Successful Winners; Revelation 2:16-17
In Revelation 2:16 is the warning of Jesus Christ that "I will come and judge you quickly if you don't change." Because of Pergamum's two flaws there is going to be consequent action on the part of the supreme court of heaven and the justice of God. Therefore there is a challenge, and that is to repent. This is one of those words that everyone gets distorted in Christianity. It is a word that goes beyond confession. All that confession does it get the believer back in fellowship, it doesn't move him forward, it doesn't solve the temptation problem long-term. There has to be a change of thinking. If you don't change the thinking in your soul then you continue to make the same mistakes over and over again. There has to be a change of thought and that is what "repent" means. METANOEO [metanoew] means to change one's thinking. The aorist active imperative here emphasizes immediate action. Repentance is a change of thinking that produces a change of action, and it doesn't happen overnight. It doesn't happen through reading your Bible for 30 minutes every morning, and it doesn't happen for showing up at church once a week (which is the trend today). With the indoctrination that each one of us receives from the cosmic system around us every single week, if you think you can change your thinking from non-biblical human viewpoint paganism to biblical thinking on the basis of an hour a week, you are playing games with yourself and with God. That is the reality. We need to immerse ourselves in the Word of God so that the Holy Spirit can use that to perform radical surgery on the way we think. That is why Jesus Christ said to the congregation at Pergamum, "Change your thinking and change your behaviour, or I will come quickly." They were rationalizing their behaviour to avoid being in conflict with the culture around them.
The more biblical you become in your thinking, the more uncomfortable you are going to be in the world around you, and frankly the more uncomfortable the people in the world are going to be with you. This is because you are thinking in forms that are radically different from the way that they think. The more our culture drifts away from its historical Judeo-Christian roots which has been dominated by a lot of establishment truth, the more of a division is going to occur between those who are thinking biblically and those who don't. It never makes them comfortable. Jesus said that the world hated Him before it hated us, and that is going to be the response of the world.
So the change is from human viewpoint to divine viewpoint. Repentance is not remorse or sorrow. The change begins with confession, and that gets us back in fellowship but it doesn't move us forward. Now we have to start applying doctrine in the area where we were failing to apply doctrine. That comes under the category of walking by the Spirit. Repentance is more than confession, it is a change. Confession isn't a change, it is admitting you did something wrong. Repentance is a change of thinking. Repentance involves that change of pagan human viewpoint worldliness in our souls, and often we are very comfortable with that pagan human viewpoint worldliness in our souls. It is pleasurable. Repentance of some thought can be a lifetime process, but that is the point of 2 Timothy 3:16, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correction," and that never feels good and it is never easy.
But the Lord promises judgment: "….or I will come to you quickly." The word "quickly" is that key word in the book of Revelation TACHU [taxu] which means not that it will come soon but that it will come in a rapid or sudden manner.
Revelation 2:17, "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it." This happens to those who will change. That is part of the motivation. It starts with content; you have to learn the truth. It is not superficial. If there is no internal change in your soul because you have exchanged the human viewpoint for divine viewpoint, then it is superficial. If all you are doing is responding to emotion then it is going to be a short-lived change. So this is addressed to the positive believer, "He who has an ear, let him hear." That is, the one who is willing to listen to the Word of God, the one who is positive, and then there is the command, "Let him hear." Pay attention, in other words. "…what the Spirit says to the churches." It is God the Holy Spirit who is teaching us. It was God the Holy Spirit who was sent to make the Word of God clear to us, store it in our soul, and to bring it back to recall so that we could apply it at the proper time. Notice, it is addressed to the churches, plural. Wasn't this to the church at Pergamum? The evaluation was to the church but the message at the end is for every believer in every church.
"To the one who overcomes." This is the key word and the one that is so often misunderstood and distorted. There are two ways in which this is understood. There are those who say that the overcomer is every single believer. But if you take this as referring to every believer, then what follows can only apply to an elite few. It can't be something that refers to every believer; it is to those who overcome. This is the issue. There are many who think that this refers to every believer. It is not the easiest thing to understand but if we just grasp the fact that there are two categories of believers, those who are saved and those who are really pressing for ward and applying doctrine. This word "overcomer" is based on the Greek word NIKAO [nikaw]. The noun form is NIKE [nikh] and it has to do with victory. It is overcoming something. That involves the application of METANOIA [metanoia], the repentance factor; now you overcome the obstacle. What is the obstacle in this passage? Though the passage doesn't use the word, none of them do. What is always the problem? The problem is some sort of cultural issue that has to be dealt with. In other words, it is talking about that remnant of worldly thinking that is in our souls. That is exactly what we see in 1 John.
1 John 5:4, "for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith." This is the passage everyone goes running to to say that the overcomer is just a believer, i.e. every believer is an overcomer. In other words, "everyone who is born of God overcomes the world" is taken to mean everyone who is born of God overcomes the world. That is not what it is saying, and it is an important difference. In order to understand it we have to look at how these words "born of God" and "the world" are used in 1 John. The Gospel of John, I, II, and III John and Revelation are all written by the same individual. We are so used to studying Paul that we don't pay enough attention to John. John has his own vocabulary, his own style, and when you get through enough study in Johannine theology you begin to recognize the different shades of meaning that he has to his words that aren't the same as Paul. In 1 John 4:4, is John talking about faith at salvation—trusting Christ as your savior—or is he talking about post-salvation faith? In the context of the epistle of 1 John he is talking about post-salvation faith, the faith-rest drill. He is not talking about getting saved, he is talking about working out your salvation.
1 John 2:29, "If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right [practices righteousness] has been born of him." Does that mean that everyone who is born of God is righteous all the time, and never unrighteous? At surface level it sounds that way. That is why people call these problem passages, because it looks like the person who is born of God doesn't sin. That is what 1 John 3:9 seems to suggest: "No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God." Either this is saying that everybody who is born of God doesn't sin or it is saying that only those who are born of God can have periods in their life when they don't sin. We all have periods in our life when we don't sin; we call it being in fellowship. If you grow and mature as a believer, John says, there can be periods in your life where you don't sin. You can actually grow, it is called abiding in Christ. When you abide in Christ that means to stay, to remain. That word "abide" in the Greek, MENO [menw], always talks about fellowship. Every time you see it think fellowship first, not positional truth. Only a believer can be in a position where he doesn't sin; only a believer can practice righteousness. That is what this is saying. 1 John 4:7, "Beloved, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God." Is that saying that everyone who is a believer loves God? Not necessarily, because in John 14:7 Jesus said, "Philip, how long have you been with me but you don't know me." He has been a believer but Jesus says: "You don't know me." As a believer you have trusted Christ as your savior and in that sense have knowledge of Jesus as your savior, but that is not what it means to know God. Again and again in the Gospel of John Jesus says, "If you love me you will keep my commandments." To know the Lord means more than simple salvation, it means to keep His commandments. That is also seem in 1 John 2:5.
So there are two ways of looking at this. Either a) what these verses are saying is that genuine born again believers practice righteousness, don't sin, and always obey God because if you love Him you keep His commandments, or b) it is saying that only the born again regenerate believer has the option of performing righteousness, not sinning, loving the brethren, but not all who are born again will necessarily practice righteousness, avoid sin, or love their brother. It is talking about the potential. Only a believer has the potential of applying doctrine and living a life without sinning. So that means that the concept of being born from God doesn't necessarily indicate this perfect status all the time.
1 John 2:15-17 gives us another perspective on this. There John says, "Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love for the Father is not in him." That shows the importance of going over and looking at passages such as 1 John 2:5; John 14:6-8. We learn that Philip is aware of who Jesus is. He is a believer but doesn't know him. So if you don't know Him you can't love Him. If you can't love Him you are still saved. So the admonition to the believer is don't love the world, so obviously the believer can love the world and the things in the world, therefore John says, Look if you are loving the world, you are attracted, you are constantly compromising with cosmic thinking, then the love for God the Father isn't with you. Verse 16, "For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world." Verse 17, "The world and its desires pass away, but the one who does the will of God lives forever."
So we are drawing a connection here to loving the world. That is the issue. The overcomer, remember, overcomes what? The world. You can have a believer that loves the world, according to this passage. So that means you can have a believer that hasn't overcome the world. That shows us that overcoming the world isn't something that is true for every believer, but only for a certain group of believers that are going forward.
1 John 2:3-5, "We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, "I know him," but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him." You have to learn the Word before you can know Him. Once you learn the Word then you can keep the commandments. The one who says he knows Him and doesn't keep His commandments, John says, is a liar. It doesn't say he is not a believer, it says he is not operating on doctrine. Truth is isn't operational within him. "But if anyone obeys his word, God's love has truly been matured in him. This is how we know we are in him." This is what happens when you grow as a believer. That love for God matures. If you have love for God, what is that opposite to? 1 John 2:15, it is opposite to love for the world. So you are exchanging your love for the world for a love for God. That is what John refers to in 1 John 5:4: "Whatever is born of God overcomes [can overcome] the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith [application of doctrine]." Who is the one who overcomes the world? He who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. He is not saying that he overcomes the world because he believes that Jesus is the Son of God, he is able to overcome the world because a person who doesn't believe that Jesus is the Son of God can't overcome the world. Only the one who does believe Jesus is the Son of God has the potential to overcome the world.
So back to Revelation 2:17, "To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it." All through John the idea of overcoming is overcoming what? The world; worldly thinking. What is the problem in Pergamum? It is cosmic thinking, assimilation with the paganism that is dominating the culture. So the idea of overcoming is the idea of overcoming the influence of cosmic thinking in the soul. What does 1 John tell us we have to do to overcome the world? We have to learn the Word and keep the Word which indicates you love God. So once again it is right back down to that difficult thing for most people. It is learning Bible doctrine, learning to think biblically, being at Bible class not just once a week or twice week but every time the doors are open, and the rest of the time listening to tapes again and again—because you never learn it all, you never get there.
There is a promise of two things: "I will give some of the hidden manna." The term manna refers to that miraculous nourishment that God provided for the Jews. It was called the bread of heaven, the food of angels, and the bread of life in the Old Testament. Psalm 105:40; John 6:31-33; 50-51. Manna was God's logistical grace provision to provide physical nourishment to the Jews on a daily basis. That Old testament physical nourishment was a shadow image or a type of the Lord Jesus Christ. So when he came along and said "I am the bread of life" in John 6:48-51, the Jews immediately connected that to the manna that was provided in the Old Testament. So as the bread of life, Jesus Christ the living Word gives life and is the ultimate source of the written Word which gives life. So what we are talking about here is nourishment and food. It is hidden because there is something secret about it, something that hasn't been revealed before, or something that is restricted. That is the meaning of the word KRUPTO [kruptw], something that is secret, hidden, and it is used as a metaphor for something restricted or protected. So this is a privileged food. The picture is that to those who overcome there is going to be special nourishment. Now what else is packed into this concept of eating in the Bible? Fellowship. Whenever you have fellowship it is pictured around a meal. That is why we have the Lord's supper. It was originally connected to a meal and is a picture of fellowship. When God came to Abraham they sat down and had a meal together. In Psalm 23 we will dine with the Lord, there is a table spread before. All these are pictures of intimate fellowship, and that is what is going on here.
Then we come to the next image: "I will also give him a white stone." This is the Greek word PSEPHOS [pshfoj] and it refers to a small rock, not a large tablet. There are several stabs at trying to interpret this. Some have tried to connect this to the stones on the high priest's breastplate, but there no context or any connection to that whatsoever in Revelation. Others have tried to connect this as a white stone to a diamond as some special reward, and again there is no biblical data that would support that. Another approach has been to say that this had to do with voting. For example, in the ancient world if you were voting and you voted yes you'd use a white stone and if you were voting no you'd use a black stone. There are a number of people who suggest that is the application. The problem is that the way it is applied is that Jesus Christ would give the overcomer a white stone, indicating His approval. But it always goes to every believer, because God approves of every believer in terms of justification. So it falls apart because this has to be something that is given to only a few, not something that is given to every believer. But there are two things that were going on culturally in Pergamum that connect to this. One is that in athletic contests the winner was often given a white stone that had his name engraved on it and it gave him access to the rewards that were given the winner. With that—he would use it like a ticket—he would gain admission to the great feast that celebrated the victories in the games. A similar use was a stone given by wealthy families to close friends who were not in the same social class, and it had the name engraved on it so that the person who had that white stone with his name on it would have access to their special feasts and parties that were given in the temple. So both of these last two cultural expressions indicate that this white stone with the individual's name on it gave them access to a feast.
If we tie that with manna we certainly see that there is some implication here to a special feasting and fellowship with the Lord. We saw the same thing at the end of the first letter to the Ephesian church, that "to him that overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life which is in the midst of the paradise of God." So what this pictures through these various metaphors is that the overcomer believer is going to have special access and a more intimate level of fellowship and feasting with the Lord Jesus Christ in heaven.
The next phrase says, "a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it." The new name is KAINOS [kainoj] which indicates not new in time but a newness of quality. This relates to the overcomer, not the Lord Jesus Christ. Every believer has the Lord Jesus Christ's name ingrained upon him. It is the overcomer believer who has his name on the white stone which gives him access to this special area in heaven where believers are going to have access related to the paradise of God. So this is the individual overcomer's name written on it which no one knows except him who receives it. This is a personal and private description of each overcomer believer that is given by the Lord Jesus Christ expressing about the individual character of that person. There is a special name given to every overcomer believer that has a reference to his character.
The bottom line of the evaluation report to the church at Pergamum is that there is a call to change. That change can only come through qualitatively by a study of the Word of God and by the teaching of the Holy Spirit. It takes time. It is a lot more difficult to do than just having some artificial, external set of standards and say, Here is a rule list everybody, go follow the rules and you will be okay. It has to do with the process of sanctification whereby God the Holy Spirit changes us from the inside out through the means of His Word. That is why Jesus prayed to the Father, "Sanctify them by means of truth; thy word is truth." If you don't make the Word of God the highest priority in your life so that it is more real to you than everything else then you will never achieve that overcomer status in your Christian life.