Gifts, crowns, and overcomers

Posted: Mon. Feb, 6 2017

Three more pieces of evidence

We have assembled a growing body of evidence that has come from comparing Paul’s letters to Revelation 2 and 3. That evidence strongly suggests that the seven assemblies in Revelation 2 and 3 are not the same kind of assemblies as are the churches to whom Paul wrote.

This week, we wrap up this phase of our investigation by looking at  three  additional subjects.  Is there harmony between how these subjects are presented in Paul’s letters and how they are presented in Revelation 2 & 3?

Here are the three  subjects:

  1. Spiritual gifts
  2. Crowns
  3. He who overcomes

 

Spiritual gifts

Spiritual gifts play a prominent role in the life of the body of Christ.  According to 1 Corinthians 12, spiritual gifts are given to each member of the body of Christ for the common good.

We find these gifts mentioned in Paul’s letter to the saints in Rome, and his letter to the saints at Ephesus, and his first letter to the church of God at Corinth.

Nine permanent spiritual gifts are mentioned in Paul’s epistles.  Four of them are speaking gifts, and five are serving gifts.

Speaking:

pastor-teacher
evangelist
teaching
exhortation

Serving: 

helps
service
administration
mercy
giving

But is there any evidence that these gifts are functioning in the assemblies of Revelation 2 and 3?

There is no mention of any pastor-teachers or evangelists.  No mention of building up the body of Christ.

No mention of the common good.

The teaching mentioned is false teaching.

There is exhortation, but it comes directly from the Lord, not from gifted believers.

Furthermore, there is no record of the gifts of helps, administration, mercy, or giving, in Revelation 2 and 3.

The members of the assembly are not instructed to give financially to the poor or to the ones who are teaching them.

There is mention of service in REV 2:19.

However, there is no indication that this service is for the common good of the body, or to build up and edify the church.

There is no evidence that the spiritual gifts of Paul's letters are in operation with the assemblies of Rev 2-3.

 

Crowns

Crowns are mentioned in Revelation 2 & 3, and they are also mentioned in Paul’s letters.

But that is pretty much where the similarities end.

First of all, the crowns in Revelation are different from the crowns in Paul’s letters.

There is one crown mentioned by name in Revelation 2-3, and it is the crown of life (REV 2:10)

Paul mentions crowns in three passages.  He mentions two crowns by name: the crown of exultation (1TH 2:19) and the crown of righteousness (2TI 4:8).

Second, in two of the three instances,  Paul says that his crown is actually the saints themselves, the believers  to whom Paul is writing!

PHI 4:1
1 Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved.

So the best name for this crown would be the crown of the saints at Phillipi!

1TH 2:19-20
19 For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? 20 For you are our glory and joy.

Here Paul says that when the Lord Jesus comes in the Rapture, Paul’s crown will be the church of the Thessalonians.

We find nothing like this in Revelation 2 and 3.

Third, the criteria for being awarded a crown in Revelation 2 and 3  are different from what we find in Paul’s letters.

2TI 4:7-8
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; 8 in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.

Note carefully that the criteria for Paul to receive his crown is fighting the good fight, finishing the course, and keeping the faith.  He was an apostle.

But for the rest of the church, there is a different criterion.  The crown of righteousness will also be given to all who have loved the Lord’s appearing.

Let me ask you something:  isn’t it normal for a born again believer in Christ to be loving the Lord’s appearing?

This could be referring to His first appearing or His second appearing.

But that really doesn’t change the question.

When our Lord appeared the first time, He died for our sins.  He took our place.  He loved us and gave Himself up for us!

When our Lord appears the next time, in the Rapture, it will be to rescue us from this evil world and bring us to glory.

What’s not to love about the Lord’s appearing, if you are a redeemed, justified, glorified believer in Christ?

But the important point here is that this criterion is very different from the criterion in Revelation 2:10.

REV 2:10
10 'Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. 

Being faithful until death is not the same thing as loving the Lord’s appearing.

Fourth, the crowns of Rev 2-3 can be taken away. The crowns in Paul’s letters cannot.

REV 3:11
11 ' I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, so that no one will take your crown. 

However, Paul  never mentions that believers can have their crown taken away if they do not hold fast what they have.

In all three passages in Paul’s letters that mention crowns, he is absolutely certain that these crowns will be awarded to him, and just as certain that the crown of righteousness will be awarded to all who have loved the Lord’s appearing.

 

He who overcomes

Each of the seven letters to the assemblies of Revelation 2 and 3 ends with a promised reward to the overcomer.

In other words, the rewards are conditional.  Those who overcome get them, and those who do not overcome do not get them.

We saw last week that the conditional reward to the assembly at Ephesus was eating of the tree of life.

REV 2:7
To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.'

On the other hand, the saints that Paul wrote to in Ephesus were not hoping  to be able to eat from the Tree of Life if they overcame …

They already had eternal life! (EPH 1:13-14; EPH 2:4-10)

And the same is true for us. Eternal life has already been given to each church age believer. ACT 13:48, ROM 6:22-23.

With  Ephesus, the blessing that is conditioned on a person overcoming, in Rev 2 & 3,  is a blessing that we already have.

We will see this pattern again and again with the other blessings to the overcomer in Revelation 2 and 3.

For instance, the overcomer  in Smyrna will not be hurt by the second death.

REV 2:11
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death.'

The expression “second death” is only found in the book of Revelation.

It is defined in REV 20:14.

REV 20:14-15
14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

To not be hurt by the second death means to not be thrown into the lake of fire.

But ending up in the lake of fire is the fate of the unbeliever!

There is something very significant here.  An expression given in Revelation 2 - 3 without explanation gets explained in a later chapter of Revelation.  We will address this at length in an upcoming blog in this series.  It will be a major piece of the puzzle of identifying the assemblies of Rev 2-3.

Let’s look at several more rewards given to the overcomer in Revelation 2 and 3.

We move on to the assembly at Pergamum next:

REV 2:17
17 ' He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.'

The hidden manna is a reference that would be well understood by the Jews, but would not have been familiar to most Gentiles.  Manna is the bread that came down from heaven to feed the Israelites in the wilderness.

Now Paul never talks about manna in his letters to the Gentile churches.

However, manna does show up in the Gospel of John (and in the book of Hebrews).

In Hebrews we learn that the hidden manna in the golden jar was a feature of the first covenant. This is the covenant between Israel and the Lord which was established at Mount Sinai.

But now Christ has appeared as the mediator of the new covenant.  So the things of the first covenant were passing away. That’s Hebrews  chapters 9 and 10.

And Jesus told this to the Jews in His day:

JOH 6:47-51
47 "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life.  48 " I am the bread of life.  49 " Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.  50 "This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.  51 " I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh."

Our manna is the living bread that came out of heaven - our Lord Jesus Christ!

He who believes in Christ has eternal life.

Believers in Christ have already eaten of the real bread that comes down out of heaven.

The Thyatira assembly is told that he who overcomes will receive the Morning Star.

According to REV 22:16, the bright Morning Star is Jesus, the root and the descendent  of David.
We are already in the body of Christ, in Christ. And Christ is already in us.  We have already received Christ, the Morning Star.

COL 1:25-27
25  Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, 26 that is,  the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, 27 to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

The overcomer in Sardis will be clothed in white garments. This is a picture of being clothed in righteousness. But every church age believer has already been clothed in the righteousness of God. This is what it means to be justified.

GAL 3:27
27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

The rewards to the overcomer in Philadelphia will show up again later on in Revelation, and are always related to Israel.

We will therefore end here by considering the rewards offered to the overcomer in the assembly at Laodicea.

REV 3:21
  21 ' 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.

Notice that Jesus has His throne, and the Father has His throne.

Jesus has already sat down with His Father on the Father’s throne.

The Father’s throne is in heaven.  Right now Jesus is seated at the Right Hand of the Father.

Jesus will establish His throne in Jerusalem on earth when He reigns for a thousand years.

We are not hoping to sit with Christ on His earthly throne in Jerusalem…

We are seated with  Christ NOW in the heavenlies!  EPH 2:6

EPH 2:4-10
4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ ( by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is  the gift of God; 9  not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

This has been accomplished by the grace of God and His love for us, through faith, not of ourselves. Not as a result of works.

The assemblies in Revelation 2 and 3 must keep the Lord’s deeds to the end to receive the rewards given to the overcomer.

REV 2:26-27
26 ' He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, TO HIM I WILL GIVE AUTHORITY OVER THE NATIONS;  27 AND HE SHALL RULE THEM WITH A ROD OF IRON,AS THE VESSELS OF THE POTTER ARE BROKEN TO PIECES, as I also have received authority from My Father;

But there are no deeds we must keep to receive these blessing.

We already have them, by grace, through faith.  Because we already have Christ.

Church age believers in Christ are already overcomers.

John, the author of Revelation, says exactly that in 1 John:

1JO 5:4-5
4 For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world — our faith.
5 Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

And Paul says that we are overwhelming conquerors (ROM 8:37), and we have already obtained the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1CO 15:56-57)

 

The unanswered question

And with that, we have now finished our work of comparing Paul’s letters to the churches with the letters to the assemblies in Revelation 2 and 3.

What did we find?  We found that there is almost no common ground between the two sets of letters.

The premise that the Revelation assemblies are the same in nature  as the Pauline churches  cannot be supported by the evidence.

In fact, just about the only thing that they have in common is the common use of the Greek word ekklesia, and the English translation of that word as “church”.

But ekklesia simply means an assembly of some kind, a gathering of people.

What kind?  The context determines the answer to that question.

For example, the Greek word ekklesia appears in the record of Stephen’s speech to the Jews in Acts 7.

ACT 7:38
38 "This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness together with the angel who was speaking to him on Mount Sinai, and who was with our fathers; and he received living oracles to pass on to you.

This is not a reference to the body of Christ however. This is a reference to the assembly of the nation of Israel during their forty years in the desert.

Paul  imbues the ekklesia with profound meaning, particularly in his letters to the saints at Ephesus and Colossae.  Here the ekklesia is the body of Christ, and the fullness of Christ who fills all in all.

This is the one assembly or body of all church age believers, who are in Christ.

But the assemblies of Revelation 2 and 3 exhibit none of the features of Paul’s ekklesia.

So we are left with a nagging question:

Who are these  assemblies in Revelation 2 and 3?

We have now eliminated the first option.  These letters are not picking up where Paul left off in addressing the body of Christ.

Starting next week, we will now embark on our second rigorous study -  this time to uncover the true identity of these seven assemblies.

 

Until the next time, we’re all ….

In His grip,

Pastor John

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