“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Jesus overcame the world. He triumphed over the grave and death. He suffered and persevered. He stood fast throughout all persecution and He encourages us as believers to do the same. I thought it would be helpful to review what Jesus has to say about overcoming or not, and the consequences and/or rewards.
In the Old Testament there is considerable description of overcoming the enemy physically. The David and Goliath epic includes, “If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us” (1 Samuel 17:9). And David did overcome the giant and conquer the enemy.
The psalms have frequent reference to being overcome and perhaps the most powerful is Psalm 116:3, words that Jesus sang with His disciples in the upper room before His crucifixion, “The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came over me; I was overcome by distress and sorrow.” Yes, He was overcome by the cords of death; even all of humankind’s sin. Yet in Jeremiah 1:19 we read of victory, “They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.”
Moving to the New Testament we find Jesus telling Peter of the church and His overcoming power. “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18). What or who is the overcomer- Jesus! We struggle as the church and individuals to deal with the world and strengthen our faith. Some may exclaim,“Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). Sometimes, or perhaps always, there are difficult challenges to overcome. We need help to persevere. So where is the answer? “I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you” (Luke 10:19). Christ has given us overcoming power over our troubles, the world and our enemies.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (1 John 1:5). Jesus Christ has overcome evil for us so as Psalm 27:1 tells us, “The Lord is our light and our salvation whom shall we fear? The Lord is the stronghold of our lives of whom shall we be afraid?” We should fear no one, but I think we do. At least I’ll say that I fear at times, much less than I used to. Why? Because I am learning through hardship that God is faithful in all circumstances. We will overcome! The final book of the Bible, Revelation, gives the churches encouragement in times of trouble to persevere and overcome. There were seven churches addressed in Revelation. Many think they represent churches through the ages, including now. To Ephesus He says, “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God (heaven)” (Revelation 2:7). They had forsaken their first love, God, yet Jesus will save them if they overcome.
To the church in Smyrna, which was suffering persecution and poverty, “He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death” (v.2:11). If they hold to their faith they will be saved. The church of Pergamum allowed Baal worshippers and sacrifice among them. He said repent, “To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it” (V. 2:17). The church at Thyatira served with perseverance, but they tolerated Jezebel, the morally worst of all queens. But, “To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations…I will also give him the morning star (Himself)” (v. 2:27). Sardis had a reputation of being alive, but Christ called them dead. However to the overcomer, “He will walk with me in white” (v. 3:4).
Finally, the only good church, in Philadelphia. They kept God’s commands and endured patiently, “I will keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world…Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will He leave it” (vv. 3:10-12). And then the last church of Laodicea, “you are luke-warm, neither hot nor coId-I am about to spit you out of my mouth…To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on His throne” (vv. 3:16,21).
All of these letters to the churches were warnings on the consequences for ungodly behavior. Each had a reprieve if they were to persevere and overcome. Repentance and change were required and are still required. The church of Laodicea is thought by many commentators to be the Christian church of today. We are luke warm and worldly, having in many cases forsaken God’s biblical admonitions and made our own idols to suit cultural desires. The result, God is saying, is spiritual and possibly physical death. In other words, we have a place in hell for eternity, unless we turn from our wicked ways. Jesus tells us at the end of the Bible, “He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God, and he will be my son” (Revelation 21:7). Persecution is increasing for Christians, are we going to stand firm? Jesus is coming soon so be ready.