Who is included in the promise to overcomers?
As we have already discovered, the concept of nikao (νικάω), the overcoming one, is common for John. At the heart of interpretation is deciphering who John means by this term. Let’s consider our options: Either John means a special class of believers or he means every believer.
If John has in mind a special class of believers – a subcategory of victorious Christians – then those who are saved in Ephesus are divided into two groups. Each group is made up of regenerate people, but only a portion of those who are regenerate qualify to be called “overcomers.”
While some have advocated this approach, it creates a tension and a hermeneutical dilemma. In this first promise to the seven churches of Asia Minor, along with the other six to come, overcomers are given access to participate in eternal blessings that belong to all those in Christ. Compare John’s statement about the tree of life here along with Revelation 22.2, 14 and notice that eating this tree is synonymous with eternal life.
Robert Thomas, in his commentary on Revelation, observes a second weakness with this position:
A further weakness of this identification is its failure to note that nikaō in John’s writings is synonymous with saving faith in Christ (cf. 1 John 5:4–5). This is not a special group of Christians distinguished by their spirituality and power from other genuine Christians who lack these. This is a general designation for what is expected of all true Christians.
It’s true that this promise is directed specifically for Ephesus. Yet, the first part of Revelation 2.7 also specifically states that this is what the Spirit says to the churches. This promise belongs to all believers, in all locations, and for all time.
Here’s the truth, placed on the bottom shelf for all: when you trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior, you were given eternal life. You cannot lose eternal life (or it isn’t really eternal). In Revelation 2.7, as well as the rest of the overcoming promises, the reward for overcomers is “eternal life.” Because you have eternal life, you are viewed as an overcomer in the Bible!
What type of reward or promise is permission to eat from a tree in the middle of paradise? This is the first promise to overcomers in Revelation. Being in the primary position, John is indicating that this reward is very significant. But what does it mean?
The typical word used for tree is generally dendron (δενδρον). What is interesting here is that John uses the word xulon (χυλον), a word that is often used as a reference to the cross.
It’s hard to be dogmatic on whether John meant the connection. Yet with hindsight being 20/20, believers today can rest assured that the “tree of death” (the cross on Calvary’s hill) became a “tree of life” for all who accept the One who suffered there.
Foregoing any veiled reference to THE tree (referring to the Cross), it’s still interesting to see the historical-cultural context in which this promise was given and how it would have been understood through the paradigm of first-century believers.
Of course, the first promise is directly tied to Ephesus. A large garden existed there as part of the cultic worship of Diana / Artemis. Bible readers may remember Paul being shouted down with the sound of “Great is Diana of the Ephesians.”
This large garden, called the Artemesion, had a tree in the middle of the garden. Consider Paige Patterson’s research into this ancient temple:
For the Christian in Domitianic Ephesus these thoughts would, I suggest, have come to a focus in a contemporary reality. The words of the epistle contrasted with a shocking parody which the pagan cult of the city offered. At the heart of its changing fortunes was the theocratic power of the Artemis temple, marked by the fixed point of the ancient tree-shrine which was the place of “salvation” for the suppliant, surrounded by an asylum enclosed by a boundary wall. But this “salvation” for the criminal corrupted the city. The Ephesian who had to live with this problem understood the promise of a city-sanctuary pervaded by the glory of God. Of that city it was said: “There shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie” (Rev. 21:27).
Within the holy place dedicated to worshiping this deity, there was a “tree-shrine.” Some evidence exists that it may have even been called the “tree of life.” Juxtaposed against that, John writes of another city-sanctuary and another “tree of life.” What this tree of life offered is eternal life – that’s the promise for all believers!
In 2020, death hit close to home for so many people. Pastors were called home. Godly wives of pastors entered heaven. Loved ones from many families entered eternity. In light of all that death, how rich is God’s promise that we will never die again? He promises us abundant, eternal life with Him forever. He offers us a seat at His banqueting table. That’s a promise that should put a smile on every face.
Just joining us on the journey? Follow the links below to see the previous posts. (To minimize the number of links, I’ve only added the first part of each section.)