that if they don’t wake up, He is going to come “like a thief in the night” and they won’t even know it. Their “name” tells us they are alive, but in reality they are dead. God exhorts them to be watchful and repent and strengthen the things which remain.
There is nothing good said about Sardis.
God promise to the overcomers in this church is, “Thou hast a few names even in Sardis that have not defiled their garments, and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy.” (Verse 4)
The word “worthy” here, is the same Greek word, axios, that we talked about a few months ago. Axios means “to be worthy on grounds of being fit, prepared and qualified to reign with Christ in the coming kingdom.
The “white” raiment has to do with the “wedding garment” that Revelation 19:7 says all of us are now supposed to be “preparing” for ourselves. It speaks of the “internal preparation” we must continually do in order to produce the “fruit of righteousness” that God desires. It’s not enough to just put on “surface cosmetics,” we must allow the Lord to complete the inward beautification process (conformity to His image) that will ultimately produce the “fruit” He is looking for.
The word “defiled” in this Scripture is the Greek word moluno (Strong’s 3435) and means to blacken oneself, to pollute oneself or dirty one’s clothing. (Jeremiah 23:11) The basic meaning here is to color something by staining it. Defilement means that it needs cleaning. It’s the declaration that we have morally or spiritually transgressed. A simple definition is that we have defiled the purity of Christ and have become unfaithful.
So note that this Scripture is telling us that it is possible to defile our garments even after we become Christians.
God then continues His promise to the overcomer in Sardis (Revelation 3:5) by saying He will not blot his name out of the “book of life” (which will be opened at the Judgment Seat of Christ),1 but He will confess it before the Father and His an-gels.2
6) Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7-13) - Philadelphia represents the raptured church (the caught up to heaven church) and the church, of course, we all want to be associated with. (1 Thessalonians 4:17) Like Smyrna, there is nothing bad said about this church. Verse 7 even says that Philadelphia is the church that has the “key of David” which Scripture says, “he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth.”
The Spirit tells this church that He knows they have little strength of their own, but He also knows that they have not denied His Name (to deny His Name would disqualify them for the prize of the high calling of God) (Philippians 3:14). In other words, they have faithfully and obediently rested on God’s Spirit even through the hard times. (2 Corinthians 13:4) And, because of their faithfulness to keep the “word of His patience,” He will keep them from the very hour of temptation that is to come upon the earth. He will also make those who say they are Jews, but are not, bow at their feet. God exhorts them to “hold fast to that which you have, so no one will take your crown.” (Does this mean we can lose our crown?)
God’s promise to the faithful and obedient overcomer in the church of Philadelphia is that He will make them a pillar in His temple. A pillar is symbolic of a steadfast figure of strength and durability.3 Thus, these faithful saints will re-main secure and firm in their positions of strength at the Lord’s side and enjoy tremendous intimacy with Him. And because of this intimacy, they will not go out of the sanctuary any more. (Interestingly enough, this verse ties the Millennial Temple to being a major part of the coming kingdom.) The Lord also says He will also write upon them the Name of God, the name of the city of God (Jerusalem) and also His own name.
7) Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22) - (This is the church we are all a part of now, so we need to pay special attention here.) Laodicea represents the last days church, which is neither “hot nor cold.” This includes the “seeker friendly” church that we see springing up everywhere. The music and worship pro-grams create excitement, but the message is so watered down that it does not stimulate a renewed personal commitment of obedience and faithfulness to the Lord. As this Scripture notes, it is “neither hot nor cold.” It is lukewarm! Today’s deadness in church comes from following the truth only with our minds, not with our hearts or our lives. These saints say they are rich and in need of nothing, but in truth and from God’s perspective, they are wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked. These are the nominal and unfaithful Christians that He is speaking about here that are found to be “naked” because they do not have on the appropriate garments. Revelation 16:15 tells us, “Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame.”
Unfortunately, there is nothing good said about this church.
God then exhorts the saints in Laodicea (in verse 18) to “buy of Him gold tried in the fire” (in other words, begin to produce “works of gold” that will withstand the fire of God’s coming judgment). He says, if they do, they will be clothed in that white raiment (that wedding garment) and “the shame of their nakedness will not appear.”
Notice something else interesting here: The Scripture we always hear quoted referring to unbelievers is verse 20 which says: “Behold I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me.” The question is: Who is God really speaking to here? These are supposedly believers, right? They are not unbelievers! Yet, Christ is on the “outside” knocking on these believer’s hearts (those who are “naked”) asking them to let Him in! He is pleading with them to repent, turn around and be clothed––i.e., let Him live His Life out through them. In other words, be partakers of His Life, which will allow them to become real overcomers.
The Church of Laodicea corresponds to the Epistle of Jude where it says “a form of godliness” remained in the church, but they had “denied the power thereof.” (2 Timothy 3:5) Material-ism had so permeated this church that they were spiritually destitute. (Jude 17-19) Again, Christ stood on the outside, not within. At the end of this present dispensation, apostasy is again predicted to prevail. This is referred to in the four parables of Matthew 13, these seven churches in Revelation and the books of 2 Peter and Jude. (1 Timothy 4:1)
God’s promise to the faithful and obedient overcomer in the Laodicean church is that Christ will let them sit with Him on His Throne. In other words, the overcomers in this church will have a “joint participation” in the throne room of the King. (Revelation 3:21)
It seems like the “rewards of inheritance” escalate from wonderful blessings for the overcomers in the Church of Ephesus to incredible blessings for the overcomers in the Church of Laodicea. These phenomenal promises should be an incentive for all of us to strive (press on, struggle, contend, fight, labor) to become faithful overcomers. Justification is a free gift, with no works needed. Sanctification, however, is different. It en-tails a fight and a battle to continue to stay sanctified, obedient and faithful so we can earn “an inheritance from the Lord.”
These promises to the overcomer are some of the greatest incentives that God has placed in His Word for us to live godly lives. Such glorious promises should stir the heart of every believer and cause us to diligently strive to stay faithful.
The bottom line is: We will either overcome the world, the flesh and the devil or be overcome by the same. (1 Peter 2:21-23; 4:12-13)
To be continued next month: “The Christian Life is Like a Contest.” This article has been excerpted in part from Chuck and Nan’s new book The Kingdom, Power and Glory.