The letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3 introduce four symbolic expressions indicating sinister movements to undermine and destroy their testimony. They are:
1. Nicolaitanism in Ephesus and Pergamos, 2. 6, 15.
2. The synagogue of Satan in Smyrna and Philadelphia,
2. 9; 3. 9.
3. The doctrine of Balaam in Pergamos, 2. 14.
4. The teaching of Jezebel in Thyatira, 2. 20,
These would stand respectively for
1. The rise of a hierarchy, subjecting the rank and file to
2. The Judaizing and legalistic element which dogged the
footsteps of the apostle Paul.
3. The breakdown of separation between the church and the
4. The introduction of immoral idolatry and religious per-
As well as these four movements, there was the deterioration of early love in Ephesus, 2. 4, the half measures and coldness and self-complacency of Laodicea, 3.17. Behind this pessimistic picture, we see Satanic power feverishly working behind the scenes to wreck and destroy everything of God. Satan is mentioned six times in these two chapters; we read of his throne, his dwelling, his synagogue and the depths of Satan.
In contrast to all this, the overcomer is mentioned seven times. The term “overcomer’ (literally, one who gains the victory) is found twice in the Gospels, twice in Paul’s Epistles, but six times in John’s first letter and sixteen times in Revelation. Nearly half of the occurrences in Revelation are in chapters 2 and 3. The question may be asked, who is the overcomer? At least three answers have been given:
1. Some would say that the term describes a spiritual elite, an alert faithful remnant, and that they only will be worthy to be raptured when the Lord shall come.
2. Others insist that the term includes every born-again
believer. They are characterised by perseverance to the
end and will overcome by faith.
3. A careful examination of the context suggests that the
overcomer is one who is able to rise above local conditions
We should note carefully that it is neither a question of salvation nor of being found worthy to rise when the rapture takes place. Other scriptures make it clear that the church which is His body will be complete at the coming of the Lord. Paul says, “Christ the firstfruits; afterwards they that are Christ’s at his coming”, 1 Cor. 15. 23. The church will be raptured, not ruptured. The redemption of the body, like the salvation of the soul, depends entirely on the sovereign free grace of God and not on our works. In the messages to the overcomer it is not a question of salvation, but of rewards. These are given in sequence, stretching from access to the tree of life in the paradise above, to sitting on the throne in kingdom glory. The deeper the departure, the higher reward for the overcomer.
In contrast with the overcomer in the book of Revelation, we find the earthdweller mentioned twelve times. See 3. 10; 6. 10; 8. 13; 11. 10; 12. 12; 13. 8, 12, 14; 14. 6; 17. 2, 8. An examination of these passages shows that the term refers to those that have all their ambitions fixed on things on earth, in contrast to those whose hope is in heaven. They are the unregenerate. It is upon them that the judgments of chapters 6-19 fall; they rejoice and make merry over the death of God’s witnesses, 11.10; they are the followers and worshippers of the beast, ch. 13; they are linked with the harlot, ch. 17; and we are told that their names are not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, 17. 8.
It seems clear that the two terms, overcomer and earth-dweller, indicate two entirely different types. The overcomer is the true believer who is able to rise above the darkness and apostacy of his surroundings and maintains a testimony for God, while the earthdweller is the poor worldling, deceived by the god of this world, drifting along with the tide to his inevitable doom.