"Christians hurt by the second death? I think not."February 17, 2009 ~ by the Generic Christian Mystic
I realize that there are variety of ideas out there as to just what happens to unfaithful, foolish, unprepared, carnal, lawless, and essentially non-overcoming believers and exactly where they will find themselves during the millennial reign of the Lord.
I have been told and read from many, many sources that they will suffer loss and experience deep regret, missing out on ruling and reigning with Christ. They will not have the joy and rewards as being part of the Bride of Christ. They will suffer shame and sorrow, being banished to a confining place of discipline and separation from the glorious presence of the Lord for 1,000 years (during the Millennium).
This is typically referred to as "outer darkness" (exooteron skotos) and by others as being the same place as Gehenna and/or even the "lake of fire"!
Wait a minute!
Yes, there are some that teach that "outer darkness" = Gehenna = "the lake of fire" but I am not so sure these teachers rightly divide the word. The idea of believers in ANY type of "lake of fire" seems clearly against the teaching of the word as I see it.
I am not going to name names here but I have discussed this real problem and issue with a bible teacher stating that non-overcomers will "be hurt of the second death" which is a non-literal but metaphorical "lake of fire". Hunh? When I discussed how confusing this is and requested clarification and/or a better explanation of how this "lake of fire" is not fiery -- no answer was offered. So what now? I did ask. I am still waiting . . .
This morning, I began word study of terms related to this issue and as I was saving scriptures and tieing them together, my PC burped, ate all traces of the document though it was saved repeatedly. I even used Directory Snoop to find its binary traces but it had vanished! So, I thought, okay Lord, I will take that as an indicator to cease that approach. So, I did a web search of the keywords "overcomer 'second death' " and found the very interesting info below which I share with you later.
So, it seems one of the proof-texts being offered by some teachers to say that non-overcoming Christians can be hurt of the "second death" or the "lake of fire" most likely is NOT saying that at all! Will these teachers I spoke with ever contact me again to further support their ideas? I sorta doubt it.
In the meanwhile, I am staying fast with accepting the enigma called "outer darkness" being just that, the "darkness of the outside" or perhaps we could call this place of non-overcomers' discipline -- "The Lord's Time-out Room" for his very, very naughty children. The Lord I know, won't torture, burn, scream at, or torment His own! Never!
As Jesus simply looked at Peter after Peter's denial, that crushed Peter into sorrowful repentance -- that is most likely what many non-overcoming Christians will experience. The very life-choices they made that shut them out of entering into His rest and not having portion in His glorious kingdom, the memories of their rebellion, and a decision for independent lawlessness will plague the non-overcomers and they will seek restitution and forgiveness like Esau wailing to the father over his lost birthright. I am imagining that "The Lord's Time-out Room" will oddly reflect and echo each believer's wasted life back at them for century after century until at last they will see the truth of overcoming via suffering and in humbled obedience be made right for the post-millennial eternity to come.
That being said, have a careful read through the teachings below, that swayed me, far away from any Christian ever needing to fear being hurt of the second death.
God bless your journey!
Studies in Revelation (chapter 2, verse 11)
J. Hampton Keathley, III , Th.M.
The Challenge and Assurance (verse 11)
The promise to the overcomer is that he shall not be hurt by the second death. The second death is eternal separation from God in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:1, 14). Believers may face physical death, but because they have had a second birth (John 3:3-7), no believer will ever face the second death (Eph. 2:1, 5; John 5:24; 11:25). Then, why this promise? Does this imply the possibility of the loss of eternal life? Regardless of what this passage means, it is an emphatic negation of the possibility. Some in Smyrna, as Polycarp, would die a martyr’s death, so the Lord is reminding them of this fact.
To overcome means here to remain faithful to the Lord even if it meant death. Here our Lord was simply reminding them that though some would die for Him, the second death could never touch them. The use of this negative promise, “will not be hurt …” is a literary device known as litotes. This is a rhetorical device used to affirm the positive by a negation. Hodges has a good explanation of litotes.
If someone says to me, “His request presented me with no small problem,” I know exactly what he means. The person who made the request of him had presented him a BIG problem!
In the phrase “no small problem” we have a very common figure of speech. Its technical name is “litotes” (pronounced, lie’-tuh-tease’). Litotes occurs when an affirmative idea is expressed by the negation of its opposite. In the sentence we started with, the affirmative idea is that the problem is very large. The phrase “no small problem” negates the opposite idea.41
Concerning the positive or affirmative emphasis behind the use of litotes, Hodges continues and writes:
What is the positive idea which it understates? Fortunately, the context helps us. In verse 10 we read: “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” The Smyrnan Christians are challenged to face possible martyrdom with courage and fidelity to God. Their reward for doing so will be a superlative experience of life in the world to come. So to speak, they will be “crowned” with the enjoyment of life “more abundant” (see John 10:10).
In this light, Revelation 2:11 can be seen as truly an understatement. The overcomer (that is, the faithful Christian) will be more than amply repaid for whatever sacrifice he may make for Christ’s sake. His experience will be truly wonderful—far, far beyond the reach—the touch—of the second death. That is to say, this conquering Christian is as far above the experience-level of eternal death as it is possible to be.
In a masterly understatement, the Lord Jesus says in effect: “The first death may ‘hurt’ you briefly, the second not at all!”42
But perhaps there is something else here. The word “hurt” is the Greek adikew, “to injure, to hurt or do harm” (cf. Rev. 6:6; 7:2-3; 9:4, 10, 19; 11:5). It may also be used in a broader sense of “do wrong” (cf. Rev. 22:11). So, is there a way in which a believer can be said to be hurt or harmed by the second death? Unbelievers who persecute believers and who seek to get them to recant or renounce their faith in Christ are in some ways the personification of the second death and are not only acting out of their spiritual death against the believer, but are themselves, headed for the second death. So, when a believer fails to overcome the trial and recants because of the pain of the persecution, would he not then be hurt or harmed by the second death because he would then have lost his reward (2:11)?
Many believe that Smyrna represents the martyr period of the church, the church in extreme persecution under the Roman emperors. One classic illustration of this is in the true story of one of the great church fathers named, Polycarp. According to Ignatius, not long after the book of Revelation was written, he became the pastor of Smyrna and died a martyr’s death for his faith. The following is from the Martyrdom of Polycarp, translated by J. B. Lightfoot.
9:3 But when the magistrate pressed him hard and said, ‘Swear the oath, and I will release thee; revile the Christ,’ Polycarp said, ‘Fourscore and six years have I been His servant, and He hath done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King who saved me?’
10:1 But on his persisting again and saying, ‘Swear by the genius of Caesar,’ he answered, ‘If thou supposest vainly that I will swear by the genius of Caesar, as thou sayest, and feignest that thou art ignorant who I am, hear thou plainly, I am a Christian. But if thou wouldest learn the doctrine of Christianity, assign a day and give me a hearing.’
10:2 The proconsul said; ‘Prevail upon the people.’ But Polycarp said; ‘As for thyself, I should have held thee worthy of discourse; for we have been taught to render, as is meet, to princes and authorities appointed by God such honor as does us no harm; but as for these, I do not hold them worthy, that I should defend myself before them.’
11:1 Whereupon the proconsul said; ‘I have wild beasts here and I will throw thee to them, except thou repent’ But he said, ‘Call for them: for the repentance from better to worse is a change not permitted to us; but it is a noble thing to change from untowardness to righteousness.’
11:2 Then he said to him again, ‘I will cause thee to be consumed by fire, if thou despisest the wild beasts, unless thou repent.’ But Polycarp said; ‘Thou threatenest that fire which burneth for a season and after a little while is quenched: for thou art ignorant of the fire of the future judgment and eternal punishment, which is reserved for the ungodly. But why delayest thou? Come, do what thou wilt.’43
The Faithfulness of Polycarp to the end seems to have characterized this church in Smyrna in its entire testimony and resulted in this church’s continuous faithful witness for God after many others of the early churches had long lost their …
… The purifying fires of affliction caused the lamp of testimony to burn all the more brilliantly. The length of their trial, described here as being ten days, whether interpreted literally or not, is short in comparison with the eternal blessings which would be theirs when their days of trial were over. They could be comforted by the fact that the sufferings of this present time do not continue forever, and the blessings that are ours in Christ through His salvation and precious promises will go on through eternity.44
41 Zane C. Hodges, Grace Evangelical News, electronic version.
42 Hodges, Grace Evangelical News, electronic version.
43 Martyrdom of Polycarp, translated by J. B. Lightfoot, electronic format.
44 John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, Moody Press, Chicago, 1966, pp. 64-65.
Studies in Revelation (chapter 3, verse 5)
J. Hampton Keathley, III , Th.M.
The Certainties Promised
They are next comforted and assured by calling their attention to certain verities or certainties that the Lord promises to every believer in Christ. The certainties come in three distinct parts: (a) arrayed in white garments, (b) name not to be blotted out, and (c) their name confessed before His Father. The White Garments (5a)
“Walking with Christ in white” is a reward for faithfulness. Note that the reason given in 3:4 is stated in the words, “for (the causal use of %oti, “because”) they are worthy.” The worthiness here is linked to the fact that these were believers “who have not defiled their garments.” This shows us that walking with Him in white is a reward for personal righteousness or deeds of righteousness. Note also how this fits with Revelation 19:8. Walking in white must refer to the white garment of fine linen mentioned in Revelation 19:8. There we are told the bride of Christ (the church) is “… to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean.” This is then declared to be the righteous acts of the saints, a reference to deeds or acts of righteousness produced in the life of the believer by the Holy Spirit because only these deeds will stand the test of the Judgment (Bema) Seat of Christ (1 Cor. 3:13). No person is ever worthy of salvation righteousness. Justification, or salvation righteousness, is a gift given through faith in the finished work of Christ. It is based on His worthiness and record, not ours (Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:4-7), but the white garment mentioned in 3:5 is related to the garment of 3:4 and is given as a reward for a worthy walk. While some writers assume that all Christians will wear these white garments in the kingdom, this verse teaches us that only overcoming believers, those who haven’t defiled their garments (verse 4), will wear these particular garments representative of the righteous acts of the saints in the kingdom.
His Name Never to be Erased (5b)
In verse 5, the overcomer is also promised he can never have his name erased from the Book of life. Could this suggest the possibility of the loss of salvation? Such a concept is totally contrary to the analogy of the faith in the New Testament which teaches us all believers are kept secure by the power of God and the finished work of Christ (cf. John 10:28-29; Rom. 8:38-39). As Charles Stanley so aptly put it, “Does it make any sense to say that salvation is offered as a solution for our sin and then to turn around and teach that salvation can be taken away because of our sin as well?”53
Because so many do not understand the nature of salvation as a finished work of God in Christ and are insecure in their faith, verses such as this are misunderstood as suggesting the possibility of the loss of salvation, or as a proof for the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. This results in a fixation on what the verse does not say rather than on what it is saying in the context biblically, historically, and culturally. This verse was never intended as a warning. Instead, it is a promise of encouragement in view of the historical setting of John’s day. To say that verse 5 suggests the possibility of losing salvation is at best, an argument from silence.
If we understand the promise of 3:5 in its historical and contextual context, we will find that it is not dealing with the issue of losing or proving salvation at all. By the use of a figure of speech known as litotes (an affirmation expressed in negative terms), we have an emphatic declaration that stresses the certainty of the promise. In other words, a positive point is made by denying its opposite. This not only stresses the security of the believer—for every believer’s name is written in the book of life—but is a way of promising something special to the overcomer in the kingdom and eternal future. Bob Wilkin, who agrees with this view, quotes William Fuller and writes: William Fuller, who defends this understanding of Rev 3:5, writes, “A command that everyone keeps is superfluous, and a reward that everyone receives for a virtue that everyone has is nonsense.” The eternal-rewards interpretation takes the command seriously, views the reward as a powerful motivation to obedience, and doesn’t distort the Gospel!54
Tatford also interprets Revelation 3:5 in a similar way when he writes, Practically every city of that day kept a role or register of its citizens … one who had performed some great exploit, deserving of special distinction, was honoured by having his name inscribed in golden letters in the citizens’ roll. Our Lord’s emphatic statement, therefore, implies not merely that the name of the overcomer shall not be expunged, but per contra that it shall be inscribed in golden letters in the heavenly roll.55
There is even evidence that a person’s name was sometimes removed from the city register before death if he had been convicted of a crime.56 When these messages were written, Christians were under the constant threat of being branded as social rebels and stripped of their citizenship if they refused to recant or denounce their faith in Christ. So here, as a source of motivation and encouragement, the Lord personally reminds the overcomer not only of the safety of his heavenly citizenship, but of the special acknowledgment the Lord Himself will give before the Father and before His angels.
His Name Confessed Before the Father and His Angels (5c)
As just indicated, this promise is related to the previous promise and may really be a part of that promise. It is likewise not dealing with salvation, but with reward by way of an accolade, a special acknowledgment or public recognition for faithfulness. Again we need to keep in mind the historical background mentioned above. Though the overcomer may experience blame and ridicule and loss of citizenship before the world because he or she refuses to follow after the world or bow to its threats, the overcomer will experience special reward in the form of public recognition. Undoubtedly, special accolades like, “well done, you good and faithful servant,” is in mind.
. . .
Some final lessons:
(1) The means for living the Christian life so vital for spiritual reality is a knowledge and a careful application of the Word through the various ministries of the Spirit.
(2) The signs of a successful church, one truly in touch with God is not names, noses, and numbers, but Christlikeness. How much do the people of the church demonstrate the Savior in their personal lives, in their families, in their values, priorities, ministry, etc.? It is never just activity or works or size or reputation. Activities and reputations by themselves are never a proof of true spirituality.
(3) Genuine godliness is the foundation of moral goodness. Moral goodness is always incomplete and on the verge of degeneration without godliness through the Spirit and the Word with its absolute truth.
(4) God is always faithful to reward His people for their faithfulness to Him. Salvation is by faith alone, sola fide, in Christ alone, but rewards are the product of overcoming faith in the life of Christ appropriated in the Christian’s life.
53 Charles Stanley, Eternal Security, Can You Be Sure? Thomas Nelson, Nashville, 1990, p. 181.
54 J. William Fuller, “I Will Not Erase His Name from the Book of Life (Rev 3:5),” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (Sept. 1983), p. 299, quoted by Bob Wilkin, Grace Evangelical News, March, 1995.
55 Fredk. A. Tatford, Prophecy’s Last Word, p. 63.
56 Alan Johnson, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, Frank E. Gaebelein, general editor, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1981, p. 450.
I Will Not Blot Out His Name *
by Bob Wilkin
He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.
Can a believer lose his salvation or be erased from the Book of Life if he does not overcome (Rev 3:5)? This seems to contradict John 5:24 and Eph 2:8-9 which view everlasting life as a free and secure gift. Or, does it mean that a believer who is truly saved will automatically produce good works and overcome? This seems to contradict Romans 6-7 which views the Christian walk as a struggle and a choice that every believer must make for himself.
Those are excellent questions. In them we see two possible interpretations and the difficulties with each. Neither of the two interpretations can be harmonized with the clear teaching of other Scripture.
The Loss-of-Salvation View
The problem with the loss-of-salvation view is that it clearly contradicts a host of passages. Jesus taught that believers "will never perish" (John 10:28), "shall not come into judgment" (John 5:24), and "have [already] passed from death into life" (John 5:24). The apostle Paul told the believers at Rome that "neither death nor life...nor things present nor things to come...shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord;" (Rom 8:38-39). To the believers at Ephesus he wrote, "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast" (Eph 2:8-9). And to the believers at Thessalonica he said that "whether we wake or sleep [i.e., whether we are morally alert or indolent], we should live together with Him" (1 Thess 5:10).
The Overcoming-Equals Faithful-Obedience View
According to this view all genuine believers overcome the world by living godly lives. One author writes: "John was so confident of the ultimate triumph of faith over sin that he had a special name for the believer: 'the one who overcomes' (1 John 5:5; Rev 2:7, 11, 26 ;3:5, 12, 21; 21:7).;"1 Notice that he equates overcoming with "the ultimate triumph of faith over sin.;" Based on the context of these remarks, it is clear the author is referring to some ultimate triumph of faith over sin in this life.2
According to what has come to be called the Reformed Doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints, all true believers persevere in a life of godliness. While there may be temporary setbacks and bouts with sin, believers are people who live victorious, holy lives to the end. People who hold the overcoming-equals-faithful-obedience interpretation of our verse understand it in light of that doctrine.
There is a major problem with this interpretation. The Bible does not promise that all true believers will live victorious, holy lives.3 Believers may have more than temporary setbacks and bouts with sin. It is sadly possible for believers to backslide terribly and to remain in that backslidden state until death. Certainly the church at Corinth was hardly a picture of believers experiencing ultimate victory over sin in their lives ( cf. 1 Cor 3:1-3; 11:30; see also Gal 6:1-5; Jas 5:19-20; and 1 John 5:16)!
I'm not saying that eternal security is not true. As already shown above, it is. What I am saying is that there is no guarantee in Scripture that eternally secure people will live overcoming, victorious lives here and now. Believers can fail.
The Overcoming-Equals-Faith View
There is a variation of the view just discussed which recognizes the possibility of failure in the Christian life. The overcoming-equals-faith view suggests that faith--not faithfulness-- is the victory. All believers are overcomers the moment they believe. The very act of believing overcomes the world: "Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?" (1 John 5:5).
While I am unaware of anyone who has put this view in writing, I know a number of people who hold it. I myself held this view for several years. It wasn't until I studied the seven letters of Revelation 2-3 during my doctoral work that I concluded that this wasn't what the Lord had in mind by the use of the word overcomer in Revelation.
It is true that 1 John 5:5 teaches that our faith overcomes the world. It is a mistake, however, to conclude that because John so used that expression in one place, he must have used it the same way in all other places. The contexts in which the expression is found in Revelation 2-3 are greatly different than the context of 1 John 5:5.
The second and third chapters of the Book of Revelation are seven letters to seven churches. Whereas 1 John 5:5 says that one overcomes by faith, the seven letters say that one overcomes by works (or by faith plus works). Consider, for example, these statements:
Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works...To him who overcomes I will give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God (2:5, 7b).
Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life (2:10). And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I give power over the nations (2:26). v Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown (3:11).
To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne4 (3:21).
The question thus remains what does Rev 3:5 mean?
The Eternal-Rewards View
According to this view, genuine believers are in view and their salvation is not in question. Admittedly, some suggest that since churches sometimes contain unbelievers, then these seven letters may have been addressed to both believers and unbelievers. However, in a biblical sense churches never contain unbelievers. Churches are not buildings or social gatherings. Churches are assemblies of believers. Since the Lord was writing to churches, he was writing exclusively to believers.
This is supported by the fact that in none of the seven letters do we find a Gospel appeal.5 The word faith only occurs twice in these letters (Rev 2:13, 19) and in both cases it is affirming the fact that the readers already have faith, not calling them to believe. Surely if these seven letters were addressed to unbelievers, we would find repeated calls to trust in Christ. Instead, we find none.
There are several lines of evidence from the text of Rev 3:3-5 which support the eternal-rewards interpretation. We will consider this evidence before we discuss the meaning of the words, "I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life."
I Will Come Upon You As a Thief
Verse 3 is a warning: "If you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know the hour I will come upon you." Calls to watchfulness in light of the Lord's imminent return as a thief are found in several other places in the NT. Salvation isn't in view in any of those places. Rather, they deal with the prospect of eternal rewards.6
In 1 Thess 5:10, a context dealing with Christ's return "as a thief in the night" (5:2), Paul wrote "[Christ] died for us, that whether we wake or sleep we should live together with Him." In context "waking"7 was used metaphorically to mean walking in the light, being sober, faithful, and loving. On the other hand "sleeping" meant to walk in the darkness to be drunk, unfaithful, and unloving (1 Thess 5:4-8). Paul was saying that all believers will be raptured, whether they are morally alert or asleep, when Christ returns for them. The believer who is morally asleep when Christ returns is not overcoming. Yet he will live together with Him as well!
They Are Worthy
Verse 4 reads, "You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy." The worthiness here is linked to the fact that these were believers "who have not defiled their garments." Clearly Jesus isn't praising them for using Tide on their togs! That is a figurative way of saying that there were a few who had not walked in disobedience. Compare Rev 22:14 8 and Jas 1:27 and Jude 23. Walking with Christ in white garments must be seen as a reward. Otherwise Christ is teaching salvation by works here! We know from Jesus' teachings and from the entire Bible that no one but Christ is worthy to be in God's kingdom because of his or her deeds. We are only worthy to enter God's kingdom because we have trusted in the Worthy One. This is compelling proof that the issue here is not salvation, but rewards.
He Shall Be Clothed in White Garments
Verse 5 refers again to being clothed in white. The Lord makes it clear that the person in question is an overcomer. While some assume that all Christians will wear these white garments in the kingdom, this verse suggests that only overcoming believers, those who haven't defiled their garments (v 4), will wear these garments in the kingdom.
This verse suggests that believers will not be clothed identically in the kingdom. Some will wear special white garments. These special garments will signify that the wearer is one who honored Christ until the end of his or her Christian experience.
Peter, James, and John caught a glimpse of what these glorious garments will be like. When Jesus was transfigured before them, "His face shown like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light" (Matt 17:2). It may well be that the brightness of an overcomer's clothes will be proportional to how Christlike he or she was in this life (cf. 1 Pet 4:13).
I Will Confess His Name
This is rewards language. Jesus will acknowledge faithful believers before the Father and before His angels. Compare Matt 10:32-33 and Luke 19:11-19. He will say "Well done, good servant" (Luke 19:17). This is a reward that faithful believers will receive. It is not a condition of entrance into the kingdom. There still remains the question of what the Lord meant by the words, "I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life." As we shall now see, this expression fits well with the eternal-rewards view.
I Won't Blot Out His Name
Several things should be observed in relation to this expression. First, whatever it means, it can't contradict other Scripture or the clear meaning of the rest of the passage and of other Scripture.
Second, many read it as though it says, "He who doesn't overcome I will blot out his name..." It doesn't say that. It is important to note that this verse doesn't say anything about the fate of those who don't overcome. It certainly doesn't say that God will blot the non-overcomer's name out of the Book of Life. The focus here is on the overcomer, not on the non-overcomer.
If I said, "All fathers are men," that wouldn't mean that the opposite is true, that all men are fathers. There are men who aren't fathers. In the same way, the corollary to our verse is not true. God will not blot out the name of the non-overcoming believer from the Book of Life! Once a person has spiritual life, it can never be taken away (cf. John 10:28-29; 1 John 5:12)
Third, there is a well-established figure of speech called litotes or understatement In this figure of speech a positive point is made by denying its opposite. For example, imagine that a loving, committed mother said to her teenage son, "If you mow the yard today, I won't send you to bed without dinner." Let's assume that the mother had previously guaranteed him that she would never send him to bed without supper. He would thus know that even if he didn't mow the yard,he would get dinner. His mom was promising him a special meal if he mowed the yard.
So, too, when the Lord says that He won't blot the name of the overcoming believer from the Book of Life, He means that He will give the overcomer a special fullness of life forever.9
We know some of what this superlative experience will include: wearing special white garments (Rev 3:4-5), ruling with Christ (Rev 2:26-27; 3:21), eating the fruit of the tree of life (Rev 2:7), eating hidden manna (Rev 2:17), and receiving a white stone engraved with your own special name that only the Lord and you will know (Rev 2:17). None of these things is equivalent to eternal salvation. None of these things is required for kingdom entrance. These are all rewards awaiting the overcoming believer.
We don't know all that is in store for the overcoming believer. But from what we are told in the seven letters, we know that it will be something no one will want to miss.
William Fuller, who defends this understanding of Rev 3:5, writes, "A command that everyone keeps is superfluous, and a reward that everyone receives for a virtue that everyone has is nonsense." 10 The eternal-rewards interpretation takes the command seriously, views the reward as a powerful motivation to obedience, and doesn't distort the Gospel!
The Lord Jesus Christ wants every believer to overcome the world by living a faithful Christian life until He returns or until death. He promises special rewards for the Christian who overcomes. Those rewards include a special fullness of life alluded to in the understatement, "He who overcomes ... I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life."
Jesus said, "I came that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly" (John 10:10b). All believers have, and will forever have, life. Only overcoming believers have, and will forever have, life more abundantly. Paul echoed this same theme when he ended his letter to the Galatians with these words: "And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart" (Gal 6:9).
*This article is taken from an upcoming book slated for publication this fall. The book, entitled Grace in Focus: Tough Texts in a New Light will explain thirty difficult NT passages on six topics: saving faith, assurance, eternal security, perseverance, rewards, and Lordship Salvation.
1 John F. MacArthur, Jr., The Gospel According to Jesus, Revised and Expanded Edition (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1988, 1994), p. 253.
2 Ibid., pp. 252-54. See also pp. 123-33, 134-40, 141-48, 164-72, 188-94.
3 For further discussion see Robert Nicholas Wilkin's, An Exegetical Evaluation of the Reformed Doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints, an unpublished Master's thesis (Dallas Theological Seminary, 1982).
4 Emphasis supplied. Clearly Jesus' overcoming included both faith and works (cf. John 4:34; 19:30; Heb 12:2). This means that the overcoming He is calling for likewise includes works.
5 Revelation 3:20 is not a Gospel appeal. It is addressed to Christians and is inviting them to have fellowship with Christ. The figure of opening the door is an illustration of the preceding verse. To "open the door" we must "be zealous and repent." That is, we must be zealous for good works and repent of our sinful attitudes and actions (cf. 3:15-18).
6 See, for example, Matt 24:45-51; 25:1-13; and 1 Pet 5:1-11.
7 This is the same Greek verb (gregoreo) as the word translated watch in Rev 3:3. This word also occurs earlier in the context of 1 Thessalonians 5 in verse 6 (where it is translated watch).
8 There is a textual variant here. The Majority Text reads, "Blessed are those who do His commandments." The so-called Critical Text reads, "Blessed are those who wash their robes." These readings show that scribes understood these two concepts to be synonymous in the Book of Revelation.
9 For further discussion see Zane C. Hodges's, Grace in Eclipse, Second Edition (Dallas, TX: Redencion Viva, 1985, 1987), pp. 109-111 and 119-20. 10 J. William Fuller, "I Will Not Erase His Name from the Book of Life' (Rev 3:5)," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (Sept.1983), p. 299.
Being Erased from the Book of Life?
by Bob Wilkin
I recently received the following question from a GES News reader regarding Revelation 3:5.
Revelation 3:5 is one passage that has been very hard for me to understand and clarify. My question is, can a believer lose his salvation or be erased from the book of life if he does not overcome? This seems to contradict John 5:24 and Ephesians 2:8-9 which seem to view everlasting life as a free and secure gift. Or, does it mean that a believer who is truly saved will automatically produce good works and overcome? This seems to contradict Romans 6-7 which views that Christian walk as a struggle and a choice that every believer must make for himself.
I like the treatment of this verse that is found in the second edition of the book Grace in Eclipse by GES board member Zane Hodges.1 His discussion of Revelation 3:5 follows:
Clearly, the promises to the overcomers are rewards for obedience to the commands of the Lord of the Church. As someone has pointedly observed, "A command that everyone keeps is superfluous, and a reward that everyone receives for a virtue that everyone has is nonsense."2
Two promises in particular have been thought to impinge on the eternal salvation of the overcomer. These are the ones made in the letters to Smyrna and Sardis. To those in Smyrna it is said:
He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death (Rev. 2:11);
and to those in Sardis:
He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels (Rev. 3:5).
But both statements can be held to employ a figure of speech called "litotes," which is extremely common in literature and in everyday speech. Litotes is a way of making a positive affirmation by negating the opposite. The presence of litotes is often signaled by obvious understatement.
Thus when the author of Hebrews writes, "For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love..." (Heb. 6:10), it must be assumed that the reader already knows that God is never unjust or forgetful. The reader therefore correctly infers that the writer means something like: "God will keep your labor of love in mind and will stand by you accordingly."
Since a reader of the letter to Smyrna could be presumed to understand that no believer experiences the second death, the statement immediately suggests litotes. Jesus promises that the overcomer will certainly suffer no hurt from the second death. But this sharply understates what must be the destiny of the victorious Christian. Hence the reader is left with a tantalizing inference like: "The experience of the overcomer is radically free from the second death."
This inference is very natural in the light of the immediately preceding words: Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life (Rev. 2:10). This can mean: "Die for me, if need be, and I will grant you a superlative experience of life." Hence, in the promise to the overcomer, Jesus is saying something like this: "Though physical death may harm you here, the second death cannot harm you hereafter. Your experience will be far, far beyond its reach."3 In a similar fashion, the words, "I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life," at once suggest the understatement of a litotes. No Christian will have his name blotted from that book. His eternal identity rests on the fact that he is an individual whose name is written in heaven (Luke 10:20). And that is just the point. The litotes, taken in the light of the surrounding statements, implies: "Your everlasting name is supremely secure. For, as you stand clothed in a victor's garments, I will acknowledge that name in the august presence of My Father and before the holy angels."4
Abundant and triumphant life, superlative and everlasting honor, are thus the rewards held out to the struggling Christians at Smyrna and Sardis. The use of litotes in both of these promises is a way of imparting, through understatement, the delicate suggestion that the experience will significantly excel the description that is given of it. Just as when someone says, "If you do this, you won't regret it," he means, "Your recompense will result in the very opposite of regret," so our Lord is saying to the overcomer that his reward will be the very opposite of injury from the second death or of losing an eternal name!
But rewards they most assuredly are, as are all of the risen Savior's promises to overcomers. And thus there is a sense in which this final book of the biblical canon, through these challenging calls to victory, effectively punctuates the teaching of the entire New Testament on the subject of spiritual conflict and eternal rewards.5 The figure who emerges from these portraits is a conqueror, just as Jesus was Conqueror. The rewarded one is a victor worthy of co-heirship with the greatest Victor in human history.
1Zane C. Hodges, Grace in Eclipse, Second Edition (Dallas [Box 141167], TX : Redención Viva, 1985, 1987), pp. 109-111, 119-20. Used by permission.
2J. William Fuller, "'I Will Not Erase His Name from the Book of Life' (Revelation 3:5)," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 26 (1983): 299....
3Tatford clearly thinks in terms of litotes when he writes of the promise of Revelation 2:11, "True life lay beyond. In no wise should he be touched by the second death and the very form of the expression but emphasizes the certainty of that truer and fuller life." Fredk. A. Tatford, Prophecy's Last Word (London: Pickering & Inglis, 1947), p. 46.
4Tatford again interprets through litotes when he writes of Revelation 3:5, "Practically every city of that day kept a role or register of its citizens.... one who had performed some great exploit deserving of special distinction, was honoured by having his name inscribed in golden letters in the citizens roll. Our Lord's emphatic statement, therefore, implies not merely that the name of the overcomer shall not be expunged, but per contra that it shall be inscribed in golden letters in the heavenly roll." His whole discussion is worth reading. Fredk. A. Tatford, Prophecy's Last Word, p.63; see pp. 62-63....
5Alexander Patterson weaves together many strands of truth when he writes about the Judgment Seat of Christ, "Not a service done for Christ loses its reward.. .Then those who have laid up treasure in heaven receive it with manifold interest. All losses are made good. Then it is the promises are fulfilled, made 'to him that overcometh...'" Alexander Patterson, The Greater Life and Works of Christ [New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1896], p.316. This beautiful resume of rewards truth was written in the nineteenth century. How little of it is understood in the twentieth!
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