By  D. M. PANTON, B.A.


That by ‘overcomers’ our Lord does not mean believers in general, the mixed mass of the saved, but - as the word implies - a faithful and conquering section only, is put beyond all doubt by one crucial and decisive case.  "Thou hast a few names," He says to the Sardian Angel (Rev. 3: 4) - ‘names’; as though looking over the Angel’s shoulder at the church roll lying open before Him - who, because clean-robed, should one day walk with Him in white.  These ‘few,’ walking in sanctity, cannot be the only regenerate souls in Sardis; for the Lord accepts the whole church as an ‘ecclesia,’ that is, a body of the vitally ‘out-called’; and the ‘dead’ Angel himself, who is not among the ‘few names,’ is reminded of his conversion - "Remember how thou hast received, and didst hear."  Throughout the Letters it is "he that overcometh" - not an overcoming church, nor even an overcoming group, but the solitary saint shining like a star above a corrupt church and a midnight world.  Every one of the Churches our Lord thus separates into two sections: only a perfect church could consist of one division alone, and He names no such church: seven times He holds out peculiar glories matching exceptional nobility, and seven times the gravest warnings (by implication) ever given to the servants of God.  In the words of Bengel:- "There is a remarkable difference between each address and each promise.  The address has immediate respect to the seven Churches in Asia, and consequently also to all churches and pastors, in all times and places: the promise, on the other hand, is given forth to all spiritual conquerors, not excluding those in Asia."




The first promise takes us back into the dawn of the world.  It is Paradise regained.  The Seven Churches (as Victorious, the first of all commentators on the Apocalypse, has said) stand for the entire Church, the complete society of the saved, the Church universal; and after the Lord’s unerring finger has separated the sanctified from the unsanctified, the spiritual from the carnal, the conqueror from the conquered disclosing stupendous glories and incalculable perils, both made wholly contingent on faithfulness or unfaithfulness up to the moment of the Advent,* to Ephesus He says: "To him that overcmeth "- 'a verb without an object: not an overcomer of some specific temptation only; but a victor altogether, one who perseveres in his Christian course' (Moses Stuart) - "to him" - throughout, the overcomer is singled out with peculiar emphasis: to him and to him only - "will I give to eat of the tree of life which is in the paradise of God" (Rev. 2: 7).  Paradise is the abode of the blessed dead, whither our Lord went with the dying Thief; the Paradise of God is Eden:-** on the Overcomer is conferred ‘the freedom of the City,’ he is made a burgess of the New Jerusalem.  "The same exhortation at the close of all the seven epistles - the exhortation to overcome - denotes the victory of a steadfast life of faith over temptations and trials, and over all adverse things in general" (Lange).


[* "These promises all refer to the blessings of the future state of glory" (Alford).]


** "There can be no reference here admitted to the lower Paradise in Hades" (Stier).]




The only two churches which are blameless are the only two which are warned of persecution; and the promise to Smyrna is the martyr’s crown.  Jesus says:- "Be thou faithful unto death" - to the death-point, to resistance unto blood - "and I will give thee the crown of life: he that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death" (Rev. 2: 10).  A crown is the loftiest pinnacle of human glory: against therefore the supreme peril - martyrdom - the Lord balances the supreme glory; and against the terror of man he balances the more awful terror of God - not, he shall have no part in the Second Death, for that is assured on saving faith; but shall not be hurt of it, shall not be injured by it (Alford), in temporary castigation for such sins as apostasy under torture.  It is the martyr’s Letter and the martyr’s crown.* "There can be little doubt," says Dr. Lange, "that the ... glorified saints are the symbols at once of their victory in the contest of earth, and of their authority in Heaven."


[* "Before the end no man is crowned; though from the beginning, and throughout all the conflict, the crown is held out and exhibited as a reserved treasure" (Stier).  When one of Napoleon's generals asked him for a marshal's baton, "It is not l," said Napoleon, "that make marshals; it is viciory."]




To the overcoming Pergamite is promised a reward second to none in its exquisite wonder.  It is the loftiest peak of intimacy with God ever revealed in the Bible, and ever experienced in eternity.  "To him that overcometh, to him will I give the hidden manna" - hidden because, as angels’ food (Psa. 78: 25) and bread of heaven (Psa. 105: 40), it is at present invisible* - "and I will give him a white stone" - both white and lustrous, probably a diamond - "and upon the stone a new name written, which no one knoweth but he that receiveth it" (Rev. 2: 17).  This marvellous gift is probably a duplicate of the Urim and Thummim; on which appears, in divine crystal vision (of old seen by the High Priest alone) a new name; a new name expressive of a new blessedness, and a consequence of the new life kept new.  The conferring of a new name by our Lord always signified final approval as Kingdom saints: so, in human honours, Scipio Africanus, or Kitchener of Khartoum: it is the King’s signet, "a token of reward and approval from the Son of God" (Alford).  The revelation is overwhelming.  If an overcomer, this name will be for ever a secret shared between my Lord and me: none other will ever know it: it will be an innermost shrine where walk only two - something of Christ for all eternity that is mine alone.


[* "The hidden manna represents a benefit pertaining to the future Kingdom of glory" (Lange).]




The promise to Thyatira reveals, among other things, the critically important truth that these promises and warnings are purely and solely Millennial.  "He that overcometh, and he that keepeth" - 'watchfully performs, obeys' (M. Stuart.) "my works" - both the example and the precepts of Christ* - "unto the end" - 'therefore these promises are never fulfilled in this life; the end of trial or probation, or of life, is here meant' (Moses Stuart)** - "to him will I give authority over the nations" - 'I will make him king' (Moses Stuart) - "and he shall rule them with a rod of iron" (Rev. 2: 26). "He who conquers," as Dr. Swete says, "is he who keeps: works are in these addresses to the Churches constantly used as the test of character.  The Only Begotten Son of God imparts to His brethren, in so far as their sonship has been confirmed by victory, His own power over the nations."  That this royal rule is confined to the Millennium is certain from nations shattered as pottery: 'crushed or shivered as multitudinous fragments collapsing into an heap' (Alford): because rebellious nations, foretold as in the Kingdom (Zech. 14: 18), are unknown in the Eternal State, and no punishment is foretold for all eternity outside the Lake.  The ‘iron sceptre,’” says Dr. E. C. Craven, “is not promised to the Church Militant, as an organism, but to individuals; and not to individuals in the present state of conflict, but to those who, at ‘the end,’ should appear as conquerors.”  The life moulded according to Christ’s pattern (as Dr. Maclaren says) “is the life capable of being granted participation in His dominion.”  “Assuredly it is the Millennial Kingdom, to which, in a certain sense, all these promises point: that power over the nations is here held out to those who overcome as a reward is very plain” (Stier).  "And I will give him the morning star"; the star, a symbol of royalty (Num. 24: 17; Isa. 14: 12); and the ‘morning star’ - royalty in the dawn: the star, which, in Milton’s gorgeous language, 'flames in the forehead of the morning sky.' ***  What a picture of an overcomer!


[* Here is a grave proof that believers who, on principle, dissociate themselves from the body of our Lord's teaching on the ground that it is ‘Jewish’ will, in that day, experience the saddest disillusionment.

** "So long as a man still lives on the earth, however far he may have attained, he cannot say, I have overcome" (Hengstenberg).  The highest that is now possible is a strongly assured hope: "We desire that each one of you may show the same diligence unto the full assurance of HOPE even to the end" (Heb. 6: 11).

*** "He that overcometh shall be present at the first entrance and dawn of my true Kingdom over the nations, and share it with me" (Stier). The comment of Victorinus is:- "I will give him the first resurrection."]




The Sardian promise gives, more than any other, the direct relationship between sanctity and glory.  "He that overcometh shall thus be arrayed in white garments; and I will in no wise blot his name out of the book of life, and I will confess his name before my Father and before His angels" (Rev. 3: 5).  The little band of the undefiled bursts into glory in the dawn.  'They who have kept their garments here, as a few in Sardis had done, shall have brighter garments given them' (Trench), glittering robes: 'the bright garments,' as Dr. Stier says, 'are something other and greater than the clean, of which they are the reward.' As Dean Alford says: 'They have kept their garments undefiled: they of all others then are the persons who should walk in the glorious white robes of heavenly triumph.'*


[* "It is not asserted in this passage that the names of any who shall finally perish were ever entered in the Book of Life, nor is it necessarily implied" (E. G. Craven, D.D.).]




The Philadelphian reward reveals peculiarly the stability of coming glory.  "He that overcometh, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go out thence no more"; expelled no more for ever, for any cause, either of external foe or internal sin: "and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, and mine own new name" (Rev. 3: 12).  The victor’s probation is finally over: stability in grace culminates in stability in glory: more than a ‘living stone’ quarried by grace for the heavenly Temple (1 Pet. 2: 5), he is its everlasting ornament and support. 'The promise is special, on the ground that the virtues in question are special' (Moses Stuart); for these promises appear to be distinct rewards, conferred for totally distinct services or sufferings; and he who kept Christ’s property inviolate, is now, as himself the Lord’s supreme property, stamped all over with the Name, as His for ever.




‘The rewards (as Dr. Stier says) close on their highest peak: the severest rebuke of all is counterpoised by the most lustrous promise of all.  'It gathers all the promises into one' (Alford).  To the Laodicean the Lord says:- "He that overcometh, I will give to him to sit down with Me in my throne"; (the Eastern throne is much ampler and broader than ours: Trench):* "as I also overcame, and sat down with my Father in His throne" (Rev. 3: 21).  Our Lord’s throne, as separate from the Father’s, is purely and solely the Messianic, the Millennial; for it never appears before or after the Kingdom: and therefore the proof here is beyond challenge or doubt that, whoever the overcomer is, to him, and to him alone, belongs a share in Millennial Royalty.  None can ever share the eternal Throne of God and the Lamb.  It is obvious that though the lukewarm Laodicean is converted - "as many as I love I rebuke and chasten" (Rev. 3: 19)** - co-session on the Lord’s Throne is impossible to him as a lukewarm Laodicean, in momentary peril of being spewed out of the mouth of Christ.  'This enthronization,' as Prof. Moses Stuart says, 'will be granted to all who prove to be final victors in the contest with the world, the flesh, and the devil.'  The overcomer (the Lord says) conquers in the sense that He conquered; "even as I also overcame": which, obviously, is not conversion, but life-long sanctity.  Thus to a believer’s grossest carnality is presented, so long as the day of grace has not yet merged into the day of wrath, the most golden reward; and 'these promises,' as Dr. Seiss has said, 'are to brace up the courage of the Church, to carry her to the pitch of bearing the cross and crucifying herself with Christ, and actualizing her professed expatriation from this world.'


[* "‘In my throne’ (See Greek text), which occurs nowhere else" ( A. Plummer, D.D.).]


** A proof of his conversion past all doubt is his ‘star’ shining in the Upper Sanctuary (Rev. 1: 16), locked in the grasp out of which none can pluck.]






An extraordinary proof that a Laodicean believer can nevertheless (through grace appropriated) achieve the summit of devotion before he dies is found in the neighbourhood of Laodicea itself.  Two centuries later than our Lord’s letter, in Eumenia, a neighbouring city whose church shared Laodicea’s reputation for lukewarmness, the whole body of believers, herded by soldiers into the church, and refusing apostasy, were burned to a man, "calling upon the God over all."




Yet beyond all approaching cataclysms of the end, good and evil, Scripture lifts the vision of the Throne. "So you intend to be a reformer of man’s morals, young man," said an aged peer to Wilberforce. "That" - and he pointed to a picture of the Crucifixion - "is the end of reformers."  "Is it?" replied Wilberforce; "I have read in an old Book this:- "'I am He that liveth and was dead, and behold I am alive for evermore.’  That is the end - not death, but dominion; and if we be faithful, the end will be -Sit with Me in my throne.’"