“I write to you, young men, because you have overcome the wicked one.” I John 2:13b
In our study of I John, the apostle John is preparing his readers for spiritual battle (2:12-14) against the world (2:15-17) and the devil (2:18-25) after having addressed their battle with sin (1:5-2:2). To prepare them for warfare, He is reviewing fundamental truth about their position in Christ. Like “little children,” they had experienced complete and permanent forgiveness from their heavenly Father the moment they believed in “the name of the Son of God” (2:12; cf. 5:13a). As “fathers” they now know the Eternal One intimately (2:13a; cf. John 17:3a).
Today John will address the third foundational truth based on their position in Christ. “I write to you, young men, because you have overcome the wicked one.” (I John 2:13b). Their experience as “little children” (forgiveness of sins) and as “fathers” (intimate knowledge of God) renders them as vigorous “young men” who are prepared to do battle with Satan. 1
Once again John uses the Greek perfect tense to describe their position in Christ. The perfect tense describes a completed action in the past that has continuing results to the present. Hence, as “little children” they have been “forgiven” (apheōntai) of all their sins when they believed in Christ for salvation and they remain forgiven at the time of John’s writing (2:12). As “fathers” they “have known”(egnōkeite) God as the Eternal One from the moment of their salvation and they continue know Him in this way (2:13a; cf. John 17:3).
And now John uses the Greek perfect tense when he writes that as “young men” they “have overcome” (nenikēkate) Satan or “the wicked one” (2:13b). The Greek perfect tense conveys a past victory over the evil one which continues to produce fruit in the present. 2 In what sense have all believers “overcome the wicked one”?
John writes, “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” (I John 5:1). Every time a person believes in Jesus as the Christ for new birth, a definite victory is made over the world: “4 For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. 5 Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (I John 5:4-5). John informs us that “the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.” (I John 5:19b).
Satan is actively engaged in blinding people’s minds to prevent them from believing in the gospel of God’s Son (2 Cor. 4:3-6). He uses the world system to teach many false views which desensitize people to their need for a Savior including such things as:
Humanity is basically good so people do not need to be saved from sin.
Since God is love, all people will go to heaven.
Jesus was just a good moral teacher or prophet who provided a good example to follow.
God and the Bible cannot be trusted.
Sin has no consequences.
God does not exist.
But when God breaks through these (and other) lies and a lost sinner “believes that Jesus is the Son of God” to be “born of God” (I John 5:4-5), then Satan is directly defeated (2 Cor. 4:3-6). And since the effects of new birth can never be reversed by Satan, this defeat is decisive and permanent (Luke 8:12). At the very least, John’s readers are viewed as “young men” who had experienced victory over the wicked one when they put their faith in Christ for eternal life, and the results of this victory are still there. They still have a perfect standing before God in heaven (cf. Rom. 8:33-34; Heb. 10:10, 14). This positional truth is intended by John to encourage his readers to move out into battle against this world and its ruler, knowing that their victory in Christ is secure. 3
The author of the gospel of John is the same author of I John. John uses the Greek perfect tense for the same word translated “have overcome” (nenikēka) when he records Christ’s encouraging words to His disciples the night before His crucifixion: “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33). There are three contrasts in the first half of this verse which have incredible significance:
1. “in Me” versus “in the world”: Jesus depicts the disciples as living in two spheres. The first is spiritual and eternal (“in Me”) and the second is physical and temporal (“in the world”).The phrase “in Me” points back to the intimacy Christ spoke of in the vine and branches imagery (John 15:1-8). Disciples of Jesus can “have peace” in Christ who never changes, not “in the world” which is ever-changing. We are not going to find peace in the world. Only Christ can give us the peace we yearn for. If our focus is on Christ, then peace can be our experience. If our focus is on the world, then we can expect “tribulation.” This word (thlipsin) refers to “trouble that inflicts … distress brought about by outward circumstances.”4
2. “you may have” versus “you will have”: In the spiritual realm the disciples “may have” peace. The verb translated “may have” (echēte) is in the subjunctive mood which means it is possible or desirable 5 they may have peace, but Christ did not guarantee their peace in this life. If they abide in Christ (“in Me”), then they can have peace. But it is not certain they will abide in Him. But Jesus does guarantee they “will have” tribulation in the world. The verb translated “will have” (echete) is in the indicative mood which conveys certainty 6 that the disciples will experience tribulation in the world. The disciples will not be able to escape the tribulation that is in the world. Perhaps the disciples still did not believe persecution was imminent (cf. John 15:18-16:4). They expected to rule with Jesus soon in His coming Kingdom (cf. Matt. 16:21-28; Luke 22:24-30). Their expectations kept them from receiving more truth from Christ that they found to be contrary to what they wanted – this is something all of us must guard against. 7
3. “peace” vs. “tribulation”: If the disciples (and we) abide in Christ and stay focused on Him, they can experience internal “peace” (eirēnēn) or a deep-seeded calmness that is given to obedient believers (cf. John 14:21, 23, 27a) even though they will definitely have “tribulation” in the world. This peace of Christ arises from a life of faith in God. It refers to a calmness “that would come to their hearts from trusting God and from knowing that He was in control of all events that touched their lives.” 8
The world cannot give this kind of peace to believers. The world gives Christians “tribulation” because the world opposes Christ and His followers (15:18-16:4). The word “tribulation”“is used in a general sense to speak of the ‘pressing affliction’ that the disciples must endure as they identify with Christ in an unbelieving world (cf. 15:18-25). This is the pressure believers experience when they take a stand for Christ or speak out on a sensitive moral issue. Yet although believers face intense pressure from the world, they can enjoy internal peace in Christ.”9
Some teach that if you are doing God’s will everything will go smoothly. This is contrary to what Jesus promises. Even if you are living for Christ “you will have tribulation” because the world hates Jesus and those who follow Him (15:18-21). If the world does not hate a believer, it may be because that believer is being conformed to the world instead of being transformed by the Word.
After the disciples forsook the Lord at the time of His arrest (cf. Matt. 26:56; Mark 14:50), they may have felt ashamed and uneasy whenever they thought of Jesus. But Jesus predicted their desertion in the very saying where He also assured them of the peace He would give them (John 16:32-33). Christ loved them despite their shortcomings. In the future when they looked back on their desertion, they would reflect that Jesus predicted it. And even though He knew full well they would abandon Him, He had promised them peace. That is grace. Christ would give them peace even though they did not deserve it.
The world would definitely bring the disciples distress, but they could “be of good cheer.” The word translated “be of good cheer” (tharsaeite) means “to be firm or resolute in the face of danger or adverse circumstances, be enheartened, be courageous.” 10
Why could the disciples face these upcoming challenges with courage? Christ explains, “I have overcome the world.” As mentioned previously, this is the same Greek perfect tense verb John used in I John 2:13b. The word “overcome” (nikaō) means “to win in the face of obstacles, be victor, conquer, overcome, prevail.” 11 So, Jesus speaks of His victory over the world as though it is an accomplished fact with continuing results to the present!
It was no accident that Jesus spoke these triumphant words, “I have overcome the world” even as the Roman soldiers were buckling on the weapons for His arrest. That is confidence, isn’t it!?! But this is a confidence that would be lacking in the disciples that night. At first, when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus, Peter, the ring leader of the disciples, pulled out a sword in Jesus’ defense (Luke 22:50-51; John 18:10). But by the next day, all Eleven disciples had lost faith. Those triumphant words from the previous night must have haunted the disciples as they watched from a distance as Jesus agonized on the cross. It appeared to them that the world had overcome Jesus. But on Sunday morning, their faith would be reignited and strengthened by the resurrection of their Lord.
To an unbeliever, the cross of Christ seems like total defeat for Him. But Jesus sees it as a complete victory over all that the world is and can do to Him. Christ goes to the cross, not in fear or in gloom, but as a Conqueror! Because Jesus won the victory over the hostile world and Satan through His death and resurrection (cf. John 12:31-32; 1 Corinthians 15:51-58; Colossians 2:13-15; 1 John 2:13-14; 4:4; 5:4-5), we can also win against this hostile world and its ruler as we face difficulties with His courage! Because Jesus has already won the battle, we can claim the victory as we face trials triumphantly.
In John 16:33, John wants us to see that victory begins when, through the resurrection power of Jesus Christ, we find peace in living life for Him. In I John 2:13b, the apostle wants us to realize that the moment we believe in Christ for our new birth (5:1), it was our faith that permanently defeated Satan’s and the world’s opposition towards saving faith (5:4-5). Knowing this can give us much courage as we face intimidating challenges.
When we were serving the Lord in the Philippines, I sometimes liked to watch NBA basketball. One of my favorite teams at that time was the Dallas Mavericks. Since we were fourteen hours ahead of CST in Dallas, Texas, I was not available to watch their games in the mornings in the Philippines when they were televised live. So, I watched the replay of their games in the evenings. Before I would do that, I liked to check the final score on ESPN, so I would know if the Mavericks had won before I sat down to watch them. Knowing my team had already won the game, gave me confidence even though I may watch my team make several mistakes and fall behind in the score. I did not give up on them though because I already knew they would win the game.
The same is true in our Christian lives. We already know the outcome of this battle between Jesus and the world and the ruler of the world. Knowing Christ has already won the victory over the world and the devil can enable us to have courage when we face intimidating challenges (John 16:33). Knowing that our faith in Christ at the time of our conversion permanently overcame the world and Satan, gives us confidence going into spiritual battle (I John 2:13b). At times it may seem that the world and Satan are winning the battle when we fail, or other believers fail, but the truth is Christ has already won the war through His death and resurrection! The truth is we can move out into battle against this hate-filled world based on our complete victory in our position through Christ. We can fight “from” the victory Jesus and our faith have already won, not “for” the victory as though it was completely dependent upon us alone.
Prayer: Gracious heavenly Father, thank You so much for preparing us for spiritual battle by reminding us of our position in Christ. As Your little children, we have permanent forgiveness of all our sins so the enemy cannot successfully accuse us or condemn us. As fathers, we know You as the Eternal One and it is this intimate knowledge of You that delivers us from the enemy’s lies. As young men, we have permanently defeated the world and its ruler with our faith when we believed in the Son of God for our new birth. This permanent victory over their hostility toward saving faith encourages us to move out into battle knowing the war has already been won. Thank You for this confidence You have given to us, Lord, based on our position in Christ. In the matchless name of our Lord Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.
1. Zane C. Hodges; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 592.
3. David R. Anderson, Maximum Joy: I John – Relationship or Fellowship? (Grace Theology Press, 2013 Kindle Edition), pg. 102.
4. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 457.
“And he showed me a river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb.” Revelation 22:1
After focusing primarily on the glorious external appearance and materials of the New Jerusalem on the new earth (21:1-27), the apostle John is directed by the angel to the interior of the New Jerusalem which will nourish and enrich the lives of God’s redeemed people (22:1-5). 1
McGee writes, “Up to this chapter, the New Jerusalem seems to be all mineral and no vegetable. Its appearance is as the dazzling display of a fabulous jewelry store; we wonder if there is no soft grass to sit upon, no green trees to enjoy, and no water to drink or food to eat. However, here are introduced the elements which add a rich softness to this city of elaborate beauty.”2
“And he showed me a river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb.” (Revelation 22:1). The phrase, “And he showed me” (kai edeixen moi) indicates a new aspect of the Celestial City that John’s guiding angel proceeds to show him. John sees a literal “river of water of life” that is “clear as crystal.” Since “there was no more sea” on the new earth (21:1), water will be supplied by this river. 3 This river is described as bright or “clear as crystal” because it was “shimmering like mountain water over the rocks” 4 and “sparkling” like a stream of unpolluted water. 5
In this section the apostle John is describing Paradise Restored which includes a river, the tree of life, fruit, and God’s presence (22:1-3). In the original Paradise, the Garden of Eden, there was a river that watered the garden (Genesis 2:10), a tree of life (Genesis 2:9b), fruit (Genesis 2:16; 3:2-3), and God’s presence (Genesis 2:15-25; 3:8). When Adam and Eve sinned against God by eating the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3:1-6), this original Paradise was lost. Adam and Eve were kicked out of the garden so they could not eat from the tree of life and live forever in unglorified bodies (Genesis 3:22-24). 6 “From that moment on, humanity began to decline into disharmony, disease, and eventual death.”7
But now in the final stage of heaven, we see the original Paradise is restored. This life-giving and pristine river in the New Jerusalem flows “from the throne of God and of the Lamb” (22:1b). Notice that there is one “throne” that is shared by “God” the Father and God the Son (“of the Lamb”). 8 This is important to observe because it helps us understand what is meant in I Corinthians 15:24 which says, “Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power.” When the Lord Jesus “delivers the kingdom to God the Father,“ it does not mean Christ’s reign on the throne ceases, but that it will change its character. Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords forever. 9
This river that flows from God’s throne suggests not only physical refreshment for God’s people throughout eternity, but also everlasting enjoyment of God and His eternal life flowing to His people as well. We were told in Revelation 7, “15 Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them. 16 They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; 17 for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to fountains of the water of life. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (7:15-17). Throughout eternity, the Lamb of God will be the source of experiencing and enjoying eternal life or “the water of life” (21:6; 22:1, 17; cf. John 4:10, 14; 7:37-39; I John 5:20). The water that flows from God’s throne in the New Jerusalem will cause the tree of life to grow and produce different fruit each each month (22:1-2). Both the fruit and the water will enhance the lives of those who consume them. 10
Alcorn adds, “Notice that the source of this powerful stream is the throne of God, occupied by the Lamb. He’s the source of all natural beauties and wonders. They derive their beauty from the Artist. The great river reflects His thirst-quenching, need-satisfying nature. He always meets His people’s needs and fulfills their longings.
“On the New Earth, we won’t have to leave the city to find natural beauty. It will be incorporated into the city, with the river of life as its source. The river flows down the city’s main street. Likely it has countless tributaries flowing throughout the rest of the city. Can you picture people talking and laughing beside this river, sticking their hands and faces down into the water and drinking? This fully accessible natural wonder on the city’s main street is amazing – something that would be featured in any travel brochure.”11
“In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” (Revelation 22:2). This life-giving river flowing from God’s throne runs down “the middle of” the New Jerusalem’s very broad “street.” Each “side of the river” is lined with “the tree of life,” which we were told earlier is located “in the midst of the Paradise of God” which is the New Jerusalem (Revelation 2:7). 12
These trees lining the riverbank will bear “twelve” different “fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month.” While most fruit trees on the current earth only bear fruit a few months of the year at most, these trees will produce fruit all year long. 13
Notice also that there will be a sense of time in heaven. The Bible says each of the trees will produce fruit “every month.” Many people think there will be no sense of time in God’s heaven. A theologian argued, “What a relief and what joy to know that in heaven there will be no more time.” 14 Someone else wrote, “Heaven will be a place where time will stand still.” 15
The book of Revelation contains many other references to time in heaven. The descriptions of worship in heaven include successive actions, such as falling down at God’s throne and casting crowns before Him “whenever” the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne (4:9-11). There is a sequence of events; things happen one after the other, not all at once. Martyrs in heaven are told to “rest a little longer” when they asked “How long” before God would avenge their deaths (6:10-11). Believers in heaven could not ask “how long” or be told to “rest a little longer” unless time passes in heaven. God’s people in heaven “serve Him day and night in His temple” (7:15). Revelation 8:1 says, “There was silence in heaven for about half an hour.” The inhabitants of heaven sing (5:9-12) which requires a sense of time. 16 “Meter, tempo, and rests are all essential components of music, and each is time related. Certain notes are held longer than others. Songs have a beginning, middle, and end. That means they take place in time.”17
“How can Scripture be any more clear about time in Heaven? (Right down to silence in Heaven for half an hour.) To say we’ll exist outside of time is like saying we’ll know everything. It confuses eternity with infinity. We’ll live for eternity as finite beings. God can accommodate to us by putting Himself into time, but we can’t accommodate to Him by becoming timeless. It’s not in us to do so because we’re not God.”18
Alcorn astutely observes, “People imagine time is an enemy because the clock seems to move so slowly when we’re having a root canal and so quickly when we’re doing what we love. But time isn’t the problem, the Curse is. Time isn’t the enemy, death is (I Corinthians 15:26). Time predated sin and the Curse. When the Curse is lifted, time will remain. Without the Curse, time will never work against us. We won’t run out of it. Time will bring gain, not loss. The passing of time will no longer threaten us. It will bring new adventures without a sense of loss for what must end.
“We’ll live with time, no longer under its pressure. When we see God face-to-face, time will pass, but we’ll be lost in Him. We’ll be busy exploring His universe, working on projects, fellowshipping with Him and each other, listening to and telling great stories. We’ll delight in time because it’s part of what God calls ‘very good.’ It’s a dimension in which we’ll enjoy God.
“When we say good-bye in Heaven, we’ll know people won’t die before we see them next. Time will no longer be an hourglass in which the sands go from a limited past to a limited future. Our future will be unlimited. We’ll no longer have to ‘number our days’ (Psalm 90:132) or redeem the time, for time won’t be a diminishing resource about to end.” 19
Since consumption of this fruit from the tree of life is an eternal reward, only overcoming believers – those who remained faithful to Christ to the end – will have the right to eat this fruit (2:7; cf. 2:10, 25-27; 22:12,14). 20 This fruit will give life-enhancing properties which will give overcoming believers additional energy or capacity to fulfill their responsibilities, including ruling on the new earth.
“It will reward those who overcome with a special privilege, an enhanced intimacy with God.The original tree of life would have provided immortality on earth in mankind’s natural bodies had Adam not sinned and been expelled (Genesis 3:22). This future tree of life will provide an enhanced experience of life in the new heavens and the new earth.”21
Since the tree of life will produce fruit monthly throughout all eternity, “it seems possible… to understand participation in the tree of life and eating of this monthly fruit as a picture of the regular experience of fellowshipping with God. It is inconceivable that a Christian, in whom eternal life dwells, must continually eat from a tree to obtain final entrance into heaven or maintain his presence there. Therefore, eating of the tree of life cannot refer to regeneration.
“It is impossible that the tree of life refers to final entrance into heaven. Why? Because we are told in Revelation 2:5 that the condition for obtaining the right to eat of this tree is based upon ‘doing,’ that is, on works. Final salvation comes to us by faith alone apart from works. In Revelation 22:19, Jesus says that if anyone takes away from the words of the prophecy, ‘God will take away his portion (Gr meros) from the tree of life and from the city.’” 22
Marty Causley notes, “Obviously one cannot lose something one does not have… Genuine believers are in danger of losing their right to this tree; unbelievers have no right to this tree to lose.”23
Barnhouse correctly states, “Some have said that eating from the tree of life was the equivalent of receiving eternal life, but this is most evidently a false interpretation. Eternal life is the prerequisite for membership in the true Church. Eating of the tree of life is a reward that shall be given to the overcomer in addition to his salvation…. He receives over and above his entrance into eternal life, a place in the Heavens in the midst of the paradise of God.” 24
John also says, “The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” (21:2b). An additional function of the tree of life is for its “leaves” to provide “healing of the nations.” Keep in mind that “the nations” outside the New Jerusalem consist of believers from before and after the Church Age, some of whom will not have resurrected or glorified bodies. These will be sinless believers, much like Adam and Eve before they sinned, who descended from infants and children that survived the Tribulation period. 25 Even though there will be no more disease or death on the new earth because of sin, it may still be possible for these people who do not have glorified resurrected bodies to be injured or hurt. The leaves of the tree of life will bring healing and restoration to these people.
The Greek word for “healing” (therepeia) means “health-giving” and is where the English word “therapeutic” is derived from. 26 Hence, it is possible that these leaves will enhance the well being of all believers on the new earth in some way.
Next John informs us, “And there shall be no more curse.” (Revelation 22:3a). To help us understand what this means, think about what the earth would have been like if Adam and Eve had not sinned. They would have been fruitful and multiplied and filled the earth with billions of people since there would have been no death (Genesis 1:26-28). Eternity would have taken place on a glorious earth that was free from sin and its consequences. 27
If Adam and Eve had not sinned, there would have been no “curse” on the ground (Genesis 3:16-19). Adam and his descendants would have enjoyed satisfying caretaking of the earth. There would have been no “thorns and thistles.” Imagine not having to toil or sweat trying to remove unwanted plants (weeds)! No one would have returned “to the ground” in death.
Had Adam and Eve not sinned there would also have been no curse (Genesis 3:16) on conception (menstrual cycle) and childbirth so women could have conceived and eventually given birth to children without the pain and discomfort of the curse (cf. Isaiah 65:17-23).
The point is this earth would be where humankind would have lived eternally if Adam and Eve had not sinned.28 Certainly, it would be much better than this current earth. This planet has changed drastically since Noah’s flood. But if the first man and woman had not disobeyed God, this earth would be perfect.
God is telling us that the new earth and the New Jerusalem will be like the Garden of Eden before the Fall (Genesis 2) revisited with the river of life providing refreshment for all of God’s people and the tree of life providing special enhancement for faithful believers to rule with Christ (22:1-2; cf. 2:7, 25-27; 3:12, 21; 22:12, 14).
Revelation 22:1-3a shows that what Genesis 3:8 anticipated will be realized on the new earth – walking with the Lord Jesus in the cool of the day in the garden. The Lamb, the Lord Jesus Christ, “will live with us forever, but not on a fallen earth, but a new and unfallen earth.”29 An earth that “will be free from death, sin, disease, a ground that fights us, wild animals, pests, etc.”30 This is going to be a spectacular place to live forever!
Do you want the New Jerusalem and new earth to be your future home? Listen to what Jesus said on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles during His earthly ministry: “37 If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. 38 He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:37-38). Only thirsty people drink. God has created us with a built-in need for Him. We are all born with a thirst for God—a longing to know God. For some, there is a deep thirst for significance. They want to feel like they are important and belong. That they are somebody. People whom society overlooks – those who are not wealthy, or handsome, or have strong personalities – thirst to be regarded as important. Some are looking for power – the ability to accomplish things. Jesus says to such, “If that is what you want, come to Me. Enter a personal relationship with Me,” Jesus says, “And your thirst for power and significance will be satisfied forever.”
Have you ever really been thirsty? When you are thirsty, there is not much else you can think about. When you are thirsty, you cannot get it out of your mind. That is what Jesus means. If you feel yourself driven, wanting something, restless and thirsty and longing for satisfaction, then His invitation is, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.”Regardless of your background, color, culture, education, intelligence, past, or social status, Jesus says to come to Him for eternal satisfaction. It is free. You don’t have to pay a cent. You simply come to Christ as you are.
The way to come to Christ is by faith alone apart from any good works. Jesus said, “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:38). To “believe” in Jesus means to be convinced that He is speaking the truth here and is therefore trustworthy. And then trust Him for your eternal destiny.
Years ago, three men were fishing on the Broadback River in northern Quebec. A violent storm arose, and gale force winds overturned their canoe. The men knew they couldn’t save themselves. They noticed the large ice chest that had been in the canoe now floating on the water. They pulled the ice chest underneath them, rested their weight upon it and trusted it to save them. It did.
What Jesus is saying is we are to come to Him just as we are – as sinners, understanding that He died in our place to take the punishment for all our sins and rose again, so that all we must do is believe in Him alone for His gift of salvation. The moment a person believes in Christ alone for everlasting life, “as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”
What “Scripture” is Jesus thinking of? I agree with Hodges who argues that it refers to Ezekiel’s vision of the future Millennial Temple in Ezekiel 47. 31 “Then he brought me back to the door of the temple; and there was water, flowing from under the threshold of the temple toward the east…south of the altar… it was a river that I could not cross; for the water was too deep… And it shall be that every living thing that moves, wherever the rivers go, will live” (Ezekiel 47:1, 5, 9). Ezekiel is talking about the Temple of God in the future thousand-year reign of Christ on earth.
The waters of Ezekiel’s prophecy have similar properties as the rivers Jesus speaks of, “And it shall be that every living thing that moves, wherever the rivers go, will live.” (Ezekiel 47:9). Those waters are properly described as living waters. This will be a life-giving river that flows from the Temple in the future Millennial Kingdom that will bring blessings to all it reaches.
If the Millennial Temple was to become the source of living, healing waters, could the destiny of those who believe in Christ be any different? Jesus tells us that when we come to Him as we are and believe in Him for His gift of eternal life, out of our innermost being will flow “rivers,” not just a river, of living water. The great thing about what Jesus offers is that it will never run dry. We will always have more than we need. When we are filled with the water Jesus offers, it does not stop with us. It gushes out of us! It keeps coming and touches those that we touch. We become, pipes, so to speak – pipes for Jesus – that in effect, allow Christ’s living water to flow through us to others. We are former thirsty people who now show thirsty people how to get a drink. God wants these rivers of living water to flow out of our lives and bless others.
When we come to Jesus, and He more than satisfies our spiritual thirst, we start to show concern for others. The satisfaction that we found in Christ leads us to reach out to needy people around us and to minister to them. Why not be a pipe for Jesus and let His blessings flow through you as you step out in faith to share the gospel with those who don’t have Christ in their lives? Be the channel through which the unsaved can discover how much God loves them and wants to bless them with eternal life. God saved you so that you can become a blessing to others as His rivers of living water flow through you to satisfy the needs of other people.
Those who believe in Christ will be able to experience the supreme blessing of Paradise on the new earth. On the new earth in the New Jerusalem, a river of living waters will flow from the throne of God the Father and God the Son, not from a temple. God will then reside with His people on the new earth forever and we will experience a new earth that is totally free from the Curse.
Prayer: Gracious Lord Jesus, thank You so much for this incredible description of our future home in the New Jerusalem on the new earth. This experience will be much like the Garden of Eden before Adam and Eve sinned. There will be a river, a tree of life, fruit, and most importantly – You! We will get to experience what Genesis 3:8 anticipated – walking with You in the cool of the day in the garden. Thank You for reminding us that the fruit of the tree of life is an eternal reward for those who remain faithful to You to the end of their lives on this earth. Please grant us the grace to faithfully serve You now so we can experience in the New Jerusalem this life-enhancing fruit and a deeper intimacy with You. And may each of us who believe in You be the channel through which the unsaved can discover how much You love them and want to bless them with eternal life. In Your matchless name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.
1. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 246.
2. Ibid., cites J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. 5 (Pasadena, CA: Thru The Bible Radio; and Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1983), pg. 1075.
3. Tony Evans, CSB Bible by Holman, The Tony Evans Study Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition 2019), pg. 2423.
4. Archibald Thomas Robertson, A. T. Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament [with Bible and Strong’s Numbers Added!], 6 Volumes (E4 Group, 2014 Kindle Edition), Kindle Location 230548.
5. Constable, pg. 246.
6. Robert N. Wilkin, The Road to Reward: A Biblical Theology of Eternal Rewards Second Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 78.
7. Charles Swindoll, Insights on Revelation (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 392.
8. Evans, pg. 2423.
9. John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (David C. Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), Kindle Location 6622.
10. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pp. 1526-1527, 1587.
11. Randy Alcorn, Heaven: A Comprehensive Guide to Everything the Bible Says About Our Eternal Home (Tyndale House Publishers, 2004 Kindle Edition), pg. 361.
12. Vacendak, pg. 1587.
13. Constable, pg. 247.
14. Alcorn, pg. 376 cites Rene Pache, The Future Life (Chicago: Moody, 1971), pg. 357.
15. Ibid., cites Salem Kirban, What is Heaven Like? (Huntingdon Valley, Pa.: Second Coming, 1991), pg. 35.
16. Alcorn, pp. 377-378.
17. Ibid., pg. 378.
19. Ibid., pp. 379-380.
20. Vacendak, pg. 1587; Joseph Dillow, Final Destiny: The Future Reign of The Servant Kings: Fourth Revised Edition (Grace Theology Press, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 678.
24. Ibid., cites Donald Grey Barnhouse, God’s Last Word: Revelation; an Expository Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1971), pp. 43-44. For a similar view see Richard R. Benedict, “The Use of Nikaō in the Letters to the Seven Churches of Revelation” (Th.M. thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1966), pg. 11.
25. Vacendak, pg. 1586; cf. Evans, pg. 2423.
26. Walvoord, Kindle Location 6629 to 6633; Constable, pg. 247.
27. Wilkin, Road to Reward, pg. 94.
28. Ibid., pg. 95.
29. Ibid., pg. 96.
31. Zane C. Hodges, “Rivers of Living Water – John 7:37-39,” Bibliotheca Sacra 136:543 (July-September 1979), pp. 239-248.
“And the nations shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor of the nations to Him.” Revelation 21:24
Last time we saw that there will be no need of the sun or moon to shine because the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ will illuminate the entire New Jerusalem on the new earth (21:22-23). This Celestial City is so bright that it will also provide light for the entire new earth. “And the nations shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor of the nations to Him.” (Revelation 21:24). Notice that there will be “nations” on the new earth, perhaps much like we have today. Since the New Jerusalem is inhabited by King Jesus and believers from the Church Age (21:2, 9-10; cf. 19:7, 22:17; 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:27), these “nations” consist of believers in Christ from before and after the Church Age who live outside the city on the new earth. These other believers will also have access to the New Jerusalem because of their faith in Christ (21:27b).
Vacendak writes, “God will create human beings to live on the new earth just as He created Adam and Eve – sinless people whose status and condition will be similar to Adam and Eve’s before the Fall… More likely, believers who are alive on earth at the end of the Millennium will be brought into the new heavens and earth in their unresurrected bodies to populate it. These bodies will be transformed into sinless bodies, but will not have been resurrected. They will be like Adam and Eve before they sinned, but without the ability to sin. As such, they will procreate and populate the new heavens and the new earth, and so they will form the nations.”1
It is likely then that the nations will be comprised of resurrected and unresurrected believers from before and after the Church Age who “shall walk in” the brilliant “light” of the New Jerusalem. The “kings” (basileis) or rulers 2 are “overcomers” who remained faithful to Christ to the end of their lives (21:24b; cf. 2:10b, 25-27; 22:5; cf. 2 Timothy 2:12).
These “kings of the earth bring their glory and honor of the nations to Him” (21:24b). This suggests that there will be human government and economy on the new earth. The leaders of these nations will reenact what the wise men did over two thousand years ago when they brought their gold and other treasures to the Baby Jesus (cf. Matthew 2:1-11). 3 In eternity on the new earth, the kings of the earth are going to bring their “glory and honor” or treasures to King Jesus year after year in the New Jerusalem to worship and glorify Him. Everyone on the new earth will bring glory to God.
Next the apostle John informs us, “Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there).” (Revelation 21:25). In John’s day, cities closed their gates to keep their enemies out, especially at night. But on the new earth there will be no need to shut the gates of the New Jerusalem because King Jesus will have no enemies on the new earth and there “shall be no night there” because the light of His glory illuminates everything. The phrase “shall not be shut at all” (ou mē kleisthōsin) is emphatic and literally says “shall no not ever be shut.” 4 Since the gates of the New Jerusalem will never ever be shut, the rulers of the nations will have continual access into the city.
“And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations so that they may enter it.” (Revelation 21:26). The kings “shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations“ into the New Jerusalem “so that they” themselves “may enter” (21:26b) through “its gates” (21:25a). Only overcoming or faithful believers will enter through the main “gates” of the New Jerusalem. This is seen in Revelation 22:14: “Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city.” The majority of Greek manuscripts contain the phrase “do His commandments.” Only those believers whose lives are characterized by obedience to Christ to the end of their lives (cf. 2:10, 25-27) will be rewarded with this special honor. The emphasis of verse 14 is not on entering the city, but on entering by “the gates” into the city. Every believer can enter the city, but only some will come in through the gates. This is emphatic in the Greek text which literally says, “and by the gates they may enter into the city” (kai tois pylōsin eiselthōsineis tēn polin).The apostle John is emphasizing the way of entrance, that is, by the gates, and not the fact of entrance. 5
“Gates of ancient cities were for defense or honor or both. To be known ‘in the gates’ was to sit among the ‘elders of the land’ and have a position of high honor and authority (Proverbs 31:23, cf. ISBE 2:408). Since defense is not a function of these ‘gates’ into the heavenly city; they are to be regarded as places of honor and authority. The overcomer was promised ‘authority’ over the nations (Revelation 2:26). John describes them elsewhere, as memorials to the twelve tribes of Israel (21:12, 14). We are reminded of the Roman victory arches which sat astride the main thoroughfares entering into Rome. There were thousands of entry ways into Rome, but Caesar entered by these gates, by the victory arch. Through these gates, according to John, ‘the honor and glory of the nations’ will enter (Revelation 21:25-26).”6 “As Lange has suggested, to enter by the gates means to enter ‘as conquerors in triumphal procession.’”7
So what John probably had in mind when he speaks of the kings of the nations entering into the New Jerusalem through “its gates” (21:24-26), are “the victory arches that towered over the main thoroughfares entering into Rome. Through these gates the triumphant Roman generals and their soldiers would march.”8
For example, “the Arch of Titus near the Forum in Rome… was constructed after his victory over Jerusalem in AD 70.
“Engravings on it show Roman soldiers bringing back treasures from the temple in Jerusalem. Similarly, those Christians [believers] who remain faithful to their King will enter the city in victory and will be likewise honored.” 9
Whether you are an overcoming believer who enters through one of the main gates of the New Jerusalem or a non-overcoming believer who enters the city through another entrance, everyone will have a desire to bring honor and glory to God Who reigns over the new earth from that city. Not one person will be unwilling to do this because every citizen on the new earth will be a sinless believer. The eternal state will have rules and laws, but no one there will want to disobey them. 10
After mentioning who may enter the New Jerusalem, John now tells us what cannot enter the city. “But there shall by no means enter it anything profane, nor one who causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.” (Revelation 21:27). Nothing that is “profane” (koinon) or impure 11 can enter the New Jerusalem, “nor one who causes an abomination” (bdelugma)which refers to “something that causes revulsion or extreme disgust… in the sight of God.” 12 Nor will anyone enter the city “who causes… a lie” (pseudos) or falsehood. 13
Even though the city gates will continually be wide open, nothing that is evil or leads to evil will ever be part of the New Jerusalem. This does not mean there will be people on the new earth outside the New Jerusalem who are evil. In the context of these final chapters in the book of Revelation, unbelieving people and all their evil ways have been confined to the lake of fire forever (cf. 20:11-15; 21:8). 14 This part of the verse is saying nothing about born again believers in Jesus who were evil or led people to do evil during their lives on the old earth because their sins are now gone forever since they are forgiven, immortal, and sinless (Acts 10:43; Colossians 2:13-14; I Corinthians 15:35-57; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 5:26-27; I John 3:1-3).
“Only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life” (21:27b) will be able to enter or inhabit the New Jerusalem. It is important to observe that it is the absence of one’s name “in the Lamb’s Book of Life,” not the absence of good works, that determines one’s eternal destination. Evil works are not the issue for entrance into the New Jerusalem. Many of the earth’s greatest sinners’ names are recorded in the Lamb’s Book of Life because they received God’s free offer of eternal life through faith alone in Christ alone (Romans 6:23b; Ephesians 2:8-9). 15
Alcorn states that many Americans believe going to heaven is their “default destination.”16 But this optimism is contrary to what Jesus warned when He said, “13 Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. 14 Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14). Christ makes it clear that “few” people find the way that leads into eternal life. This is probably because few people are being told that faith alone in Christ alone is the only way into God’s heaven (John 10:9; 11:25-26; Act 4:12; I Timothy 2:3-5).
What would keep all of us out of heaven is failure to believe in Christ alone for His gift of eternal life. This is the one sin that cannot be forgiven. All other sins are forgivable (Colossians 2:13-14; Psalm 86:5; 103:2a, 3a; Isaiah 38:17; Micah 7:19b; Acts 10:43). 17
Jesus said God the Holy Spirit was sent to “8 convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: 9 of sin, because they do not believe in Me.” (John 16:8-9). The word “sin” (hamartias) means “to miss the mark or standard.”18 All people fall short of God’s perfect righteousness because “all have sinned” (Romans 3:23) against God through their thoughts, words, actions, and motives. Our sin separates us from God because He is holy and righteous and cannot allow sin into His presence: “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; You cannot tolerate wrongdoing.” (Habakkuk 1:13 NIV; cf. Isaiah 59:2). Because we are all sinners, we deserve eternal death or separation from God forever in the lake of fire (Romans 6:23a; Revelation 20:15). We are not able to enter God’s heaven as we are. Hence, heaven is not our default destination. The lake of fire is our default destination. 19
Yet the world tries to persuade people that they are not sinners. Many secular scientists and psychologists seem bent on destroying peoples’ awareness of sin. They may say that all people are inherently good. As a result, many people have a difficult time admitting they are guilty of sin. Oh, they may admit that they make mistakes or have failures and vices, but it is very difficult for them to admit that they have sinned against God. Even some churches say that people are not that bad and because God is love, He will accept everyone into heaven. Hence, many people, including Christians, believe that going to heaven is their default destination.
But the ultimate proof of the world’s sinfulness, Jesus says, is that “they do not believe in Me” (John 16:9). A court of law can convict someone of murder or theft, but only God the Holy Spirit can convict someone of unbelief toward Christ. The Holy Spirit can convict people of their individual sins they have committed, but people can clean up their own lives and still go to the lake of fire. It is the sin of unbelief toward Jesus Christ that condemns people to an eternity in the lake of fire. Jesus said, “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18).That is why the Bible says that “Anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:15). Those who refuse to believe in Jesus will not have their names written in the Book of Life.
Unbelievers are judged according to their works to determine their degree of punishment in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:12-13; cf. Matthew 23:14; Mark 12:40), not their eternal destination. But their condemnation and placement in the lake of fire is because of their unbelief toward the Lord Jesus Christ (Revelation 20:15; cf. John 3:18).
Because faith in Christ and His full payment for sin on the cross (John 19:30) is the only solution to our sin problem, the Holy Spirit wants to convict people of their sinful condition, so they can see their need to believe in Jesus alone for His gift of everlasting life (John 3:14-16). The Holy Spirit is the prosecuting attorney who presents God’s case against sinful humanity. He creates an awareness of sin so that it cannot be dismissed or excused or evaded by taking refuge in the fact that “everybody is doing it.” When we are convicted of our sin, we admit to God that we have been wrong in our unbelief toward Jesus and then we believe or trust in Him alone, so we can live with Christ forever in the New Jerusalem on the new earth.
Do you know for sure your name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life? Don’t wait and see, just hoping that your name will be in the Book of Life. You can know for sure right now by taking God at His Word. The apostle John who wrote Revelation and the gospel of John, also wrote First John. He writes, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.” (I John 5:13). This one verse is written to “you who believe in the name of the Son of God.” Do you believe in the name of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, Who died for all your sins and rose from the dead, proving His claims to be God are true (cf. John 20:31; Romans 1:3-4; I Corinthians 15:3-6)?
If you do, the Bible guarantees “you may know that you have eternal life.” It does not say you may “think” or “hope” you have eternal life. It says you may “know” with absolute certainty that eternal life is yours right now. Because Jesus Christ is “the truth” (John 14:6) and cannot lie (Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18), we can be confident He will keep His promise of eternal life to all who believe in Him (cf. John 3:15-16). Do you now know for sure you have eternal life and a future forever home in the New Jerusalem on the new earth? If you do, you can tell God this through prayer.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for persuading me that I am a sinner whose default destination is in the lake of fire. I believe You took my place on the cross to die for all my sins and then rose from the dead, proving You are God. As best I know how, I am now believing in You for Your gift of everlasting life. Thank You for the everlasting life I now have and for the future forever home I will have in the New Jerusalem on the new earth. Please use me now to tell others how they can know for sure they will live forever with You in Your heaven. Help me remain faithful to You so I may honor and worship You more with the rewards You give for faithfulness. In Your mighty name I pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.
1. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1586.
2. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pp. 169-170.
3. Robert N. Wilkin, The Road to Reward: A Biblical Theology of Eternal Rewards Second Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 40.
4. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 245.
5. Joseph Dillow, Final Destiny: The Future Reign of The Servant Kings: Fourth Revised Edition (Grace Theology Press, 2018 Kindle Edition), pp. 974-975.
6. Ibid., pg. 975.
7. Ibid., cites John Peter Lange, “The Revelation of John,” in A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, ed. John Peter Lange, et al. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008), 12:446.
8. Dillow, pg. 975.
10. Vacendak, pp. 1586-1587.
11. Bauer, pg. 552.
12. Ibid., pg. 172.
13. Ibid., pg. 1097.
14. Vacendak, pg. 1587.
15. Adapted from David Jeremiah, Answers to Your Questions about Heaven (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2015 Kindle Edition), pg. 21 who cites William R. Newell, The Book of the Revelation, 9th ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1935), pg. 334.
16. Randy Alcorn, Heaven: A Comprehensive Guide to Everything the Bible Says About Our Eternal Home (Tyndale House Publishers, 2004 Kindle Edition), pg. 54 cites K. Connie Kang, “Next Stop, the Pearly Gates… or Hell?” Los Angeles Times, October 24, 2003.
17. Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:31-32) is not unforgivable, it is unforgiven because those who commit this sin are too hard of heart to seek God’s forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ (Matthew 12:33-37). See “Can a Christian commit blasphemy of the Holy Spirit?” at www.seeyouinheaven.life.
18. Archibald Thomas Robertson, Word Pictures in The New Testament, Vol V:John and Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1932), pg. 267.
“So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.” Revelation 3:16
Jesus now speaks to the last of the seven churches. “And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, ‘These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God.’ ” (Revelation 3:14).
“Laodicea was a large and prosperous city forty miles southeast of Philadelphia where many wealthy people retired, thereby establishing it as a renowned banking center. A medical center specializing in eye salve and a prominent wool industry famous for its glossy black garments added to its material prosperity. Because they lived in the midst of this affluent city, the believers dwelling there also became affluent. Unfortunately, these believers allowed their wealth to ruin their effectiveness for Christ, and they did not even know it! Because of their outward wealth they had no clue as to their inward poverty. Therefore, the Judge of the churches sends a stern rebuke in their direction to move them to repent as well as an invitation to open the door to close fellowship with Him once again.”1
“Ancient pagans had hundreds of false gods to choose from, but modern pagans who may have rejected the worship of idols still have one false god that controls their lives: self. Self-expression, self-confidence, self-worth, self-reliance—these concepts all revolve around the myth that human beings have an inexhaustible source of strength within themselves. Such worthy people, of course, have trouble attributing all worth to God, which is the very definition of worship!
“Sadly, Christians aren’t immune to the disease of self-reliance. When believers in Christ rely on their own strength for good works, operating by the power of the flesh rather than by the power of the Spirit (Gal. 3:3), they produce ineffective and useless works. When believers think their own resources are sufficient, they glow with pride. And when believers look to themselves to provide for their own needs, they shine with self-sufficiency. Christ’s messages to the seven churches in Asia come to a close with a tragic letter to the self-sufficient, self-righteous, self-serving church in Laodicea. In their inexhaustible wealth and independent spirit, the Laodiceans were severely rebuked by the One who knew them better than they knew themselves. In fact, the Lord didn’t state a single word of commendation—only stinging reproof. That church suffered from pervasive self-reliance, hypocritical works done in their own strength, and an apathetic attitude toward the authority of Christ. Sadly, Christ’s hard words for Laodicea resonate with relevance for many churches and Christians today.”2
Jesus refers to Himself as “the Amen” (lit. truly)3 because the Laodicean church needed the truth. As “the Faithful and True Witness,” Jesus would provide a faithful and true assessment of their spiritual condition (3:14a). “The Laodiceans had a reputation for saying and doing whatever was necessary to preserve their own well-being. In contrast with them, Jesus spoke the truth.”4
Christ also refers to Himself as “the Beginningof the creation of God” because this church was self-sufficiently wealthy, and they needed to be reminded that everything they possessed was from their Creator God (3:14b). When churches forget this truth, they can begin to feel entitled to whatever they want. They can easily seek to be in control instead of yielding to God’s control.
Non-Trinitarians think this phrase (“the Beginningof the creation of God”) means Jesus is a created being. But the Greek word translated “Beginning” (archē) means the “First Cause” of God’s creation. 5Jesus is the Creator or originating source of creation (Revelation 1:18; 2:8; 3:21; 5:13; cf. John 1:3; Colossians 1:15-16; Hebrews 1:2), not the first creature to be created. 6
Laodicea had suffered a severe earthquake that destroyed it, but its prosperous citizens had subsequently rebuilt it, without the aid of Rome. The Laodiceans were creative, but Jesus Christ alone was the Creator (cf. John 1:3; Colossians 1:15-16). 7 Jesus could also give them the spiritual wealth they so desperately needed in their current state of spiritual impoverishment. 8
Jesus then rebukes this church for being indifferent. “15 I know your works, that you areneither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. 16 So then, because you arelukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.” (Revelation 3:15-16). These believers in Jesus wereneither refreshing (“cold”)nor soothing or stimulating (“hot”). They were “lukewarm.”
“This rebuke would have been especially meaningful to this church, for water was piped to the city from Hierapolis, a few miles north. By the time the water reached Laodicea, it was lukewarm!” 9
“Nobody orders a lukewarm drink. They want iced tea or hot coffee. In the spiritual realm, God finds tepidness unappealing as well.”10
Because the Laodicean Christians had no cool water for the spiritually thirsty people around them (cf. John 4:13-14) and they were not hot enough spiritually to stir up one another’s faith, 11 God was disgusted with them. He said, “I will vomit you out of My mouth.” Christ’s response to this self-reliant, self-righteous, and self-serving church was about the least flattering response you could receive, especially from the only Person in the universe Whose opinion matters the most. Essentially Jesus was saying,“You make me sick!”12
The phrase “I will vomit you out of My mouth,” cannot be a reference to the loss of salvation because that would contradict John’s other writings (cf. John 3:15-16; 4:10-14; 5:24; 6:35-40; 10:28-29; 11:25-26; I John 5:1, 13). The Bible tells us that the gifts of God are irreversible. “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” (Romans 11:29). God promises eternal life as a free gift to all who believe in Jesus Christ (John 3:16; Romans 6:23). Since “the gifts … of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29) and eternal life is a “gift of God” (Romans 6:23), then eternal life is “irrevocable.” When a person believes in Christ for His gift of eternal life, it cannot be given back to God nor taken back by God no matter how the believer lives because it is irreversible or permanent (John 3:16; 6:35-40; 10:28-29; 11:25-27; Romans 8:31-39; et al.). God did not save us from hell because of our goodness (cf. Romans 4:5; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7), and He will not abandon us because of our sinfulness (cf. John 6:37; Hebrews 13:5).
One of my mentors, Zane Hodges, thought it possible that the Lord is referring here to the Rapture or sudden removal of the church from the earth (Revelation 4:1-4; cf. I Thessalonians 4:13-5:11). The Lord Jesus will be so disgusted with the indifference and self-reliance of Christians at the end of the Church age (Laodicea is the last church listed during this age), that He will vomit them up to heaven through the Rapture (Revelation 4:1-4). Then He will start all over in the Tribulation with the Two Witnesses preaching the gospel of the kingdom during the first half of the 7-year Tribulation (Revelation 11:1-13) followed by the worldwide witness of the 144,000 Jewish evangelists in the second half of the Tribulation (Revelation 7:1-17; 14:1-5).
Not only does Jesus give these seven local churches warnings and encouragements that are as applicable today as they were in the first century, these letters also “prove to be prophetic of the history of Christianity following their writing. Most Christians in the first century may not have seen this, but one can hardly deny it now. It has become increasingly obvious as church history has unfolded. Chapters 2 and 3 are therefore prophetic, as are the rest of the chapters of Revelation.”13
This is known as “the Historico-Prophetical View.” Proponents of this view understand the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3 existed in the first century, and what characterized each of them has represented other local churches in various locations throughout church history. However, they also reveal the history of the church from the time John wrote to the Rapture in seven successive periods. 14
Constable writes, “A general scheme of the periods of western civilization that correspond to the conditions described in each of the letters to the seven churches is as follows: 15
Prior to the Rapture of the church (Revelation 4:1-4), Jesus gives some serious advice to this self-reliant church: “17 Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked— 18 I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.” (Revelation 3:17-18). Because the Laodiceans had become materially wealthy they thought they “had need of nothing,” including God (3:17a). The Laodiceans were materially “rich”; Christ says they are “poor” spiritually (3:17b). Laodicea had a world-famous medical center that was known for treating eye disease; Jesus informs them that they are “blind” spiritually (3:17c). Laodicea was a center for manufacturing clothing; Jesus declares that they are “naked” spiritually (3:17d). These believers were spiritually destitute, and they did not even know it.
“Here Jesus debunks a prominent lie of prosperity theology: being materially successfulmeans God has blessed you. Not so. The Laodiceans said, I’m rich; I have become wealthy and need nothing. But the external appearance of prosperity was not indicative of the condition of their hearts or their level of fellowship with God. They were spiritually uncommitted, carnal, and compromising. As Jesus put it, they were wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked spiritually.”16
“Because their self-estimate was so deeply flawed, the Lord gave them counsel as to exactly what they needed to do. Their ability to pull out of their disastrous spiritual condition rested on their paying the price they needed to pay spiritually.” 17
If someone told us that everything about us makes him want to vomit, we would not expect to hear from that person again. 18 But as “the Faithful and True Witness,” the Lord Jesus also continues to extend love and grace to His church no matter how unappealing her spiritual condition is. Christ counsels them to be faithful by instructing them to “buy” three things (3:18). Obviously, this is not talking about our salvation because Christ has already bought that through His sacrificial death on the cross (cf. I Corinthians 6:20; 2 Peter 2:1). 19 In addition, salvation is a free gift which cannot be bought (Revelation 21:6b; 22:17b; cf. Romans 4:5; 6:23b; Ephesians 2:8-9). But in Revelation 3:18, Jesus is speaking figuratively when He counsels them to “buy” three things that these complacent and carnal Christians need:
– “gold refined in fire” which represents eternal rewards that stand the test of the Judgment Seat of Christ (cf. I Corinthians 3:11-15). They were to be faithful to Jesus by having faith that is tested by fire (I Peter 1:6-7).
– “white garments.” Their shameful nakedness was to be clothed, not by purchasing the sleek black wool that was made in Laodicea, but by buying “white garments,” which refer to being faithful to Christ through righteous conduct and serving God (Revelation 19:8), not out of selfish motives, but in a way that pleases the Lord (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:3, 9-10).
– “eye salve.” Instead of purchasing the eye salve that was produced and sold in Laodicea, they were to buy a spiritual “eye salve” that would enable them to see more clearly on a spiritual level and remain faithful to Christ. For this to happen, they must see their desperate need to get into the Word of God and to ask God’s Spirit to help them understand and apply it to their lives (cf. John 9:6; James 1:22; 1 John 2:20, 27). 20
The church of Laodicea is typical of the modern church which denies its spiritual needs and is content with its beautiful buildings and all the material things money can buy. Notice that verse 18 does not tell us the purchase price for these items. We are not told how much the refined gold, white garments, and eye salve will cost us. The Lord Jesus will tell us this in the next verse.
The believers at Laodicea may have felt Jesus was being overly harsh with them, so Christ reminds them, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.” (Revelation 3:19a). Jesus’ rebuke of them is evidence of His love. If He did not love them, He would not rebuke them in their spiritually lukewarm condition. But Christ wants the best for them (and us), so He tells them what they need to hear, even though it may be painful for them.
If the Laodiceans did not listen to Jesus, His love for them would lead Him to “chasten” them. The word “chasten” (paideuō) literally means “child-training.”21 It refers to correcting or instructing a child. 22 It is always an activity of God toward Christians, not non-Christians (cf. Hebrews 12:5-11). 23
“The church at Laodicea is typical of a modern church quite unconscious of its spiritual needs and content with beautiful buildings and all the material things money can buy. This is a searching and penetrating message.”24
Jesus then says, “Therefore be zealous and repent.” (Revelation 3:19b). How does a church or individual Christian buy gold refined in fire, white garments, and eye salve? That is, how does an indifferent church become spiritually healthy and earn eternal rewards? By being “zealous” for good works and “repenting.”
All Christians are to be known in the church and in their community as people who are zealous for good works – who are eager to please God. What do you have zeal for in your Christian life? A nice house? A car? A well-kept home? A large retirement plan? An attractive appearance? A bigger church building? These things are not wrong in and of themselves. But the number one aim in our lives should be to please God – to love Him above all else and our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-39).
The word “repent” (metanoeō) refers to a change of mind or way of thinking. 25 The Laodiceans needed to change their minds and realize they did not have it all together spiritually and that their lives were not pleasing to the Lord. Whatever we are doing that is not pleasing to the Lord is to be corrected. We are to confess that it is wrong to God (I John 1:9) and start doing what we know is pleasing to Him.
The Laodiceans are to repent of their self-sufficient, half-hearted service, and remain faithful to Christ, fervently serving Him. Hence, when Christians are zealous for good works and repent of wrong attitudes and actions, they will…
– lay up refined gold or eternal rewards that stand the test of the Judgment Seat of Christ (3:18a; I Corinthians 3:8-15).
– be clothed with the proper white garments or righteous conduct that will glorify Christ in eternity (3:18b; cf. 3:5; 19:8).
– be able to see properly on a spiritual level (3:18c; cf. Matthew 5:8; Hebrews 12:14).
Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” (Revelation 3:20a). Many Christians have mistakenly understood this verse to refer to salvation. But we have already seen that the “churches” in Revelation 2 and 3 refer to genuine Christians. In the context, the Lord Jesus has been talking about works, not faith; He has been addressing service, not salvation; He has exhorted us to be zealous for good works and repent of works that sicken the Lord.
The Lord is now saying if a church invites Christ in for dinner, He will come, and they will have fellowship together (3:20a). This verse is not to be taken literally. This is not a literal “door,” just as verse 18 was not to be taken literally. Amid their self-sufficient attitude, the Laodiceans had shut the Lord Jesus out from their church. The word “stand” (3:20a), literally means “I have taken My stand.”26 It emphasizes a persistent dealing with the church. Christ persistently seeks intimate fellowship with this self-reliant church that has shut Him out. Hence, He asks permission to enter the church and re-establish fellowship with them.
Christ then says, “If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (Revelation 3:20b). Notice that Jesus says He will come “in to” (two words) the person, not “into” (one word) the person. The Greek verb translated “come in” (eiserchomai) accompanied by the preposition translated “to” (pros) means “to come or go to someone.” This construction occurs eight times in the New Testament (Mark 6:25; 15:43; Luke 1:28; Acts 10:3; 11:3; 17:2; 28:8; Revelation 3:20) and each time it means to enter into a building and stand in front of a person. 27 Whenever “come in” (eiserchomai) is used of entrance into a person it is followed by the Greek preposition eis (Mark 9:25; Luke 8:30; 22:3; John 13:27) and refers to demon possession. The preposition eis deals with “the idea of entry, whereas pros tends to stop short of going up to (without entry).” 28 The result of Christ’s entrance “to” the person is a common meal shared – “I will… dine with him, and he with Me.” The Greek verb “dine” (deipnēsō) indicates that this is the main meal of the day, the one to which an honored guest would be invited. 29
This verse is speaking of entrance into a building toward a person, not entrance into a person. Jesus will not force His way into a church. Christ is saying that He will come in the church toward the believer who repents (hears His voice and opens the door of the church) and eat dinner with him, that is, have intimate fellowship with him.
How does one open the door so that Christ can come and fellowship with him? By being zealous for good works and repenting of the works that made the Lord Jesus vomit (3:19b).
“Christ’s invitation here is not for lost sinners to believe in Him for the free gift of eternal life, but for His disobedient children to get close to Him once again. If any of these lukewarm believers did open the door to Him, Christ promises, ‘I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.’ This is a promise that they will enjoy close fellowship with Him once again.” 30
“With Christ on the outside, there can be no fellowship or genuine wealth. With Christ on the inside, there is wonderful fellowship and sharing of the marvelous grace of God. This was an appeal to Christians rather than to non-Christians. This raises the important question concerning the extent of one’s intimate fellowship with Christ.”31
Christ then promises, “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.” (Revelation 3:21). The believer who “overcomes” by humbly and zealously submitting to Christ in fellowship and service until the end of his life, will be able to “sit with” Him on His throne, as Jesus was humble and zealous in submitting to His Father’s will and was rewarded with sitting down with His Father “on His throne.” This promised reward assures the overcomer of close fellowship with Christ forever by receiving the honor of sharing His royal throne. This is a conditional reward because it is dependent on overcoming as Christ did. 32 Just as Christ overcame death by humble and dependent submission to His Father’s will, the Laodiceans can overcome their self-sufficiency and enjoy ruling with Christ by humbly and dependently submitting to Christ in fellowship and service.
The use of αὐτός (“to him”) in Revelation 2:17, 17, 27 and 3:21 indicates a restrictive kind of reference to the overcomer. It is a specific and restrictive way of showing that ruling with Christ applies only to the victor or overcomer, 33 not to every believer in Jesus.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 3:22). Only those Christians who “hear what the Spirit says to the churches” will be able toappropriate Jesus’ promise and live as “overcomers” so they may receive this ultimate reward of reigning with Christ in His coming Kingdom on earth. If they are lukewarm and then repent of the works that sickened the Lord Jesus and are zealous for good works, then they can receive the privilege of reigning with Christ in His future Kingdom on earth. The Lord Jesus uses rewards here, as with the other six churches, as a motivation to conquer sin and slackness—not as a motivation to salvation. 34
At the outset these faithful believers will rule with Christ on earth for a thousand years during the millennial kingdom (cf. Revelation 20:6). Throughout eternity they will reign with Christ on the new earth (cf. Revelation 21:10-11; 22:1-2). 35
As we read about the possibility of ruling with Christ in the future, we may not be verymotivated by the thought of reigning with Christ or having rulership in the future world. Joseph Dillow has some key things to say about this.
“Those who have not persevered in faith, who have denied their King now will have feelings of deep shame and regret because they took Him for granted and wasted their lives. The pain will be acute, and there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
“…Some may not find the motivation of rewards as significant in their walk with God as the other motivations… That said, it seems to me, that all of us should consider this biblical emphasis to live with the end in view.
“Furthermore, the notion of reigning with Christ… should not be trivialized as if it means various administrative positions in a kingdom or being a mayor of a city. The theme is much broader, and the vision more glorious. What is signified by these expressions is not so much administrative positions as the joy of participating with the Messiah in the final destiny of man, to serve Him and minister with Him in the millennium and the future world. We aspire to higher position because we can then be more effective in the service of our King… We will have greater opportunity to serve Him, to demonstrate our love and gratitude to Him, and to extend the knowledge of His love and goodness throughout the cosmos. To miss that is to miss much.” 36
If we find ourselves indifferent toward the things of God like the Laodicea Christians, it is not too late for us to change. Even if we haven’t been doing well in our service for Christ thus far, we can start today. The Laodiceans were not doing well, yet the Lord holds out the possibility that they might rule with Him in the future if they will be zealous for good works and repent of the works that sickened the Lord Jesus.
In recovery programs like AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) or ACOA (Adult Children of Alcoholics), while not perfect programs, they do have a lot to commend them. One of their slogans is very appropriate for this passage. It says, “Denial is not a river in Egypt.”
The Lord Jesus does not want us to be in denial. He wants us to acknowledge when we fall short and be zealous for good works. He wants us to aim to please Him in all that we do or say. If you want to be an overcomer, you will have to go all the way with Jesus Christ. You may say, “But it is too hard, and I am not getting any credit now.”
Let me tell you about Henry Morrison, a missionary to Africa. He was coming home from Africa on a ship which was also carrying former President Theodore Roosevelt. When the ship docked in New York City, thousands of people were there to greet Roosevelt. But no one was cheering for Morrison.
Henry Morrison had served the Lord for forty years in Africa. As he watched the crowds greet Theodore Roosevelt, he became dejected to think he had served the Lord all those years and yet no one was there to greet him.
Morrison said that as he walked down the gang plank in a depressed mood, a voice whispered to him, “Henry, don’t worry. You are not home yet.”Then he said he saw a vision of multiplied thousands of Africans standing at the gates of heaven, those whom he had reached for Christ, applauding as he entered the pearly gates.
So if people are not recognizing you down here, if you are not getting any applause right now, don’t worry. You are not home yet. Remember what Jesus Christ has waiting for you if you remain faithful to Him. He will richly reward you with intimate fellowship with Him forever by giving you the honor of sharing His royal throne.
In summary, Christians who repent of their self-sufficient and half-hearted service for the Lord, and humbly and zealously submit to Christ in fellowship and service until the end of their lives, will be richly rewarded with a share in Christ’s glorious reign in His coming Kingdom (3:14-22).
Prayer: Lord Jesus, You are the Faithful and True Witness Who alone is qualified to judge the self-reliant and self-serving church. You know that much of the modern church in America is a lot like the church of Laodicea. We have become lukewarm with complacency and self-reliance. We no longer seek to preach the gospel of grace to all people. Instead, we are captivated by our big, beautiful buildings and all the things that our money can buy. We are driven by our own desire for comfort instead of compassion for those who are perishing without You. This lukewarmness will eventually cause You to remove Your church from the earth via the Rapture so You may start over with the Two Witness at the beginning of the Tribulation. Lord Jesus, forgive us for the areas in our lives that have become lukewarm with apathy and complacency. Please enable us to repent of the works that disgust You and empower us to do good works for and with You until we go to be with You in heaven. We pray that we would keep the door of our hearts open to You so we may enjoy intimate fellowship with You now and be the channels through which Your blessings overflow to all with whom we come into contact. Thank You for reminding us that our eternal life is secure in Your finished work on the cross, but our eternal rewards depend on how we live the Christian life now on earth. No matter what the spiritual health of other believers or churches may be, You call us to be faithful and to keep You at the center of our lives if we are to receive the ultimate reward of sitting with You on Your throne in Your glorious Kingdom. In Your mighty and majestic name, Lord Jesus, we pray. Amen.
1. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1514.
2. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation, (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pp. 109-110.
3. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 53.
4. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 56.
5. Bauer, pg. 138.
6. Archibald Thomas Robertson, A. T. Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament (with Bible and Strong’s Numbers Added!), 6 Volumes (E4 Group, 2017 Kindle Edition), Kindle Locations 214976-214978.
7. Constable, pg. 56.
8. Vacendak, pg. 1514.
9. John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 164.
10. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2376.
11. Vacendak, pg. 1514.
12. Swindoll, pg. 113.
13. Constable, pg. 61 cites M. J. Brunk, “The Seven Churches of Revelation Two and Three,” Bibliotheca Sacra 126:503 (July- September 1969), pp. 240-46.
14. Constable, pg. 63 cites John Peter Lange, ed. Commentary on the Holy Scriptures. 12 vols. Reprint ed., (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1960. Vol. 12: James-Revelation, by J. P. Lange, J. J. Van Oosterzee, G. T. C. Fronmuller, and Karl Braune. Enlarged and edited by E. R. Craven. Translated by J. Isidor Mombert and Evelina Moore), pg. 139; Arno C. Gaebelein, The Revelation (New York: Publication Office “Our Hope,” 1915), pg. 33; J. B. Smith, A Revelation of Jesus Christ Edited by J. Otis Yoder (Scottdale, Pa: Herald Press, 1971, pp. 61-62; William Kelly, Lectures on the Revelation, New ed., (London: A. S. Rouse, 1897), pg. 24; Frederick A. Tatford, The Patmos Letters (By the Author, 1969; reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, n.d.), pg. 106; F. W. Grant, The Prophetic History of the Church (New York: Loizeaux Brothers, Publishers, n.d.); Joseph A. Seiss, The Apocalypse (Charles C. Cook, 1900; reprint ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1973), pg. 64; C. I. Scofield, ed., Scofield Reference Bible (1917 ed.), pp. 1331-32; Harry A. Ironside, Lectures on the Revelation (New York: Loizeaux Brothers, 1946), pp. 35-36; John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Chicago: Moody Press, 1966), pg. 51; J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee. 5 Vol. 5 (Pasadena, Calif.: Thru The Bible Radio; and Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1983), pp. 900-926.
15. Constable, pg. 63.
16. Evans, pg. 2376.
17. Vacendak, pp. 1514-1515.
18. Swindoll, pg. 114.
19. The word “buys” (agorazō) is the same word used to refer to Jesus’ payment for sin on the Cross (I Corinthians 6:20; 2 Peter 2:1).
20. Vacendak, pg. 1515.
21. Robertson, Kindle Location 215197.
22. Bauer, pg. 749.
23. EvanTell’s The Evangelism Study Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2014), pg. 1387.
24. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, pg. 164.
25. Bauer, pg. 640.
26. The Greek verb, hestēka, is a perfect indicative which means I took My stand in the past and continue to take My stand in the present.
27. Mike Cocoris, Evangelism: A Biblical Approach (Chicago: Moody Press, 1984, pp. 82-82.
28. Ibid, pg. 83 cites C.F.D. Moule, An Idiom Book of New Testament Greek, (Cambridge at the University Press, 1953), pp. 67-68.
29. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, pg. 98.
30. Vacendak, pg. 1515.
31. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, pg. 164.
32. William Ross, “An Analysis of the Rewards and Judgments in Revelation 2 and 3,” Dallas Theological Seminary ThM Thesis, 1971, pg. 50.
33. Richard Benedict, “The Use of Νικάω in the Letters to the Seven Churches of Revelation,” Dallas Theological Seminary ThM Thesis, 1966, pg. 42.
34. Evans, pg. 2377.
35. Vacendak, pp. 1515-1516.
36. Joseph Dillow, Final Destiny: The Future Reign of The Servant Kings:Fourth Revised Edition (Grace Theology Press, 2018 Kindle Edition), pp. 1039-1040.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.” Revelation 2:7
John now records “the things which are” (1:19b), consisting of the exalted Lord Jesus’ messages to the seven historical churches in Asia Minor in the first century (Revelation 2-3). Jesus gives these seven local churches warnings and encouragements that are as applicable today as they were in the first century. 1
There has been substantial debate about the meaning of “overcomers” in the book of Revelation. Two major interpretations are at the core of this debate. The perseverance understanding holds that all genuine Christians are overcomers. 2 This view argues that every believer is an overcomer (I John 5:4-5) who inherits eternal bliss (Revelation 21:7) and, therefore, proves his salvation with his works (Revelation 2:26). According to this position all true Christians will persevere in good works to the end of their lives.
The second interpretation understands the “overcomer” to be an obedient Christian who receives rewards for his faithfulness to God.3 This view understands I John 5:4-5 to be true for all Christians. There is a sense in which all Christians are overcomers when they believe in Christ for new birth. This single act of faith at the moment of salvation is “the victory that has overcome the world” which is antagonistic toward this saving act of faith (I John 5:4b) and is satanically blinded to the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). But this interpretation understands that I John’s statements about overcomers is not the same as Revelation’s statements about overcomers as we shall now observe.
The word “overcome” comes from the Greek word nikaō which means to “be victor, conquer, overcome, prevail.”4 John uses this word in Revelation to refer to victorious Christians who persevere in a life of faith.
It is important to understand that Revelation 2-3 is addressing Christians because the term “church” refers to believers. 5 The issue is not salvation, but discipleship or Christian growth because the focus is on persevering in works (Revelation 2:2, 9, 13, 19; 3:1, 8, 15), and not a single act of faith for salvation from hell (cf. John 4:14; 5:24; 6:35, 37-39; 10:28-29; I John 5:1-5, 13). For example, access to the “tree of life” (Revelation 2:7) is not based on a single act of faith in Christ (I John 5:1, 4-5), but upon obedience to Christ’s commands (Revelation 22:14). Revelation is talking about Christians being overcomers through obedience to Christ until the end of their lives so they can gain eternal rewards such as eating from the tree of life or ruling with Christ (cf. Revelation 2:8, 26-27; 3:21; 22:14).
Also, in Revelation there is the call to hear (Revelation 2:7a; cf. 2:10, 17, 29: 3:6, 13, 22). Only those Christians who hear the call and appropriate the promise will be able to live a victorious life for Christ. Jesus is addressing the whole “church” consisting of believers in the letter (Revelation 2:1; cf. 2:8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14), but the call is to the one “who has an ear” and to the one “who overcomes.”
With this understanding, let’s look at the first church Jesus addresses. “To the angel of the church of Ephesus write, ‘These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands.” (Revelation 2:1).“Ephesus was the ‘New York City’ of the first century. Located on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, it was a leading center of Greek culture as well as idol worship. Being a city of wealth and commerce, it contained the amazingly ornate temple of the goddess Diana (cf. Acts 19), one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It was also a city that had been effectively evangelized by Paul over the course of several years (cf. Acts 19:10, 20) and had become a gathering place of believers earnestly devoted to the Lord and His work. Unfortunately, over time these dedicated believers ‘left their first love.’ Therefore, with great concern the Lord speaks lovingly yet directly to His Bride in Ephesus to woo her back to her original devotion and zeal.”6
Jesus describes Himself as the One “who holds [authoritatively with power] the seven stars [angels of the churches] in His right hand” and “walks in the midst of the seven lampstands [churches]” in that He is involved in these local churches (2:1). Jesus was active among local churches in the first century and He remains active in churches today. Christ knows what is going on in our churches and He first offers encouragement.
“2 I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; 3 and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary.” (Revelation 2:2-3). Christ commends this church for their hard work, perseverance (“patience”), and discernment of false teaching and teachers (2:2-3). “They tested everything by the Scriptures and rightly found that some so-called apostles did not teach pure doctrine.”7 “In general this church had continued in its faithful service to God for more than 40 years.”8
Next, Christ Jesus rebukes this church. “Nevertheless, I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” (Revelation 2:4). The order of words is emphatic in the original language; the clause could be translated, “Your first love you have left” (τὴν ἀγάπην σου τὴν πρώτην ἀφῆκας). 9
While this church had excelled in their service for Christ and their orthodoxy, they had left their “first love.” This refers to their original love and devotion to Jesus. They were doing the right things now, but not with the same love and devotion they had in the beginning.
“They had correct doctrine, but not a correct heart. The key word here is first, not love. As withromantic love between a man and a woman, first love always involves passion. Yet there was not passionate pursuit of an intimate relationship with Christ in the church. They were merely following a program. Duty had replaced devotion.” 10
This can happen to any church or individual Christian. We start out passionate in our love for Jesus considering all He did for us in saving us from our sins. But as the years pass by, we can easily shift from passionate love for our Savior to more of a program mentality whereby we function out of duty instead of devotion to Christ. We go through the motions, but our heart is not connecting to the Lord like it was in the beginning of our Christian lives. We can become so familiar with the teachings of the Bible that we become less sensitive to what God is saying to us. Familiarity can produce apathy in our Christian lives.
How can we regain our first love for Jesus? How can we restore that original devotion and passion we had for our Savior? The Lord gives us three commands in this one verse: “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.” (Revelation 2:5).
– REMEMBER. We can regain our first love for Jesus if we “remember” our original love and devotion for Him. Think back to what it was like when you first became a Christian. Remember how the Bible came alive for you? It was so new and life-giving. The beauty of Jesus’ love and grace for us captured our hearts. Talking to the Lord was such a joy. It is important to remember those early days in our Christian life to rekindle that original love for Christ.
– REPENT. The word “repent” (metanoeō) means a “change of mind.” Jesus was calling the church to change their thinking about their love for Him. Jesus was not a program; He was a Person Who loved them infinitely. As their thinking about Christ changed, so would their affections. The more they could see Jesus as Someone Who loved them and enjoyed their presence, the more passion they would have about connecting with Him and serving Him. The same is true for us today.
– RETURN. Jesus was also inviting them to return to “the first works” that increased their love for Him. As a new believer in college, I remember memorizing the book of I John. I worked at the University of Iowa Hospital until 11 pm at night, so when I walked home it was very dark outside. I would recite my I John verses aloud as I walked home. Those were some of the most intimate times I ever had with the Lord Jesus. God is inviting His church to return to those works we did early in our relationship with Christ that brought us closer to Him.
Should the church at Ephesus (or any church) refuse to “repent,” the Lord would “remove” their “lampstand” or witness and close their doors which eventually happened in the fifth century. 11 In fact none of the seven churches in Revelation 2-3 exist today because each one failed to maintain a repentant attitude toward the Lord. Such will be the fate of any church whose activity is about them rather than about the Lord Jesus. Failure to prioritize intimacy with God will result in the removal of one’s influence for Christ. As one commentator notes, “The church that loses its love will soon lose its light, no matter how doctrinally sound it may be.”12
Following this warning, the Lord Jesus added one more commendation. “But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” (Revelation 2:6). The Greek word for Nicolaitans means “to conquer the people.”13 Little is known of the Nicolaitans, but their name typifies any system that focuses on dominating people rather than serving them. 14
Jesus then says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.” (Revelation 2:7). Jesus is addressing the whole Ephesus church consisting of believers (Revelation 2:1), but the call is to the one “who has an ear” and to the one “who overcomes.” Only those Christians who hear the call and appropriate the promise will be able to live a victorious life for Christ till the end of their lives on earth and receive Christ’s promised reward.
“Thus, the overcomers spoken of here in chaps. 2–3 are those people who not only believe in Christ for eternal life, but also walk in godliness (cf. 2 Peter 1:5-11) and remain faithful to Him until the end of their lives (cf. Matthew 25:20-21; 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 2:26).” 15
Jesus promises to reward the overcomer for his or her faithfulness by giving them the privilege “to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.” “There is a connection between the ‘tree of life’ and man’s rule over the earth. Adam in his unfallen state had access to this ‘tree,’ but when he fell, God kept him from it (Genesis 1:26-28; 3:22).”16 The tree of life will be “in the midst of the Paradise of God” in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 22:2, 14).
“This reward is reminiscent of the original paradise in Genesis 1–2 where Adam and Eve were allowed to eat from any tree in the Garden, including the tree of life. At the end of the Book of Revelation, the tree of life is described as bearing twelve kinds of fruit, one for each month, with leaves that bring healing to the nations (22:2). Not everyone has the right to eat from the tree of life (22:14). A person can forfeit the right to eat from the tree by adding to or taking away from the words of Revelation (22:19). Aside from this, little is known about the tree of life, but its vagueness makes this reward even more tantalizing and motivating.”17
People love to eat! I enjoy eating food every chance I get! The Lord Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows what will motivate us to live faithfully for Him till the end of our Christian lives on earth. Christ promises the faithful believer access to “the tree of life” in the New Jerusalem in the future (Revelation 2:7; cf. 22:2, 14). Eating the fruit from the tree of life may give faithful believers the resources to rule more effectively on the new earth (Revelation 2:25-27).
Imagine standing before the Judgment Seat of Christ to receive your rewards from King Jesus (Romans 14:10-12; I Corinthians 3:8-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10). He tells you that because you were not faithful to Him till the end of your Christian life, you will forfeit certain rewards which include ruling with Him and eating from the tree of life (cf. Revelation 2:7, 25-27; 3:21; 22:2, 14). Think of the regret, sadness, or shame you will have at this time (cf. Matthew 25:18-19, 22-30; Luke 19:15, 20-26; I John 2:28). If only you had remained faithful to Christ, such rewards could have been yours.
Now fast forward to the New Jerusalem on the New Earth (Revelation 21-22). You are sitting at a table in the New Jerusalem with your friends or family, and one of them receives a call from the office of King Jesus, informing them that they have a special meeting with the King in an hour. At this meeting, fruit from the tree of life will be served for all to enjoy who are invited to this gathering. Because you were not faithful to Jesus till the end of your Christian life, you will not receive such a call nor have access to this special fruit.
Even though there “shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying…” and “no more pain” on the New Earth (Revelation 21:4), you will not be able to experience as much closeness and enjoyment with King Jesus as those who were faithful to Him to the very end. Only those believers who hear the call and appropriate the promise (“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says”) will be able to live a victorious life for Christ (Revelation 2:7). All believers will be in heaven, but not all believers will experience the same degree of rewards in heaven. Specifically for the church at Ephesus and those like it, “those who do not lose passion for Christ in this life will experience a special place of intimacy with the Lord” 18 in heaven. Knowing this now is intended to motivate us to live faithfully for Christ with an undying love and devotion for Him.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, as we listened to Your message to the church of Ephesus, our hearts have been stirred. We know that we have lost the love and devotion we once had for You. Instead of prioritizing intimacy with You, we have focused on programs and performance. We have done things for You, but not with You. Thank You for loving us enough to confront us and woo us back to our original love and devotion for You. Lord, we want to regain our first love for You. Help us to remember the beauty of Your love and grace for us at the beginning of our relationship with You. Grant us a change of attitude toward You so we are not so careless to put ourselves ahead of You. Enable us to return to those things we did when we were passionately in love with You. May our love for You in some small way reflect Your incredible love for us. Thank You for promising us access to the tree of life if we will remain faithful to You to the end of our lives on earth. In Your glorious name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.
1. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1501.
2. James Rosscup, “The Overcome of the Apocalypse,” Grace Theological Journal, 3:2 (1982): pp. 261-286; John F. MacArthur, Jr., The Gospel According to Jesus, Revised and Expanded Edition (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1988, 1994), pp. 123-133, 134-148, 164-172, 188-194, 252-254.
3. Harlan D. Betz, “The Nature of Rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ” (Th.M. Thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1974), pp. 36-45; Zane C. Hodges, Grace in Eclipse (Dallas, TX: Redencion Viva, 1985), pp. 97-111; Joseph C. Dillow, The Reign of the Servant Kings (Miami Springs, Fla.: Schoettle Publishing Co., 1992), pp. 37, 470, 474; Arlen L. Chitwood, Judgment Seat of Christ (Norman, Okla.: The Lamp Broadcast, Inc., 1986), pg. 48.
4. pg. 673.
5. Zane C. Hodges, Grace in Eclipse, pg. 108.
6. Vacendak, pg. 1502.
7. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2371.
8. John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 164.
10. Evans, pg. 2371.
11. Walvoord, pg. 164.
12. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 31 cites Warren W. Wiersbe, TheBible Exposition Commentary Vol. 2 (Wheaton: Victor Books, Scripture Press, 1989), pg. 572.