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Overcomers

Revelation promises an extra special blessing in the next life to the one who “overcomes.” The book of Revelation is written in order to exhort believers in Jesus, “His servants,” to understand that this blessing is available, and that it requires His servants to “read,” “hear” (understand), and “heed” (obey) the words Jesus conveys through His Revelation.

The way to “overcome” and win at life is to be a faithful witness, overcoming the fear of loss, rejection, or death. The word translated “witness” or “testimony” is the Greek word from which we get the English word “martyr.” The way to win at life is to fear God over anything in this world. It is to lay down our lives in service to Him without fearing loss of any promise of worldly gain.

At the end of each letter to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3, there is a promise to the one who “overcomes.” This includes that they will “not be hurt by the second death” (Revelation 2:11). They will be “give[n] over the nations” (Revelation 2:26), and “clothed in white garments” (Revelation 3:5). For the overcomer, Jesus says He “will not erase his name from the book of life” (Revelation 3:5), and 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” (Revelation 3:21).

These are immense blessings that all believers should desire to have, and are exhorted to strive to obtain. In order to receive them, believers are exhorted to hear Jesus’s words, understand what they mean (with respect to what Jesus desires for us to do) and then choose to act upon that understanding. The clear message is that God has placed the blessing of being an overcomer within reach of any believer, and has charted out the path they can take to inherit this blessing.

The word translated “overcomes” comes from the Greek “nikao” which is derived from Nike, the Greek goddess of victory.  To be an “overcomer” is to be victorious. It is to win at life. Winning means “achieving the desired goal.” To be an overcomer is to accomplish the purpose for which God designed us. When we accomplish our purpose, we have won.

A survey of usage and translation of the Greek root “nikao” follows, which might provide some color to the meaning of the word:

  • “Do not be overcome (‘nikao’) by evil, but overcome (‘nikao’) evil with good” (Romans 12:21).
  • “In the world you will have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome (‘nikao’) the world” (John 16:33).
  • “For whatever is born of God overcomes (‘nikao’) the world; and this is the victory (‘nikao’) that has overcome (‘nikao’) the world—our faith” (1 John 5:4).
  • “Stop weeping; behold the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome (‘nikao’) so as to open the book and its seven seals” (Revelation 5:5).
  • “I looked, and behold, a white horse, and he who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering (‘nikao’) and to conquer (‘nikao’)” (Revelation 6:2).
  • “When they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war with them, and overcome (‘nikao’) them and kill them” (Revelation 11:7).
  • “And they overcame (‘nikao’) him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death” (Revelation 12:11).
  • “And I saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had been victorious (‘nikao’) over the beast and his image and the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, holding harps of God” (Revelation 15:2).
  • “These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome (‘nikao’) them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful” (Revelation 17:14).

It seems apparent from this list that the basic idea of “nikao” is to overcome obstacles or opponents, and achieve a win, a victory by accomplishing the desired objective. Use of the word “nikao” is concentrated in Revelation but also used in the Gospels and the Epistles, In each case, when applied to believers it applies to remaining faithful through difficulty in order to gain the rewards promised by God.

Jesus uses “nikao” to describe himself in John 16:33 saying, “I have overcome the world.” Jesus is the ultimate overcomer. He overcame temptation (Matthew 4:1-11; Philippians 2:8; Hebrews 2:18). He overcame rejection and loss (Hebrews 12:1-2). And He overcame death, being resurrected after three days. Jesus exhorts believers, His servants to overcome in the same way He overcame. To those who do this, He promises to share His throne with them, even as the Father shared His throne when Jesus overcame (as a human) (Revelation 3:21).

To “overcome” requires context to determine who is overcoming what, to what end.

In Luke 11, the use of “nikao” is used in a metaphor following Jesus being chastised by the Pharisees for casting out demons. To describe the manner in which he casts them out, Jesus says “when a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are undisturbed. But when someone stronger than he attacks him and overpowers (“nikao”) him, he takes away from him all his armor on which he had relied and distributes his plunder” (Luke 11:21-22). In this case, the “strong man” “overcomes” an armed guard.

Similarly, in Revelation 11:7, it says that “the beast that comes out of the abyss will…overcome them.” Here, the beast overcomes the two witnesses by putting them to death. However, in the context of Revelation, the two witnesses come back to life. So in losing their lives for Christ, they overcome the world in the end.

The ultimate victory of life is to overcome self, the flesh, sin, and the world, and be a faithful witness to the life-giving ways of Jesus. Jesus promises that He will honor this victory through great and glorious rewards for those who lay down their lives for Him.

The first chapter of James sets forth this same perspective. It encourages believers to be glad when they encounter trials (James 1:2-4). The reason given for what seems like an odd statement is because trials should be viewed as obstacles that can be overcome, and in overcoming these obstacles, our faith produces endurance. By remaining faithful and steadfast, we can receive the crown of life, and therefore achieve the greatest victory (“nikao”) available from living life on this earth (James 1:12).

A crown given to believers represents the recognition represented by a wreath given to the winner of a victory (1 Corinthians 9:24-25), and likely also the authority given to one who has proven worthy of great responsibility (Revelation 3:21; Matthew 25:21,23).

When we understand and adopt this perspective, then live it out, part of what we accomplish is to fulfill the assignment God designed us for, namely to silence Satan (see commentary on Psalm 8:2) . God created humanity to reign in harmony with Him, and with one another. He designed us to be servant leaders, serving in love.




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