In the second and third chapters of the Revelation of John, our Lord and Savior writes letters to seven churches. The message is not one of joy and peace, but of oncoming tribulation and sorrow, as Jesus explains the persecution and trials these Christians will soon face. The letters though, are far from depressing, because contained in each message is a phrase of immense hope, a comforting expression of the promises of God. Each of these phrases is addressed “To him who overcomes . . .” and offers great reassurance of the power of the King they served (2:7,17,26-28,3:5,12,21).
The problem with reading the letters to the seven churches is that we have a tendency to try and separate them from the rest of the book. It is not wise to do so, for if we examine the letters apart from the book, we come away wondering what the two have in common. What do the signs and prophecies of the rest of the book mean in conjunction to these two chapters? In truth, there is a major question to be answered here, no matter which position you take on the meaning of Revelation. If, for example, you take the view of most prominent denominations, that this is a book of signs addressed mainly to us, with insight into the struggles of God’s people in the final, all out war with Satan and the forces of darkness, you must answer the question: Why then, is it addressed to these seven churches, and how could they possibly have understood it? If, on the other hand, you believe as I do, that this is a book describing the coming persecution against these people, we must answer the question: Why then, is it important to us today?
It is precisely this theme of overcoming which makes it so. Jesus doesn’t just write to seven churches about to face serious persecution and say, “Overcome! There’s something good waiting for you if you do!” Jesus tells them to overcome, and then gives them a plan to overcome, as well as encouragement to do so. That plan, that message of overcoming is what makes the book important to us as we strive to win our own battles with Satan. Let us examine the book of Revelation with a view toward determining what God would have us remember as we seek to overcome in Christ Jesus.
Verse 4 of chapter 5 is very interesting in light of the fact that John was the closest of Jesus’ disciples, yet he fails to do one of the most important things for anyone who does battle with Satan. That is to remember that Jesus has already overcome. (See Acts 2:22-24; Heb. 2:14-18). We’ve talked before about death being Satan’s greatest power, but death couldn’t hold Jesus! What a comfort to those at war with Satan. Remember that Jesus has already overcome.
Chapter 6:9-11 details the crying out of those who had been slain because of the word of God. In their crying out, they ask God, “How long?” But it is important to understand that God is not on our timetable. Today, we live in an instant society. Throw some crystals in water, you have instant coffee. Drive through a fast food restaurant, you have an instant meal. Touch a button on the remote control, you have instant entertainment. We’ve lost our capacity for patience. We want the fastest car, the fastest computer and the fastest lifestyle. We are caricatured by that old cartoon which says, “Lord, grant me patience, and give it to me right now!” And so, we want things to happen according to our timetable instead of God’s. These souls wanted that too, but look what they were told. God said, “It’s not time, yet. Some more of you are going to have to die.” God has His own timetable and they needed to remember to wait on God. And so do we. In the 40th chapter of Isaiah, having grieved the nation of Judah with his warnings of impending captivity, the prophet begins to offer comfort. It will not be immediately, he says, for the young men will grow old in Babylon, but the promise of renewal is there. (See Is. 40:27-31). In other words, those who wait on God will overcome! Remember to wait on God.
Chapter 7 provides a picture of God’s deliverance of His people, and if you seek to overcome in the fight against Satan, you too, must remember that God will deliver His people. The ones who will overcome will be the ones on God’s side. Think of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego (Dan. 3:13-18). They trusted in God to deliver them, and we must do the same. We cannot doubt that the God who quenched fire and shut the mouths of lions can deliver us from any snare which Satan can set.
In chapter 8:3-4, John reminds us of the beauty of prayer in the eyes of God. It seems almost silly to say it, but we need to remember that God will hear our prayers. James tells us of the prayers of Elijah (Jas. 5:16-18). Again, if God heard and answered this unusual request, do we doubt that he hears us today? Strangely enough, we get in our cars and turn on the radio, and through the air, sound travels and we hear a voice from as far away as across the globe. We accept that, and then we have the audacity to wonder if God hears prayer. John says they were like incense-laced fragrance to God.
The story of God’s two witnesses (11:3-10) offers up a tragic defeat for God’s people. Reading this the first time, the seven churches had to wonder how this was supposed to encourage them. Just when things looked bleakest though, when the prophets of God had been utterly and soundly defeated, God turns crushing defeat to stunning victory (see vv. 11-13). Nowhere is God’s ability to do this made more clear than in the resurrection of our Lord (Luke 24:1-7). There’s a song called “Sunday’s On the Way” which talks about Satan and his demons having a party to celebrate the crucifixion of Jesus, only to find that Jesus lives again. The chorus of that song ends with these words: “So when problems try to bury you and make it hard for you to pray, May seem like that Friday night, but Sunday’s on the way!” Remember, God can’turn defeat into victory.
John promises a day of reckoning is coming (chapter 18). Those who would carry out the will of Satan cannot escape for long. They are doomed to fail because God is righteous in His judgment. Paul promised the vengeance and judgment of God as well (2 Thess. 1:5-10). No matter how great it may seem for those who fight against God, no matter how much wealth they amass, no matter how perfect their lives may appear, the day is coming when all will answer for their deeds. We need to remember God will judge and avenge.
In conjunction with His status as judge, God will win (19:19-21), for Satan does not have the forces nor the power to defeat God. In fact, Satan is already defeated, for when Christ arose from the dead, He won. And we can win, too, if we stand with God. (1 Jn. 5:4; 1 Cor. 15:54-57). If you want to win, you need to get on the winning side. God will win.
We need to be encouraged by the reward to come (21:2-7). We need to strive for the goal of heaven. Read how John describes this great city (21:18-27). No words, not even John’s, can’truly describe the majesty of heaven and the wealth of this reward. The one who overcomes will receive this. Remember the reward.
“Finally,” Jesus says, “be encouraged because I am coming back”(22:10-15). God has not left us forever, but will come one day to take us home. (see 1 Thess. 4:13-18). Paul says, “Here’s your source of comfort. This world isn’t it. There’s more to it than just this life. Jesus is coming back for you and me.”
It is unfortunate that so much religious mumbo-jumbo has been written about the book of Revelation, for it offers us the great comfort of the promises given to those who overcome. But it also tells us how to overcome. We need to cling to Christ, for there is no overcoming without Him. We need to renew our study of Revelation with a mindset that this is God’s encouragement for us to continue our own fight against the dark forces, knowing that He stands with us, and with His strength, we cannot fall (Rom. 8:31-39).