A. In understanding these 22 rewards in their context, we first emphasize what specifically Jesus intended them to overcome to receive the specific reward. Jesus meant that they understand that they would not receive certain rewards without overcoming the specific issues He pointed out. The rewards were related to specific conditions in which each of the churches was required to grow in their love for Jesus. Each condition for each reward is an arena to show our love to Him. If a believer in the first century would have died without overcoming in many of the issues Jesus pointed out, they still would have gone to heaven but would have come up short in their reward.
B. To the church of Ephesus overcoming meant to return to their first love for Jesus until the end.
“I know your works, your labor…3 you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. 4 Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works…7 To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.” (Rev. 2:2-7)
1. Many of the saints in Ephesus neglected to maintain the love for Jesus that they once had.
Jesus affirmed their diligent work. However, if they would have died without overcoming their passive love they would not have gone to hell but would be saved. They already had eternal life but still needed to overcome specific things to receive the full reward in v. 7.
2. They would not have received the specific reward of eating from the Tree of Life in the midst of Paradise. All believers will eat of the Tree of Life in the New Jerusalem in one degree or another. The fruit trees throughout that vast City probably differ in many ways.
C. To the church in Smyrna overcoming meant to be faithful in persecution even if it led to death.
“I know your works, tribulation, and poverty…10 Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison…be faithful until death…11 He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.” (Rev. 2:9-11)
1. The believers in Smyrna were called to persevere in persecution to receive the crown of life. This crown is like receiving a gold medal in the Olympics given only to those who were victorious in overcoming fear related to persecution. Jesus exhorted them to not give in to fear in any way. He was not warning them about losing their salvation.
2. This crown is not automatically given to every born again believer. It is not synonymous with possessing the gift of eternal life.
D. To the church in Pergamos overcoming meant to resist immorality and idolatry until the end.
“You hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas…was killed among you…14 I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak…to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality. 15 You also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans…17 To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written…” (Rev. 2:13-17) 1. Jesus defined overcoming for the saints in Pergamos as resisting immorality and idolatry.
2. A sincere believer may die before fully overcoming in their struggle with pornography.
They will be saved but will not inherit the fullness of their potential reward. Jesus was not warning them about losing their salvation but promising them a greater experience of the glory of God if they would be faithful in this specific way.
E. To the church in Thyatira overcoming meant to resist immorality and idolatry until the end.
“I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience; and as for your works, the last are more than the first. 20 I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel…to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols…25 Hold fast what you have…26 He who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end…I will give power over the nations…28 and the morning star.” (Rev. 2:19-28)
1. In Thyatira, Jesus commended them for increasing in love, service in their outreach ministries and for persevering in difficulty, yet they compromised in allowing immorality and idolatry to continue unchallenged. He defined overcoming in Thyatira in a way similar to Pergamos. Here, He emphasized the need to not tolerate it in their fellow church members. He required that they not remain silent about the compromise. They were not to expose any who repented but only those who refused to repent.
2. Jesus called them to hold fast to these requirements until the end. He was not warning them about losing their salvation but promising them a greater reward for faithfulness.
F. To the church in Sardis overcoming meant to be watchful or to develop a prayer life and to hold fast the things that God entrusted to them from their earlier years when revival first broke out.
“I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. 2 Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain…3 Remember…how you have received…hold fast and repent…5 He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father…” (Rev. 3:1-5)
1. Jesus defined overcoming to the saints in Sardis as holding on to the spiritual vigor they experienced in early days. Overcoming in this context required that they become watchful, and hold fast the things God entrusted to them.
2. The promise to believers of receiving white garments is not the same as receiving the free gift of righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21) but of acts of righteousness (Rev. 3:18; 16:15; 19:7-8).
G. To the church in Philadelphia overcoming meant to persevere in mature obedience to the end.
“I know your works…you have kept My word, and have not denied My name…11 Hold fast what you have…12 He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar…and I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the City…I will write on him My new name.” (Rev. 3:8-12)
1. Overcoming for the saints in Philadelphia meant to hold on to their mature obedience for the remaining years of their life. Jesus promised them rewards that included being vindicated before their enemies in the age-to-come (v. 9), receiving positions of authority as pillars in His government (v. 12 b) and intimate revelation of God’s heart (v. 12 c, d).
2. Jesus will write on them the name of the Father, the New Jerusalem and His new name.
Thus, they would receive a greater measure of revelation of God than they would have.
H. To the church of the Laodiceans overcoming meant to resist lukewarmness to the end.
“I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot…17 You do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked…18 Buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed…19 Be zealous and repent…21 To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My Throne...” (Rev. 3:15-21)
1. Jesus defined overcoming to the Laodicean saints as zealously repenting or in being radical in their resolve to turn from lukewarmness in their relationship with Him. Jesus promised them deeper fellowship along with a position in His eternal Kingdom.
2. Jesus was not speaking to believers about receiving salvation but a new quality in their walk with God. Heavenly gold will be seen in the heavenly mansions, crowns, garments, etc. He promised they would eat together in covenant intimacy especially at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:9) and to sit on thrones ruling the nations.