Q289 : Who is an Overcomer?

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Q289 : Who is an Overcomer?

Hello Tony,

I am having difficulty understanding about the overcomers of Revelation in the letters to the churches (Rev. 2:7,11,17,26; 3:5,12,21).

From your teaching it sounds like all believers are overcomers, but according to how the bible reads it sounds like the overcomers are only the ones that do as Jesus is telling them to do. It sounds like the ones who do not repent are not overcomers.

For example, to the church in Sardis, Jesus tells them that only some of them have not soiled their garments and that they will walk with him in white, but some have soiled their garments. It sounds like the only believers that will walk with him in white are the ones who have not soiled their garments.

Likewise, to the church in Smyrna it sounds like the only way that a believer will not be hurt by the second death is if they remain faithful even in the face of death, which troubles me because I know that salvation is a free gift for all who put their trust in Jesus.

Can you please give me some clarity on these passages and the overcomers?

Also, will all believers have rewards and if so, will they vary to the degree of faithfulness of the believer?

Will all believers reign with Christ or just the faithful?

Will the unfaithful loose all of their reward?

A289 : by Tony Garland

In my Revelation Commentary, I consider the question: Who is the Overcomer?a

There are two majority views concerning the identity of the overcomer:

Overcomers are “Super Christians”

In this view, only a subset of true believers overcome by remaining consistently obedient to Jesus.

But if this were true, then how do we explain that some of the promises to overcomers are identical with the benefits of being saved? If true Christians can fail to overcome, then they won't be able to eat from the tree of life (Rev. 2:7) and will have their names blotted out of the book of life (Rev. 3:5-6). But this is the same as the lot of unbelievers!

So for this view to be logically consistent, one has to also believe that Christians can lose their salvation (which is not the positionb of teachers at SpiritAndTruth.org).

In this view, overcomers are a subset of believers who manage to remain faithful through their own efforts in order to retain their salvation until the end of their life. (Or, if they fall “in-and-out” of salvation, they happen to be “in” at the time when it counts!)

This view is often used to place believers under duress and to manipulate them in fear that they need to keep performing or else they may not be found among the overcomers at important evaluation points (e.g., the rapture, death, the Second Coming). It leads to a crisis where a believer never really knows how much obedience is enough to be considered an overcomer?

This is essentially no different than Roman Catholicism—where works contribute to one's salvation. Like Roman Catholics and Mormons, believers who labor under this misunderstanding can never know for certain that they are saved. Hence, there is no true peace.

All True Christians are Overcomers

In this view, all believers overcome through their identity in Jesus Christ: the Overcomer who has overcome the world on their behalf. They don't overcome by being "super Christians" or being 100% faithful, but by faith in Christ (Rom. 8:37; 1Jn. 5:4-5). They are saved the instant they believe, never lose their salvation (another large topicc), and are guaranteed to receive all the promises made to the overcomers due to their faith in Christ.

In this view, those who fail to overcome are simply unbelievers who attend each of the churches—who may even profess faith—but have never trusted in Jesus: they have not been born again. In this view, the warnings to the churches for the need of repentance and promises made to those who overcome recognizes the reality that most churches contain a mix of people who truly are believers and ones who profess or may act like they are, but aren’t.

This view places performance on Christ and not on those who simply trust in His completed work. It is the only view which squares with the security of salvation (having believed, we can be certain we have eternal life—Acts 13:48) and leads to having peace.


It is important to distinguish two categories of promises which pertain to believers: 1) things we attain (inherit) by virtue of our identity in Christ; 2) rewards for faithfulness. The first category applies to all believers, regardless of performance. The second category varies among believers based on faithfulness to their calling.

As can be seen from what I've said above, I consider the promises made to overcomers to be in the first category: among those things we attain by virtue of Christ’s completed work. For example: eating from the tree of life (Rev. 2:7), immunity from the second death (Rev. 2:11), and being found written in the book of life (Rev. 3:5). These promises are certain for all believers, regardless of their relative performance or obedience. They are not performance-based, but identity/position-based. The promise to rule and reign with Christ, being among the overcomer promises (Rev. 2:26-27; 3:21), also falls into this category.1

Other promises pertain to rewards—which have nothing to do with our identity in Christ or salvation status. These rewards are evaluated at a separate judgment where only believers stand before Jesus (2Cor. 5:10; 1Jn. 2:28).2 This judgment has nothing to do with forgiveness of sin or determining our final destination—we are completely and permanently forgiven and assured of heaven the very instant we trust in Christ (John 5:24; 10:28). Moreover, Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth implies that even if all our works are burned up and we receive no reward, our salvation is assured (1Cor. 3:13-15).

So to answer your questions related to rewards:

  • Will all believers have rewards and if so, will they vary to the degree of faithfulness of the believer? Yes, all believers will have rewards which vary according to their degree of faithfulness.
  • Will all believers reign with Christ or just the faithful? It is my view that all believers will reign because: 1) all believers are overcomers in Christ; 2) ruling and reigning are promises made to overcomers.
  • Will the unfaithful loose all of their reward? How much reward a believer will receive will depend upon their faithfulness in light of their calling.3


1.I also place participation in the Rapture in the first category of unconditional promises since I do not believe that the body of Christ would be torn asunder by the removal of only a subset of “superior” believers.
2.Unbelievers, and only unbelievers—are judged before the Great White Throne in Revelation 20:11-15.
3.There is an ongoing intramural debate among Christians about whether a person can be a true believer and have no fruit whatsoever, and hence, no reward (a hypothetical condition implied by 1Cor. 3:13-15) or whether all true believers—being born of the life-giving Holy Spirit—will have at least some rewards. The question often raised in this discussion is, “how could a person born of God (or “born from above”) fail to exhibit any fruit or obedience over their entire life?” In other words: is it possible for a true believer to grieve and suppress the Holy Spirit—by which they were born again—and never be faithful in anything at all? And what would this imply about the ability of the elect, having been regenerated by God, to completely suppress their new nature?

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