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Revelation 3:21-22 by Robert Dean

Note that Dr. Dean has done a more in-depth study of “Overcomers” in his Philippians series, lessons #11–16.

Series:Revelation (2004)
Duration:57 mins 4 secs

Jesus Overcoming Worldliness


Revelation 3:21-22 NASB "He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."

The key that we have to understand here in terms of interpreting this verse is the interpretation of overcomer. What is an overcomer? It is the Greek word NIKAO [nikaw]. The noun is NIKE [nikh] which is related to the Greek goddess of victory. In this passage it is an articular participle which means it functions like a noun, so it refers to those who are winners, those who are victorious, those who are conquerors, those who have overcome and become winners, victorious in the Christian life.


1)  The victorious believer receives rewards, privileges and blessings at the judgment seat of Christ, according to 1 Corinthians 3:12-15.

2)  Victorious believers have different levels of privilege and authority in the kingdom. Some will rule over different amounts, different areas in the kingdom on the earth.

3)  Victorious believers will rule and reign with Christ as kings and priests.

Defeated believers

1)  Defeated believers don't put doctrine first, they fail to count the cost, they fail to set priorities, they fail to apply the Word, they don't grow spiritually. As a result there is loss at the judgment seat of Christ.

2)  Often defeated believers are wonderful people, successful in the things of temporal existence and the details of life, but they let the details of life and the obligations of family and bobbies and work crowd out the priority of learning and applying the Word of God.

3)  Defeated believers become distracted by the details of life. They seek happiness in temporal reality and their focus is on earthly things and not on heavenly things.

4)  There is a temporal loss of blessing and happiness as a result because as believers who are carnal, who are not walking by means of the Spirit, they can only have temporal happiness based on the achievement of whatever details of life they think will make them happy. Sooner or later those will disappear.

5)  There is shame for them at the judgment seat of Christ because they realize what they have squandered. They realize that the only thing that they could take with them into eternity is what they acquired spiritually, and so there is temporary shame at the judgment seat of Christ.

6)  There is a loss of rewards at the judgment seat of Christ, they become disinherited but they don't lose their salvation.

7)  They will enter but not inherit the kingdom. Inheriting the kingdom is different from entering the kingdom.

8)  Their rewards will be destroyed in the lake of fire, as per Revelation 21:8 which says, "Their part will be in the lake of fire." The word for "part" is the Greek word MEROS [meroj] which indicates an inheritance portion within a will or testament. They sacrifice their inheritance because of their focus on temporal things and it gets burned up in the lake of fire.

What does it mean to be an overcomer? There is a problem in the way people interpret this based on 1 John 5:4, which says: NASB "For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith." In that first phrase, "Whatever is born of God," in the Greek is a perfect tense verb based on the word GINAO [ginaw], which means it emphasizes completed action. So this is talking about a regenerate individual, a persona who is born again, a person who has trusted in Jesus Christ as their savior. The issue is faith alone in Christ alone. God the Holy Spirit regenerates you, you move from death to life. The Scriptures says, NASB "He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit," Titus 3:5. So at that instant we are born of God. He is the one who regenerates us. Then 1 John 5:4 goes on to say whoever is born of God overcomes the world, so it looks, based on the English, as if regeneration equals overcomer. But that is not true. Notice here that the object of overcoming is not sin; the object of overcoming in 1 John 5:4 is the world.

Overcoming is a function of the spiritual life, it is not a function of being born again. Overcoming isn't related to sin, which was dealt with at the cross; overcoming is related to what Christ did until He got to the cross by living His spiritual life in such a way that He set the precedent, the standard, for our spiritual life in the church age.

There are two basic interpretations of this concept of the overcomer. The first is the interpretation that every true believer is an overcomer, every overcomer is a true believer, and therefore if you are believer in the Lord Jesus Christ you will be an overcomer. That would means that every one of these overcomer statements in the seven letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2 & 3 would be applicable to every single believer. However, these were incentive clauses. At salvation we enter into a relationship with God and we have a rock-solid contract that we are going to be saved. We will have eternal life, we will be in heaven forever; that is what is true of every single believer. But there are also incentive clauses, that if you as a believer grow to spiritual maturity there are going to be rewards, there will be special blessings and responsibilities, both in time and in eternity. So this is the second option, that only believers who advance in the Christian life are overcomers. They are the ones who take advantage of these incentive clauses, and they just don't relax and coast and say that as long as they are in heaven it doesn't matter whether I am in the slums, just as long as I am there. That is just a rationalization for being a mediocre believer.

The incentive clauses as overcomers are related to this whole concept of overcoming the world. John 16:33 is a key passage for understanding this in relationship to Jesus Christ. Remember that in Revelation 3:21 the Lord says, "He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame …" That is the key phrase. To understand our overcoming we have to understand His overcoming. His overcoming provides the precedent for our overcoming. So in John 16:33 the Lord said: NASB "These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world." This is part of the upper room discourse, the last instructions from the Lord Jesus Christ to His disciples before he went to the cross. He is addressing believers, so the peace that we have here is not talking about that positional peace that belongs to every believer because we are justified by faith. But as we go through our temporal existence, how do we experience peace? This is not the peace of non-violence. Peace in the Bible is never juxtaposed to physical violence, it is always juxtaposed to internal worry, fear, and anxiety. It is focused on the fact that we have tranquillity in our soul, we have contentment, we have a relaxed mental attitude. We are therefore able to go through adversity and testing in an unperturbed manner if we are focused on doctrine. So Jesus says, "These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace." If you want to realize peace in your life it involves dependence on the Holy Spirit, it involves abiding in Christ, it involves letting His words abide in you. That is how we can have peace in the basis of the application of doctrine, application of the Word of God in our life.

Then He goes on to say in the next sentence, "In the world." That is the position of every believer on a day-to-day basis. We live in the world—KOSMOS [kosmoj], the sphere of our life, the culture around us, i.e. the thinking, the thought forms, the worldviews of the civilizations and cultures down through history that are apart from the Word of God. "In the world you have tribulation/adversity." So another important element related to overcoming the world is this whole concept of testing and adversity. "…but take courage/be of good cheer." The corollary to peace is joy. "…I have overcome the world." Once again, we notice that the object of the verb NIKAO is the world. 1 John 5:4, "For whatever is born of God overcomes the world…" Another important thing to note here is that NIKAO is a perfect tense verb. This is where grammar is very important in doing exegesis because the emphasis of a perfect tense verb is that the action of the verb is completed and the results are ongoing. What Jesus is saying is that at this point, the night before He goes to the cross, He uses a perfect tense verb to state that he has already overcome the world. That is completed action. So whatever is happening the next day when He goes to the cross it is not going to be related to overcoming the world. Overcoming the world was something that was accomplished by Jesus' life as He lived and matured and went through testing. That is why in John 16:33 He connects this to the statement that: you have testing in life, but you can be of good cheer because I have overcome the world. So overcoming the world is not related to salvation, it is related to the testing that every believer goes through in the process of spiritual growth. The only way we go from spiritual infancy to spiritual maturity is to go through a series of divinely-prepared tests which give us the opportunity to take what we learn in the classroom of the local church and apply them to the real time situations that we go through on a day-to-day basis. Therefore we must conclude that overcoming the world is equivalent to the process of sanctification.

1)  Before Christ went to the cross he overcame the world. It is not sin payment related, it is sanctification related.

2)  That means that the world or worldliness is different from sin. Overcoming the world is a categorically different concept than having victory over sin.

3)  On the cross Jesus Christ paid the sin penalty.

4)  However, in His life He overcame the thinking of the world, setting the precedent for our victory over the world.

When we look at a passage like Revelation 3:21, that "He who overcomes … as I also overcame," He is not talking about the fact that we are having victory over sin and that we are saved but that we have pursued maturity in the spiritual life. This is what is laid out in Romans 12:2 KJV "And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind [renovation of your thought], that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God." The first command is a present middle imperative, second person plural (meaning you all)—You all do not be conformed. The word "conformed" is the Greek word SUSCHEMATIZO [susxhmatizw], meaning to form something according to a pattern or mold. In other words, there is this thing out there called the world system. Two different words in the Greek are used to describe this: KOSMOS [kosmoj] and AION [a)iwn]. Here it is AION, indicating the spirit of the age, and it seeks to take you as an individual and pressure you and push you into that mold. This is what happens when we are born and reared in our families. Our parents, no matter how great they were in terms of their spiritual life, as being believers, everybody has certain elements of the cosmic system, the culture, in their thinking. Furthermore, we have picked it up from teachers, from peers at school, from friends, and there is the pressure from the world system around us to conform to it, to be culturally correct, to be "cosmically correct." That is the pressure of the world system around us, and so Paul says, "Don't be conformed to the world." It is a present imperative, indicating that this is supposed to be the standard operating procedure of every Christian's life. Don't be conformed, don't be pushed into the mold of the worldview of your culture. One of the problems we have today is that most Christians don't know what the worldview of their culture is.

So how do you know if you have been pressured into that mold? There is always that head-on conflict between the human viewpoint of the worldview of the culture and the divine viewpoint of Scripture. The whole process of the Christian life is to get rid of the garbage in the soul that got there from the thinking of the cosmic system around us, and it varies from decade to decade and civilization to civilization and nation to nation. So of you are raised in China, for example, you will have a different set of cultural values that put on you than if you are raised in India or Europe. There are cosmic values that affect everything. It affects how you view art, how you view music. It all comes out of cultural concepts and worldview. When people have human viewpoint opinions about music and art and fashion ingrained in them from the cosmic system and the pastor tries to address it from a biblical viewpoint they say, well that is just his opinion. They don't want to go through the process of doing the philosophical analysis to understand how the metaphysical and epistemological presuppositions of human viewpoint postmodernism affects how and why you think certain types of dress and music is good, because it is extremely subtle, it is real. But that is part of what you have to do if you are going to get anywhere in the Christian life.

So we are not to be conformed to the world, we are to be "transformed," METAMORPHOO [metamorfow], which means to change inwardly in a fundamental, character or condition. So there is an internal transformation—the way you think, your values, will change as you get into the Word of God and the Word of God gets into you. And it is related to your thinking, not to your emotions. It is a transformation of your mind, a renewing of your thinking, and that means it is fundamentally related to what you think. 

As we look at this and we deal with the cosmic system we have to understand its basic characteristics. To do that we look at James 3:15: NASB "This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic." This compares and contrasts the wisdom from above, which is divine viewpoint, the teaching that is encapsulated in the teaching of the Scriptures, versus human viewpoint. No matter what is going on in the world what you are thinking at any moment of time is either divine viewpoint or human viewpoint. There is only one divine viewpoint, that is, the unified system of thought expressed in the sixty-six books of the Bible. God gives us a framework in the Scriptures so that we can think about everything in His creation. It may not be a textbook on history, on geography, or on biology or philosophy, but it touches on everything necessary so that we can have a biblically consistent view on geography, biology, law, science, geology, philosophy, etc. All these things have to be based on a biblical view of God, man and creation.

So in James 3:15 we have the explanation of what James has called worldly wisdom or human viewpoint wisdom. He says it does not come from above, it's source is not from God, but it is three things: earthly, sensual [KJV], and demonic. "Earthly" means it is oriented to the earth as opposed to being oriented to heaven. It is time bound rather than infinite, it is oriented to the thinking of creatures, not to the thinking of the creator. "Sensual," is a translation of the Greek word PSUCHIKOS [yuxikoj]—PSUCHE [yuxh], the root word, is the word for soul, the immaterial part of your makeup which includes mentality, self-consciousness, volition and conscience—and the Bible makes a distinction between the unbeliever who is said to be "soulish" and the believer who is said to be PNEUMATIKOS [pneumatikoj] or spiritual. Because what happens at salvation is that something is born, something comes into being at that instant of faith in Christ, and we call that the human spirit based on the use of these words in 1 Corinthians 2:14-16. PSUCHIKOS relates to the unbeliever; PNEUMATIKOS relates to the spirit and the regenerate believer. So the wisdom that does not come from above, human viewpoint wisdom, is earthly and time bound, and it is the thinking of the unbeliever, the soulish person, who has no doctrine, no truth whatsoever. The third characteristic is that it is "demonic." That means the thought forms of human viewpoint from Socrates, to Plato, to Aristotle, to neo-Platonism, into modern times of Descart, Kant, and all of the other secular philosophers is all demonic. That is a pretty strong charge. They each has some good things to say. Satan always has good things to say because he wants the system to work. It is not the 98 per cent truth that is in Satan's deception that is really the problem, it is the 2 per cent lie which changes the orientation of the 98 per cent that may be true, and that's what makes it a good deception. It is very close to the truth and therefore it appears to work. How do you spot it? You only spot it because you know the truth, and the truth comes from the Word of God. Jesus said, "You shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free." You have to know the Word of God, you have to know Scripture, and that under the ministry of God the Holy Spirit produces discernment. You have to be able to analyse these things. So demonic thought and human viewpoint are the same things because they partake of the same characteristics of Satan's fall: arrogance, autonomy, hostility toward God. Satan was arrogant, he wanted to be like God. Because he wanted to be like God that immediately set him opposed to God; he was opposed to God. There is an emphasis on independence from divine authority which leads to a hostility toward God. So this forms the bed rock characteristics of worldliness.

Worldlines is the thought of the creature Lucifer in rebellion against God. Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 outlines Lucifer's thinking at the time of the fall. As a part of this there is an arrogance, a hostility toward God. Arrogance leads to a hostility toward God always, because arrogance is saying I will as opposed to what God wills, and that will always develop into an antagonism to the truth of God's Word. The second characteristic is autonomy, and that leads to a declaration of independence from God: I can do it on my own; I can find meaning, joy, happiness and contentment in life without having to be radically, unconditionally, solely dependent on the thinking of God's Word. Religion is usually 90 per cent right and about 10 Religion is usually 90 per cent right and about 10 per cent wrong. There is always an element of truth there. Satan knows that he is operating within a world that has been established by God, and so there are certain absolutes he can't get away from; he can't reinvent the world. So he has to make things conform as closely as possible to the way God made them, and that is what gives them that deceptive quality.

1)  Worldliness comes from the Greek word KOSMOS which has the idea of adornment, of organization. The word "cosmetic" comes from that. It has the element of attractiveness. Worldliness is an orderly organized system of thought providing the creature with a rationale for living independently of his creator: "I can make life work without God." So it gives birth to a variety of different philosophies of life, different religions, that say that somehow we can make this work and don't have to be dependent upon God as the Scriptures show.

2)  Worldliness is the thought structure which provides the rationalizations for the operation of the sin nature. Worldliness is thought, the thought structures that establish values and priorities and how you know what you know, and what is the ultimate reality that informs everything. Worldliness is more subtle than the overt actions, it is the thought forms that give birth to the overt actions, thus it provides the rationalizations for the operations of the sin nature.

3)  Thus we conclude that worldliness relates to the post-salvation life of the believer. It is: Are you going to live on divine viewpoint, or are you going to live on human viewpoint?   

L.S. Chafer, Systematic Theology, vol. 2, p. 77: "The cosmos is a vast order or system that Satan has promoted, which conforms to his ideals, aims, and methods. It is civilization now functioning apart from God—a civilization in which none of its promoters really expect God to share, who assign to God no consideration in respect to their projects; nor do they ascribe any causativity to Him. This system embraces its godless governments, conflicts, armaments, jealousies, its education, culture, religions of morality, and pride. It is that sphere in which man lives. It is what he sees, what he employs. To the uncounted multitude it is all they ever know so long as they live on this earth. It is properly styled the satanic system, which phrase is in many instances a justified interpretation of the so-meaningful word, cosmos. It is literally a cosmos diabolicus."

 L.S. Chafer, Systematic Theology, vol. 2, p. 100: "Next to the lie itself, the greatest delusion Satan imposes—reaching to all unsaved and to a large proportion of Christians—is the supposition that only such things as society considers evil could originate with the devil—if, indeed, there be any devil to originate anything. It is not the reason of man, but the revelation of God, which points out that governments, morals, education, art, commercialism, vast enterprises and organizations, and much of religious activity are included in the cosmos diabolicus. That is, the system which Satan has constructed includes all the good which he can incorporate into it and be consistent in the thing he aims to accomplish. A serious question arises whether the presence of gross evil in the world is due to Satan's intention to have it so, or whether it indicates Satan's inability to execute all he has de- signed. The probability is great that Satan's ambition has led him to undertake more than any creature could ever administer. Revelation declares that the whole cosmos-system must be annihilated—not its evil alone, but all that is in it, both good and bad. God will incorporate nothing of Satan's failure into that kingdom which He will set up in the earth."

The point is that the cosmic system is a system of thought, its values incorporate everything that is a part of life. We either look at it from God's viewpoint or from man's viewpoint. Man's viewpoint is considered earthly, natural [of the unbeliever], and demonic. Jesus overcame that (John 16:33). How did he do that" When did he do that? What are the principles involved in that? That is what we have to understand to apply the principle in terms of what we are hearing in Revelation 3:21, that to be an overcomer we have to do it the way Jesus overcame, and that is the path to ruling and responsibility in the Millennial kingdom.