A Bible Study by Jack Kelley
In this study, we’re going to deal with a new definition that’s coming into the Christian lexicon. The word being re-defined is overcomer and the new definition is that an overcomer is someone who lives a Christ-like life, as opposed to just believing in Him. They have died to self and now live a life that’s holy and blameless.
Some who embrace this definition claim that only those who meet its requirements will become the Bride of Christ. All other believers will still go in the rapture but will spend the millennium in the “outer darkness” learning the sanctification that they failed to learn on Earth, so they’ll be ready for eternity when the 1000 years are over. Others say those who aren’t overcomers will be left behind at the pre-trib rapture, to endure part or all of the end times judgments as a way of purifying themselves.
The fact that the Bible never uses the word in this context doesn’t seem to be a problem for advocates of this new definition. It’s like the word repent, which is never used in the Bible to describe a change in behavior, only a change of mind (see our Q&A on this here). Because that definition is never taught, most people don’t know its real meaning and believe it means to change one’s behavior. The common understanding of overcomer is facing the same future.
But to set the record straight, let’s see just how the Bible does define an overcomer. The word overcome first appears in connection with believers in John 16:33:
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Even though this world isn’t a perfect place, we can have peace in our lives knowing that Jesus has overcome the world. No matter how bad life is for us here, in Christ, we’re assured of a better one to come. Jesus is the overcomer, and He told us this to encourage us. (Imagine how you’d feel about this word of encouragement if you arrived in Heaven only to discover that you had to complete a 1000 year indoctrination program before you were deemed worthy for the Kingdom. Or worse yet, learned after it was too late to do anything about it that you failed to qualify for the rapture.)
Paul said that we should overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21) But while he admonished us over and over again to go beyond salvation and achieve victory over the sin nature in order to win the crowns available to us for doing so, he never once said that our participation in the kingdom depends on it.
Of all the New Testament writers, John used the word most often, saying that those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God are overcomers.
I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one. (1 John 2:14)
Every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.
You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. (1 John 4:3-4)
Everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. (1 John 5:4-5)
We’ve overcome the evil one, the spirit of anti-Christ, and the world, and how did we do that? Through faith, by believing that Jesus is the Son of God. As is always the case, it’s our faith that makes us appear holy and blameless, not our behavior, which could never qualify us.
In Rev. 2-3 the word is used in each of the seven letters to churches to describe those who resist or reject the religious sin for which the church is being criticized and/or remain true to the gospel.
Overcomers In Ephesus
Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. (Rev. 2:4-5,7)
By the end of the first century, the Church had already become busy doing religious works. They had forgotten that the work was already done and our primary purpose is to worship the Lord and give Him thanks. The relationship He gave His life to have with us was already becoming another religion. Those who changed their attitude and overcame the human tendency to earn our position with God, and rested in the fact that Jesus did it all would meet Him at the Tree of life in paradise. The overcomer was the one who rested in faith and worshiped God.
Overcomers In Smyrna
Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death. (Rev. 2:10)
History tells us the ten days referred to here are the reign of 10 Caesars, which lasted for 250 years, through the third Century. During this time Christians were persecuted relentlessly. Many were called upon to give their lives for their faith. The Lord offered no escape from this except that which comes from death. But those who remained faithful in believing His promise of everlasting life received it. The overcomer died in faith and received life.
Overcomers In Pergamum
Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality. Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it. (Rev. 2:14-17)
In the 4th Century, the church was married to the pagan Babylonian religion, and practices that were not only un-Biblical but detestable to the Lord became common. The Lord threatened to fight these practices with the sword of His Mouth, which is his Word. The overcomers were those who stayed true to the unadulterated Gospel and lived by faith in its promises. They received the Bread of Life, and a token that would commend them to the Father in the name of the Son.
Overcomers In Thyatira
Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds. Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets (I will not impose any other burden on you): Only hold on to what you have until I come. To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations. (Rev. 2:20-26)
The illicit marriage of the Church to Babylon produced four children, all alive on Earth today. Thyatira represents the Catholic Church, the first child. It became wealthy by confiscating property through false accusations, like Jezebel had, and also instituted the sale of indulgences that authorized licentious practices for a fee. But to those who hold Jesus in their hearts and reject the traditions that would add to what He accomplished on the cross, Jesus promises salvation. They haven’t learned Satan’s secrets of Jesus plus Mary, Grace plus works, Scripture plus sacraments, and have overcome, living by faith alone.
Overcomers In Sardis
Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you. Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels. (Rev. 3:2-5)
The Protestant Church, represented by Sardis, carried out the Lord’s threat to judge the Church’s practices by the Sword of His Mouth. The call of the Reformation was Sola fides (only through faith), sola gratia (Only by grace), solus Christus (only with Christ), and sola Scriptura (Only His Word).” For the first time, the Bible was available to all who could read it. Great seminaries were founded to teach pastors the Word of God. But into these seminaries, the devil crept, and the authority of God’s word was challenged. It was all in the name of intellectualism so it was thought to be good, but soon the Gospel had been robbed of its power, the light of faith had gone out, the Spirit was quenched, and the people had been lulled to sleep.
Many still are asleep, but there are a few who remember the Gospel and cling to it. They’ve repented of the Documentary Hypothesis, Modern Rationalism, and all the rest. They’ve overcome what Walter Martin called the Cult of Liberalism and have retained the power of the Gospel. They’ve been washed in the Blood of the Lamb and been given clean clothes. Their names have been written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, and He will never blot them out.
Overcomers In Philadelphia
I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth. I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name. (Rev. 3:8,10-12)
“Hold on to what you have,” the Lord commands the Evangelical Church, “because I’m coming soon. And because you’ve waited patiently for me, I’ll keep you from the hour of trial that’s going to test the whole world.”
And what do we have to hold on to? We have His Word, His name, and His promise. He’s coming soon. There are 5 crowns mentioned in the New Testament, to which believers should aspire. But here the Lord mentioned only one. Which one? I think it’s the one described in 2 Tim. 4:8, the Crown of Righteousness, for those who’ve longed for His appearance. Who but the Bible-believing, prophecy studying Evangelical Church can even qualify for this crown, and which one is more descriptive of the yearning in our hearts?
Overcomers In Laodicea
I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne. (Rev. 3:15-16-20-21).
Here’s the fourth child, the End Times Apostate Church. Prosperous and in need of nothing. They like to call themselves followers of Christ, not just believers, and the focus is definitely on doing. Hardly anyone hears His knock on the door, which means He’s standing outside trying to get in. Some will overcome this mad rush to conquer a world beyond saving, in the name of a Jesus many of them don’t know, in the hope of accomplishing something He doesn’t want. To those who hear the knock and invite Him into their heart to kindle the fires of faith, He will give the right to sit with Him on his throne.
These seven letters give us seven examples to show that we overcome by faith alone. From the church in Ephesus, we see that we overcome by worshiping the Lord and thanking Him for doing all the work of our salvation. From Smyrna, we see that it’s by remaining faithful to the point of death that we overcome and receive life. The overcomers in Pergamum rejected the pagan rituals of Babylon that obscure and pervert the Gospel Story. Those in Thyatira refused to add to the simplicity of the gospel, while in Sardis they refused to let its power be taken away. Overcomers in Philadelphia hold on to His Name, His Word and His Promise, and Laodicean overcomers listen for His knock at the door and open their hearts to him when they hear it.
While it’s God’s will that we be conformed to the image of Christ in our behavior, and that we go beyond salvation to achieve victory, it’s clear from Scripture that we overcome by clinging tenaciously to our child-like faith in the Lord’s completed work on the cross. The seven churches were just that, churches. Yet for the most part, they introduced gospel obscuring, faith destroying doctrines that over the generations have kept untold millions off the path to eternal life. Only those who overcome by faith survive.
He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.” (Rev. 21:6-7)
The Book of Revelation ends as it began, by telling us that eternal life is provided without cost to those who walk by faith in Him alone, believing that the work is done, that the Lord is the beginning and the end of their quest for eternity. These are the overcomers. Selah 08-09-08