Who Is The Overcomer of Revelation 2-3?
There is a theological movement today which divides Christ's beloved body and bride into two distinct groups with two distinct destinies. They teach that every believer will eventually be placed into one of two distinct classes. They teach that some believers will live a victorious life and will be part of a class called "overcomers." They will reign with Christ during the millennium. On the other hand, there will be a large number of believers who will "flunk out" at the judgment seat of Christ, they will not inherit the kingdom of God, they will experience weeping and gnashing of teeth in outer darkness and they will not be classed with the overcomers.
Who teaches such things? It is more common than one might think. Its origins go back to the 19th century or earlier with the writings of men such as Robert Govett, D.M.Panton, G.H.Pember and G.H.Lang. The modern resurgence of this teaching within Bible believing, dispensational circles can be traced primarily to the influence and writings of Zane Hodges, formerly a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, and the author of numerous books and commentaries which promote this viewpoint.
Zane Hodges has influenced certain influential men toward this doctrinal position, including 1) Joseph Dillow, the author of The Reign of the Servant Kings, has systematized this teaching in this one, comprehensive, massive volume which may be considered as the key theology book for this movement; 2) Robert Wilkin heads up the Grace Evangelical Society which publishes a newsletter which is sent to a readership of 9,000 and a theological journal which also has a circulation of 900. This society also publishes a number of books by Hodges, Wilkin and others. They also highly recommend Dillow's book; 3) Charles Stanley, the well-known television preacher from Atlanta, embraces this position as seen in his book, Eternal Security. His reliance upon Hodges is seen in the footnotes. 4) Chuck and Nancy Missler, influenced by Dillow and others, strongly push this view in their book, The Kingdom, Power, & Glory--The Overcomer's Handbook (a 400 pages volume).
Another writer who divides the body of Christ into two distinct groups is J.D. Faust. Faust is the most extreme when it comes to the amount of punishment that will be experienced by believers who do not overcome. Faust actually teaches that saved people who do not measure up and who are not overcomers will actually be hurt of the second death (the lake of fire) for a brief period of time, and then will be punished in the fires of Hades in the underworld for a thousand years (see The Rod--Will God Spare It? by J.D.Faust , Schoettle Publishing Co., 2002). He follows the teachings of men like Govett, G.H.Lang and D.M.Panton (partial rapturists). Hodges, Wilkin and Dillow are horrified by Faust's extreme ideas regarding millennial punishment, but they share a common theology with him. They differ mainly in what kind of consequences the wicked saved people (non-overcomers) will suffer. They also differ in the length of time that the non-overcoming believers will experience weeping and gnashing of teeth. Faust has them suffering in the fires of Hades throughout the thousand years. Hodges and Wilkin say that the grief and remorse (the weeping and gnashing of teeth) will be short-lived and will take place at the judgment seat of Christ but will not extend into the kingdom. Dillow teaches that the weeping and gnashing of teeth will take place "in the kingdom" (p. 351, The Reign of the Servant Kings). See our study entitled, Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth--Will This Be the Fate of True Christians?
What all of these men share in common is the way they divide all saved people into two distinct groups, with two vastly different millennial destinies. The following chart illustrates these two distinct groups:
|The Minority Group||The Majority Group|
|The overcomers||The ones who do not overcome|
|Those who inherit the kingdom||Those who are excluded from the kingdom (Faust) or from its blessings (Hodges, Dillow, Wilkin)|
|Those who reign with Christ||Those who do not reign with Christ but who must experience weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Faust would go so far as to say they are temporarily hurt of the second death and then are punished in the fires of Hades for 1000 years.)|
|Those who confess Christ||Those who deny Christ|
|Faithful believers||Believers who depart from the faith and who stop believing in Christ|
|Righteous believers||Unrighteous believers (covetous believers, homosexual believers, drunk believers, adulterous believers, fornicating believers, etc.)|
|Persevering believers||Believers who abandon their faith in Christ|
|Believers who have a living faith (faith accompanied by works)||Believers who have a dead faith (faith but no works)|
|Believers represented by the good ground (Matthew 13--the parable of the sower)||Believers who are represented by the rocky ground and the thorny ground (Matthew 13)|
|Believers who are faithful and wise (Matthew 24:45).||Evil believers who are unfaithful and unwise and who will be cut asunder and appointed a portion with the hypocrites (Matt. 24:51)|
Please note: Not every description given in the right hand column necessarily applies to each and every believer who fails to inherit the kingdom, according to the teaching of Hodges and Dillow. For example, a person may not abandon his faith in Christ, but he may be guilty of serious immorality. He may not stop believing, but he may be totally caught up in the things of the world. He may not deny Christ, but he may be a practicing homosexual. Etc. Another person may live a very moral life in every way, but be guilty of denying Christ and abandoning the faith. According to their theology, there are various ways that a saved person can disqualify himself from being an overcomer.
Having totally divided the body of Christ in this way, they then assign totally different destinies to these two groups, with the majority group suffering punishment or exclusion during the thousand year kingdom. They claim that the "non-overcomers" will not reign with Christ and will be cast into outer darkness. Let us now examine this theory under the searchlight of God's Word.
The Overcomer of Revelation Chapters 2 and 3
"To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God .He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death .To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it .And he that overcometh, and keepeth My works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: And he shall rule them with a rod of iron .He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before My Father, and before His angels .Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from My God: and I will write upon him My new name .To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me in My throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with My Father in His throne" (Revelation 2:7,11,17,26-27; 3:5,12,21).
The Teaching of Zane Hodges and Joseph Dillow
The fruitful believer
The partaker or heir
The believing believer
The barren believer
The carnal one (non-heir)
The saved person who stops believing
This is the faithful and fruitful believer and it is to him and to him alone that the "overcomer" promises apply. This is the saved person who conquers and who is victorious! He will not taste of the second death!
This is the saved person who is not an overcomer. The sevenfold promises given to the overcomer in Revelation 2-3 do not apply to this fleshly believer. This is the defeated Christian who, though saved, will pay dearly at the judgment seat of Christ.
Who is the Overcomer?
Hodges and Dillow and the other men mentioned above teach that a large number of saved people will not qualify as overcomers. They also teach that being an overcomer is something that must be earned and achieved by faithful living.
We all recognize that a true believer can fall into sin, can exhibit carnality, can walk in the flesh, can backslide, can bring shame to the cause of Christ, etc. Certainly such a walk would not be described as victorious (the term "overcomer" comes from the Greek term "victory." It is the Greek word "Nike"--compare the famous sneaker/sportswear company). True believers can and do experience defeat at certain times in their Christian walk, and everyone of us has experienced such times and has learned from them. The Apostle Peter would certainly not be described as victorious when he denied the Lord three times, but his lapse of faith was not permanent and later he boldly confessed Christ before thousands on the day of Pentecost. If you were to take a snapshot of Peter denying his Lord, you might conclude that Peter was a defeated Christian. If you were to take a video of Peter's entire Christian life, you would conclude that Peter was an overcomer! His denial of Christ was an aberration, not the norm.
How does the New Testament define and identify the overcomer?
Who is the overcomer? This is answered in 1 John 5:4,5 "For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?" According to these verses every born again believer is an overcomer. Why is this true? It is because the Lord Jesus is THE OVERCOMER and we are trusting and resting in His perfect victory (compare John 16:33). How can a person be joined to Jesus Christ and be in perfect union with Him, and not be a victor? Please note that this is the only place in the New Testament where the question, "Who is he that overcometh?" is asked and answered. Also note that the answer was given by the Apostle John, the same man who was the human penman for Revelation chapters 2-3.
Hodges goes so far as to say that it is "totally illicit" (illegal!) to appeal to 1 John 5:4-5 in order to understand who the "overcomer" really is (Grace in Eclipse, p.108). Is it illegal to let Gods Word explain its own terms? Is it illegal to compare Scripture with Scripture? Is it illegal to allow the Apostle John to define the word "overcomer"? Hodges is concerned because the Apostle John's definition of an "overcomer" in 1 John 5:4-5 is not in agreement with his own definition of an overcomer. For my part, I choose to agree with the Apostle John.
1 John 4:4 also teaches that every believer is an overcomer. "Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world." This victory is something that every child of God partakes in. It is not based upon what the believer was earned or achieved, but it is based on WHO indwells the believer!
Revelation 21:7 refers to every saved person: "He that overcometh shall inherit all things." This passage distinguishes between only two broad classes, the saved (see verses 3-5) and the unsaved (verse 8). The contrast is not between believers who overcome and believers who do not overcome. The contrast is between believers who overcome (verse 7) and the unsaved who are in the lake of fire (verse 8). No mention is made of a supposed third group made up of saved people who are defeated failures (non-overcomers). There are only two groups, and there is a heaven and hell difference between the two. William Newell, commenting on this passage: "Be it noted, the only two classes seen in this final eternal order are those who overcome, and those cast into the lake of fire. The 'overcomers,' thus, are shown to be all God's true children" (Revelation, p. 339). It is unthinkable that Chapter 21 of the book of Revelation would use the term "overcomer" differently than the way the term is used in Revelation chapters 2 and 3. If "he that overcometh" in Revelation 21:7 refers to all of the saved, then we should expect it to mean the same thing in chapters 2 and 3.
Consider one of the promises given to the overcomer as found in Revelation 2:11 "He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death." This implies that the non-overcomer will be hurt of the second death. If the non-overcomer is a saved person (carnal, etc.), then does this mean that the carnal believer will be hurt of the second death which is the lake of fire (compare Rev. 20:14-15; 21:8)? It is obvious that every saved person, regardless of his degree or level of faithfulness in this life, can claim the promise that he will not be hurt of the second death.
Romans 8:37 is an excellent "overcomer" verse because it teaches that every believer is "more than an overcomer," indeed he is a "super-overcomer" (literal rendering of Greek). The "we" of verse 37 refers to every true believer (those who have been predestinated, called, justified, glorified--v.29-30). "We are (v.37)"--right now this is true! "In all these things"-in the midst of all the difficulties we triumph! "More than conquerors" = hyper-conquerors, super-conquerors, super-victors, super-overcomers. It refers to one who gains a surpassing or an overwhelming victory, the one who wins a most glorious victory. It is the Greek word hupernikao (from "huper"--compare the English words "hyper" and "super" and the verb "nikao"--to overcome, to have the victory (same word used for overcomers in Revelation 2-3). We are not just overcomers, we are more than overcomers! We are not just victors, we are more than victors! How could anyone say, in light of this, that some believers are not overcomers? No believer is less than an overcomer, all believers are "more than overcomers"! Ours is an overwhelming victory! Why are we super-overcomers? It is "through Him who loved us" and it has nothing to do with how well we have lived our Christian life. It is not something we earn, but it is something that every believer already has because of Jesus Christ.
Another place in the New Testament where the term "victory" is used is 1 Corinthians 15:57--"But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." It is obvious from this passage that all believers have been given the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ, not just a few exceptional believers who earned the victory by their good works and steadfastness. It was Christ who earned the victory, not us. We just share in the great victory that He accomplished. As the hymn says, we have "VICTORY THROUGH GRACE," not through our own personal merit or achievement.
John 16:33 is an encouragement to the heart of every true believer. In the world we have tribulation (trouble, distress, affliction, pressure), but in Christ we have peace and victory. "I have overcome the world" and we stand victorious in His victory. We are "IN HIM" and we share in his victory. We overcome because He overcame! Standing on the finished work of Jesus Christ, how can we be defeated? How can we be losers? The victory is HIS, and are we not united to Him?
There is not one passage in the New Testament where the term "overcomer" or "victor" is used (or any of its related terms) that even gives the slightest hint that there are some believers who fail to measure up to the status of "overcomers." No, the passages are unanimous in teaching that because of Jesus Christ, we ARE overcomers! It is not something we earn or achieve by our faithfulness; it is something that Christ accomplished for us and is ours because of our union with Him.
Revelation Chapters 2-3
"To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God" (Rev. 2:7).
The only other mention of the "tree of life" in the book of Revelation is found in chapter 22. See verses 2, 14, 19 (in verse 19 the Greek text says, "tree of life" not "book of life"). These verses indicate that those who dwell in the eternal city (all believers) have the right to partake of the tree of life in contrast to the wicked unbelievers who will not partake (Rev. 22:15, 18-19). Will there be multitudes of saved people ("non-overcomers") who will not eat of the tree of life? Such is unthinkable!
"He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death" (Rev. 2:11).
Consider the following: 1) Revelation 2:11 implies that non-overcomers will be hurt of the second death; 2) The second death is equivalent to the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14; 21:8); 3) The only ones who will be cast into the lake of fire are those whose names are not found written in the book of life (Rev. 20:15); 4) All of the saved have their names written in the book of life (compare Luke 10:20); 5) The lake of fire is for wicked unbelievers (Rev. 21:8); 6) Since Revelation 2:11 implies that non-overcomers will be hurt by the second death and since the Bible teaches that believers will not be hurt by the second death (lake of fire), then we are forced to conclude that the non-overcomers must be wicked unbelievers, not a special class of believers who have somehow failed to measure up.
The view which says that the overcomers are a special elite class of victorious Christians does not fit with Revelation 2:11. Even the most carnal believer will not be hurt of the second death. God Word is clear on this (John 5:24; John 11:25-26; Romans 8:1; etc.). The second death is the destiny only of those who are unbelieving (Rev. 21:8), for those whose names are not found written in the book of life (Rev. 20:15). If the Hodges/Dillow/Wilkin/Missler view is correct, then Revelation 2:11 makes no sense. Why would the overcoming Christian be promised something that is enjoyed by even the most fleshly believer? What kind of reward is that? What if a college professor makes this promise: "If you get a 90 or above on my final exam, not one of you will be sent to prison." This promise is totally meaningless if the majority of students who do poorly on the exam are likewise exempt from prison. If the non-overcomer never need fear the second death, then what incentive is there for the believer to achieve a victorious life? After all is said and done, both groups of believers end up unhurt by the lake of fire. It makes no sense. However, if we correctly understand the "overcomer" to be the one who "believeth that Jesus is the Son of God" (1 John 5:5), then Revelation 2:11 makes good sense. It implies that the non-overcomer (the unbeliever) will be hurt by the second death, and this is certainly what will happen to every unbeliever. Every believer can rejoice that in Christ, our great Overcomer (John 16:33), we have complete salvation, including full exemption from the second death, which is the lake of fire. Actually to say all believers are overcomers is an understatement. All believers, according to Romans 8:37, are "super overcomers" ("more than conquerors").
"He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before My Father, and before His angels" (Rev. 3:5).
This is a wonderful promise of eternal security. Those who belong to Christ will never have their names blotted out of the book of life. Their names permanently etched in that book. They cannot be lost. This promise holds true for the Apostle John, for the Apostle Paul and even for the most carnal church-age believer who has ever lived! If God were to blot out his name from that book, then this would mean that he must be cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15). Perish the thought!
The last part of Revelation 3:5 reminds us of two statements made by our Lord: "Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 10:32-33). "Also I say unto you, Whosoever shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God: But he that denieth me before men shall be denied before the angels of God" (Luke 12:8-9).
The person who confesses the Lord before men says this: "I want you to know that Jesus Christ is my Saviour. I belong to Him." Jesus Christ will confess this person before His Father and before the angels: "I want you to know that this believer is Mine. He belongs to Me!"
When Christ denies a person before the Father and before the angels, what does this mean? The person who denies the Lord before men says this: "I do not know Jesus Christ. He is not my Saviour." Jesus Christ will deny this person before His Father and before the angels: "I do not have a saving relationship with this person. He does not belong to me." Compare the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:23--"And then I will profess unto them, I never knew you; depart from Me, ye that work iniquity." The ones denied by Christ are unsaved. For Hodges and Wilkin and Dillow to claim that the ones denied by Christ are saved people is quite a stretch!
* * * * * * *
The following excellent material was written by James Ventilato, demonstrating from the Scriptures that all believers are overcomers:
All Christians (i.e., genuine Church-Age believers), are “overcomers” – by the sovereign grace of God, the floodgates of which were opened by the infinitely precious blood of the God-Man shed once-for-all on the Cross. “Overcomers” are not merely some elite group of persevering saints who deserve or earn such a status by their own good works.
Scripture leaves us with no doubt as to this.
First, let us consider the eternal security-promises made to “overcomers” in Rev. 2:11 & 3:5.
“He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the assemblies. He that overcomes shall in no wise be injured of the second death [the Lake of Fire, Rev. 20:14,15].” (Rev. 2:11)
“He that overcomes, he shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot his name out of the book of life [cf. Rev. 20:14,15], and will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.” (Rev. 3:5)
It is quite obvious that these promises of eternal security to “overcomers”(and eternal security is exactly what is promised, according to plain, normal interpretation) cannot possibly refer merely to some exclusive group of “perseverers” amongst the heavenly saints – as all believers have eternal salvation, and thus eternal security, in Christ Jesus. But if “overcomers” are in fact a spiritually elite group of saints in contradistinction to all other “non-overcoming” saints, then it would necessarily follow that not all saints have eternal security, but only these special “overcomers.” But this cannot be, if the Word of Truth be the Word of Truth! Thus, these promises must be for all believers in Christ and, therefore, all believers are “overcomers.” And since all believers are overcomers, then it would inescapably follow that all promises to overcomers apply equally to all believers (and are thus part of our so great future-tense salvation) – including the blessed promises that we shall all co-reign with Christ! Pure and sovereign grace!!
And this is in perfect keeping with the rest of NT revelation of Church-truth (a portion of which has been, and will be, set forth and commented on), which shows that all saints in Christ will reign with Him – as His beloved, heavenly Consort-Queen. Thus we have further evidence that the Hodges/Dillow view of the “overcomer” is completely erroneous and in direct variance with the rightly-divided Word of truth.
But there’s more! Thanks be to our God and Father through our Lord Jesus Christ for His all-sufficient Word. The Apostle John himself, the same (human) author of the Revelation gives, by divine inspiration of the same (divine) Spirit-Author of all Scripture, an explicit definition of who qualifies as an “overcomer,” which confirms all that has just been said:
“For all that has been begotten of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory which has overcome the world, our faith. Who is he that overcomes the world, but he that believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:4,5)
There can be no doubt as to who qualifies as an “overcomer” – every single believer in Christ!; all of whom comprise His one beloved Bride that will co-reign with Him in the day of His manifested power and glory.
“The church is the queen, sitting with the King on His throne and ruling over all the nations of mankind (Rev. 2:26-27; 3:21; 20:6)…. As a company of people the bride is called ‘the church of the firstborn’ (Heb. 12:23), that is, those who are higher in position than any others.” – Herman A. Hoyt (The End Times, p. 232)
“Ye are of God, children, and have overcome them, because [of being specially faithful and producing good works unto the end? no, but because] greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.” (1 John 4:4)
“But in all these things we more than conquer through Him that has loved us [not through our personal worthiness or good works!].” (Rom. 8:37)
“These things have I spoken to you that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye have tribulation; but be of good courage: I have overcome the world [and thus do all that are in Him].” (John 16:33)
“There are those who overcome, and there are those who are overcome. These latter are lost (II Peter 2:20). They give up Christ’s words (1 Corinthians 15:2, Colossians 1:23, Mark 8:38). We note two classes – and only two – in Revelation 21:7, 8.” – William R. Newell (Revelation: A Complete Commentary, p. 42)
“And, be it noted, the only two classes seen in this final eternal order are those who overcome, and those cast into the lake of fire. The ‘overcomers,’ thus, are shown to be all God’s true children. For all had the divine gift of faith, all were begotten of God. So we read in I John 5:4: ‘Whatsoever is begotten of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that hath overcome the world, even our faith.’ “ – William R. Newell (Revelation: A Complete Commentary, p. 339)
“He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death. There is a double negative in the Greek – ‘not at all be injured.’ The saints may have to bow their heads to those who execute the first death – who ‘kill the body’; but over these, we read, ‘the second death hath no authority’ (Revelation 20:6). No real believer is coming into judgment. See John 5:24, R.V. Believers’ works will be examined, but not as sin: that is gone forever, borne on the cross! Hebrews 9:28: ‘so Christ...shall appear...apart from sin.’” – William R. Newell (Revelation: A Complete Commentary, p. 47)
“He that overcometh, I will give to him to sit down with me in my throne, as I also overcame, and sat down with my Father in his throne. Christ’s throne is the throne of His father David at Jerusalem (II Samuel 7:12, 13, 16; I Chronicles 29:3; Jeremiah 3:17; Luke 1:32; Acts 15:14-18). But our Lord’s royal inheritance by the Davidic covenant extends to His heavenly Bride, the Church, as Eve shared the dominion that God gave the first Adam…. Here, in [Rev.] 3:21, at the close of the unfaithful corporate testimony of the Church, we are again overwhelmed at this infinite grace of Christ…. Let not the most wretched, defeated believer despair – if only there be the least yearning for Christ. The most tender plea of all the seven is made to a lukewarm assembly. And the most distinct promise of actually sitting down with Christ upon His throne is given at the very close of the Church’s testimony. Note that our Lord speaks as one who Himself overcame, and is therefore now sitting upon His Father’s throne.* [Author’s Footnote: *Our Lord is not now on His own throne, the throne of David. He is at the Father’s right hand, on the Father’s throne….] As a Victor He calls to you and to me. It is only in sharing by faith His victory that any saint ever overcame! As Christ warned in the upper room, ‘In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world’ (John 16:33). He also triumphed over Satan and all his hosts at Calvary, and gives us the benefit (Colossians 2:14, 15; Hebrews 2:14, 15). ‘And this is the victory that overcometh – even our faith’ (I John 5:4).” – William R. Newell (Revelation: A Complete Commentary, p. 81,82)
“The overcomer here [Rev. 21:7], as in chapters 2 and 3, is the believer, the one who has drunk of the water of life [21:6]. For him there is sonship with God forever.” – Charles L. Feinberg (A Commentary on Revelation: The Grand Finale, p. 155,156)
Before moving on, allow me to cite some comments by Hodges on the promises made to the “overcomers” of Revelation chapters 2 & 3, and Rev. 2:11 & 3:5 in particular – to serve as an example of the strained and tortuous lengths to which one goes, and what happens when one goes AWOL from the plain, normal, literal interpretation of Scripture in an effort to force his distorted system of theology on Scripture:
“Two of them [i.e., two of the promises to the ‘overcomers,’ referring specifically to those of Rev. 2:11 & 3:5 – the very two promises that completely undercuts and refutes his position!] at least seem to employ a well-known figure of speech called litotes. In litotes an affirmative idea is expressed through the negation of its opposite. Vagueness is often the intended result of this kind of speech [which thus conveniently leaves plenty of room for your own ideas]. Thus I may say, ‘If you do me this favor, I will not forget you.’ ‘I will not forget you’ is a litotes for something like, ‘I will repay you well.’ The two promises to ‘overcomers’ which can most readily be interpreted as involving a litotes are these [i.e., Rev. 2:11 & 3:5, of course]…. there is absolutely nothing in these letters to suggest that all Christians are ‘overcomers’ [your conclusion wouldn’t have anything to do with your injection of the litotes, would it?]…. The promises of Revelation 2:11 and 3:5 are best understood as litotes [i.e., your theology demands a departure from the plain, normal, literal interpretation of the text]. John and all his intelligent Christian readers knew that a believer would never experience the second death. But the promise of 2:11 claims that this death will not even do him any damage. The Greek verb rendered ‘hurt’ might easily be translated ‘injured’ [so?]. The Smyrnan Christians who are ‘faithful until death’ (2:10) will not even be injured by it. By litotes [i.e., by spiritual alchemy] this intimates a superlative triumph over the second death. But since the second death is actual banishment from the presence and life of God (Rev. 20:14, 15), the litotes [alakazam!] also intimates a splendid experience of the divine life and presence [what you really mean is joint-heirship and co-reigning with Christ; but I guess even your litotes cannot embolden you enough to be so blatant in transmuting the words of our Lord]. The litotes in 3:5 is equally easy [!] to understand. Again John and his readers know that no Christian can have his name blotted out of the Book of Life. They also know that there is great honor in having one’s name inscribed there (see Luke 10:20). The litotes here is something like saying, ‘Your honored name will never be erased.’ But this suggests, ‘Your name will be glorious forever,’ [but not so for the names of the poor ‘unpersevering’ and unworthy saints] or something similar. The fact that honor is the basic issue in this particular promise is clearly [?] shown by the other [distinct!] elements of the promise. Special white garments (a mark of dignity in ancient thought) are to be granted the ‘overcomer’ [i.e., the deserving one] and his enduringly honored name is to be openly acknowledged before God and the holy angels.” – Zane C. Hodges (The Gospel Under Siege: A Study on Faith and Works, p. 118,119)
Does this sad display of hermeneutical gymnastics fare any better than the spiritualizing method of interpretation employed by anti-Dispensational/Covenant theologians? How much sweeter and honoring to the Lord to allow His Word to interpret itself (even where genuine symbols or figures of speech are evident) and to accept it at face value!
J.D. Faust, in his book The Rod--Will God Spare It?, bases his theology of second death punishment for believers primarily on Revelation 2:11, the passage that implies that non-overcomers will be hurt of the second death. He agrees with Hodges, Dillow and Wilkin that only faithful, victorious Christians are overcomers. Since the overcomers are told they will not be hurt of the second death, Faust concludes that the non-overcomers (the defeated Christians or the apostate Christians) will indeed be hurt of the second death. His theory says that at the judgment seat of Christ a great multitude of believers will be hurt of the second death (temporarily experience hell!) and then will be tortured in the fires of Hades for a thousand years. Hodges, Dillow and Wilkin strongly repudiate such teaching, and yet, isn't Faust being consistent with what he believes? Faust interprets Revelation 2:11 in a simple and straightforward way (based on his erroneous presuppositions). Hodges, Dillow and Wilkin are forced into doing exegetical gymnastics with Revelation 2:11 ("litotes," etc.) in order to avoid having a whole host of saved people taste of the second death! All four of them are wrong, but Faust is the more consistent of the four, even though his conclusions are the more heretical! But Faust squarely faces the clear implication of the text: the person who does not overcome will be hurt of the second death. His error is that he says that this person is a believer.
For further study:
See the very helpful article by James E. Rosscup entitled, "The Overcomer of the Apocalypse" found in the Grace Theological Journal 3.2 (1982) pages 261-286. If you would like a copy of this article, send $2.00.
See "The Overcomers" by Lehman Strauss, a chapter from The Book of the
Revelation: Outlined Studies.
The Middletown Bible Church
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