Monday, June 02, 2003

The Revelation of Jesus Christ

The Rewards for Overcoming

For those who would like to start at the very beginning of this series on the book of Revelation, click here.

I have looked briefly at the letters to the seven churches taking them in pairs to glean some interesting insights from the comparisons. The one thing that I did not look at during those posts was the reward at the end of each letter for being an overcomer. The overcomer in each letter is the one who understands the situation and through faith gets over the top and beyond. In Ephesus, the overcomer would be the one who kept the high standards, but regained a sense of God's love and mercy. For Thyatira, the overcomer would understand that love and mercy were not enough, but that people had to be told and instructed to move to right doctrine and maturity. The overcomer at Smyrna would face the upcoming trials with faith and patience. The overcomer at Philadelphia would gain new strength and continue to hold to the word of faith. The overcomer at Pergamum would expose the growing immorality in the midst of the church. The overcomer at Sardis would wake up and realize what truly makes for a living church. The overcomer at Laodicea would recognize the spiritual poverty that exists and accept whatever is necessary to become rich, and clothed, and able to see.

The rewards for overcoming are quite interesting and all seem oriented toward eternal rewards rather than of this world:

  • For learning to love again, the people at Ephesus would be able to eat from the Tree of Life.
  • For facing persecution with firm faith unto death, the people of Smyrna would escape the second death.
  • For cleaning up their act, the faithful at Pergamum would receive manna and a new name. The new name would speak of a new identity.
  • For combining the love they already had with efforts to move people to maturity, Thyatira would have authority over the nations. They would be able to rule with justice and mercy.
  • For waking up, Sardis would be clothed in white garments to replace the rampant immorality that has characterized them.
  • For gaining strength and continuing to hold on the word of faith, the Philadelphians would become pillars in the temple and have the names of God and the New Jerusalem.
  • And for inviting Jesus to once more be among them, the Laodiceans would be able to sit with Jesus as He ruled the earth.

As I look at this list, I see things that we believers will all share in the New Jerusalem. Surely there is a tasting of the Tree of Life. Surely there is an escaping of the second death and new names and so forth. And whether we can identify as individuals with any of these churches or part of some and others, we all have things in our lives over which we must climb and move on. The call to be an overcomer is a call to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, and, as the Laodiceans were told to buy gold refined in fire, so discipleship and overcoming has a cost:

But they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die. (Revelation 12:11)

We can be disciples, because Jesus paid the penalty of our sin and sent the Holy Spirit. Our discipleship is revealed by our changed lives. We overcome by loving Jesus more than our next breath. I hear many quote two-thirds of this verse as in ,"They overcame by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony." But the final third is more important. Each overcomer in the seven churches would in some way have to die to self. We must walk a walk that does not shrink from martyrdom.

We can prepare ourselves by the small choices in life. Typically we do not face momentous and life changing decisions every day. Instead we face small troubles and situations. I am convinced that how we handle the small stuff can dictate how we handle the important stuff.

  • If you are comfortable with white lies to avoid confrontation, will you be able to tell the truth when the testimony of your faith will place you in harm's way?
  • Which leads more to dying to self, getting your own way or letting go and seeking the welfare of someone else? Which choice will train you to choose death when it might count?
  • If someone wrongs you, do you seek to get even or do you bless? Do you return evil for evil or good for evil?

Each day contains little drills by which we can practice dying. Those choices train our character and spirit to not love our lives so much that we are afraid to die. If you fail when the stakes are low, how will you succeed when the stakes are high? I am not saying that the grace of God will not come into play and give us the extra strength that any of us need when the time comes. I am saying that those who practice now, will have an easier time then.

Men and women of faith have always been called upon to lay down their lives to torture and death. We Christians have enemies and they are concerned about our strength and the strength of our message. Consequently the efforts to shut down our voice get stronger everyday. In this we should rejoice. If we were not effective, they would leave us alone. Before it's all over, the gospel will reach the entire world, and I believe that the Church will be a dazzling beauty in the eyes of Jesus. Consequently, there will be rough days ahead. The book of Revelation is all about overcoming evil in the worst of circumstances and this we will do.

Tuesday: The Throne in Heaven

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>


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