In the conclusions of each of the seven letters to the churches is a promise directed to ‘him who overcomes’. And when we read these verses we feel uncomfortable, we feel afraid. For we do not want to miss out on these promises, and in our weakness and vulnerability we fear that we will not be identified as one who ‘overcomes’.

Literally, the Greek means ‘the one conquering’ – ho nikon – from the verb nikao which means to subdue, to conquer, to vanquish, to overcome. It is used to describe Christ in his victorious death [Revelation 5:5], and in his victory over his enemies [Revelation 17:14]. It is used to refer to the victory of Christians over their enemies ‘by the blood of the Lamb’ [Revelation 11:7; 12:11].

Jesus used this word in John 16:33: ‘In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’ Paul used it in Romans 12:21: ‘Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.’  John used it several times in his first letter, and it is perhaps his statements that will help us understand what Jesus means when he says ‘him who overcomes …’ to the seven churches and to us and our churches:

‘I write to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one’ [2:13,14].

‘You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them’ (the false prophets and the spirit of the antichrist – see verses 1-3), ‘because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world’ [4:4].

‘… for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God’ [5:4,5].

In these verses John identifies what has been overcome [the evil one, the false prophets, the spirit of the antichrist, and the world], the subjective reason for overcoming [our faith, that is, our belief that Jesus is the Son of God], and the objective reasons for overcoming [the fact that Christians are ‘born of God’, and the superlative greatness of God].

In each of the seven letters ‘overcomes’ is a present participle. Jesus is not talking about a victory that was a one-off, once-for-all event. This overcoming of which he speaks is on-going. In this it parallels the New Testament perception of ‘believing’ – believing in Jesus is not a one-off action. The promises of salvation are given to those who believe, present tense. In the same way, this overcoming, this conquering, of which Jesus speaks, occurs as a continuum. There are ups and downs, there are highs and lows, there are times of strength and times of weakness, but the net over-all characteristic is that those who have true faith in Jesus Christ are those who also ‘overcome’. That is an irreducible built-in aspect of genuine faith. As John states in the last quote above – ‘everyone born of God overcomes …’ True faith endures. True faith persists despite the difficulties and despite its own weakness. True faith does not permanently give up and give in under pressure. True faith overcomes.

Those who overcome are the people with true faith in Jesus Christ, people ‘born again’ by the regenerating action of God. It is simply not possible for those who are ‘born of God’ to fail to ‘overcome’, to fail to conquer. They overcome because they are ‘born of God’. Indeed, to have true faith in Jesus Christ is to already be 'him who overcomes' - to already be 'more than conquerors' [Romans 8:37].

Jesus Christ overcame. He could not do otherwise. Even so, those who are born of God, those who believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, overcome. They cannot do otherwise.

This is the incredible security of the redeemed that is portrayed repeatedly throughout Revelation.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2015