UPDATE: This is an old article. An updated and expanded commentary on this passage can be found in Paul’s book Letters from Jesus.
You will never understand the gospel of grace until you first appreciate the love of God shown to unworthy humanity:
“But here is how God has shown his love for us. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rms 5:8)
Why did he do it? He didn’t need to and we didn’t deserve it. Yet he did it anyway because it pleases him to love on us. And the result is a love mismatch of cosmic proportions. Are you aware how unbalanced this relationship is?
On one side of the relationship you have a perfect Savior. On the other side you have a born sinner. Jesus is the source of all beauty, truth and love, while we were idolatrous, murdering rebels. The Lover of our souls reached out to us, we killed him for it, and with his dying breath he forgave us. What can we do in response to such amazing love but repent and say “thank you Jesus!”
It’s the greatest love story ever told and the entire story is captured in the 222-word letter that Jesus sent to the Laodiceans.
Think about this. They were rebellious and proud, yet Jesus comes to them in love to win them back to himself. The Laodiceans were doing stuff that made Jesus nauseous, so he counsels them to exchange what they have for what he offers. And what does he offer that is better than himself, standing just outside, waiting to be invited in?
What does Jesus want?
What does Jesus hope to get from the Laodiceans? In a word: relationship, or friendship, or intimacy. He certainly does not want their offerings or sacrifices. He wants them, just as he wants us. Christianity is not about doing stuff for God, it’s knowing him. Jesus did not pray that we would be busy working, but that we would be with him:
Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. (Jn 17:24)
God wants to take the lead. It’s his nature to lead – just look at the cross. That was all his doing. He wants to perform and he wants us to participate in his performance rather than try and impress him with our own.
Jesus wants us to see his glory. With that in mind, let’s look at the last thing Jesus says in his letter to the Laodiceans:
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. (Rev 3:21)
No losers in heaven
The word “overcomes” can be translated “is victorious.” Eternity is a place for victors and conquerors, not the vanquished and defeated. There are no losers in heaven. The question we should ask is, “how do I become counted among the overcomers?”
Let me answer that question with a question. Do you believe that Jesus is an overcomer? Are you sure? Are you absolutely certain Jesus Christ is an overcomer? He is! He says so to the Laodiceans – “just as I overcame” – and he also said so to the disciples:
In this world you will have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. (Jn 16:33)
How do we know Jesus is an overcomer? Because the devil couldn’t tempt him, the law-lovers couldn’t silence him, Pilate couldn’t fault him, death couldn’t keep him, and the grave couldn’t hold him. Jesus is the very model of an overcomer. Indeed, he is the Overcomer. Look up “overcomer” in the dictionary and there’s a picture of Jesus. (Well there should be.)
You might say, that’s all very fine for Jesus. But what about us? How do we overcome? John gives us the answer:
You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. (1 Jn 4:4)
Overcoming is not about jumping through hoops and satisfying the expectations of men. It’s about depending on The Overcomer who lives in you.
For everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. (1 Jn 5:4-5)
Are you born of God? Do you believe Jesus is the Son of God? If yes, then the Overcomer lives in you and you can’t help but be an overcomer. That’s why Jesus told the disciples to be encouraged during times of tribulation; because he – not they – had overcome the world and because they would carry his overcoming Spirit within them.
Are you an elephant or a turtle?
Think of it like this. If your mother was an elephant, and your father was an elephant, then you can’t help but be an elephant. You may act like a turtle but you will be acting against your elephantine nature. The whole world may try and tell you that you are a turtle, and you may even speak turtle, but at best you will only ever be an elephant doing impressions. (He who has an ear, let him hear!)
When you came to Christ he made you a new creation. He gave you his overcoming DNA and his mighty overcoming Spirit. You are now an overcomer by nature. It’s in your genes. You may not feel like an overcomer. You may feel like a turtle. But you are an overcomer nonetheless. If you act like a victim or a loser or anything other than an overcomer, then you are acting in a manner that is contrary to your Christ-given nature.
Just as an elephant is not an elephant merely because he acts like one, neither are you an overcomer merely because you overcome from time to time. That’s back to front. No, you act like an overcomer because you are an overcomer. God’s word says so:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Rom 8:35,37)
From a worldly point of view you may not look like an overcomer. You may be a worn out, beat up, raggedy ol’ Christian with problems left and right. The circumstances of your life may be trying to tell you that “you are not an overcomer.” Just ignore them. They are speaking from a worldly point of view. We are from God and he says we are more than conquerors through Christ who loved us. Believe what your Father says about you.
Just to check that you’ve been paying attention, I’m going to give you two alternative interpretations for Revelations 3:21. One of them will make you feel like a loser, the other will inspire you to praise Jesus. One of them will get you to focus on your self and your efforts, while the other will prompt you to focus on Jesus and the finished work of the cross.
See if you can discern which of the following interpretations best captures the heart of the one who promised to share his throne with overcomers:
1. Only those who have victory in every area of their lives, who never stumble, who never put a foot wrong, who pass every single test and never sin – just like Jesus – will earn the right to sit on his throne.
2. As Christ is (he’s an overcomer), so are we in this world (which makes us overcomers too). Just as Christ is our righteousness, holiness and redemption, he is also our victory in all things. We have a right to the throne not because of victories we have won, but because of the glorious victory he has won. This right is based on God’s grace, not our efforts. It is by grace we have been saved, by grace we have been raised up, and by the incomparable riches of his grace that God has seated us with himself in heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.
(I hope you picked #2. If not, go back to the top and start over.)
When Jesus tells the Laodiceans that only overcomers have a right to his throne, he is not threatening them or bringing them under condemnation. He is giving them a wonderful affirmation of their position in Christ. Contrary to what you may have heard, he’s not trying to keep people out of his kingdom, he’s trying to get them to come in! Yes, the Laodiceans needed to repent and exchange what they had (their nauseating self-righteousness) for what he freely offered (the white clothes of his righteousness). But if they did that, if they put their trust in him, then they would reign with him both in this life (Rms 5:17) and in eternity (2 Tim 2:12).
Now go find a mirror and tell yourself, I am an overcomer because Christ, the Overcomer, lives in me. Then have a little conversation with all your problems and tell them about Jesus who is victorious in all things. When the enemy tries to knock you down by pointing out your shortcomings, remind yourself of your God-given right to sit with Christ on his heavenly throne and then plant your boot on the enemy’s lying head.
Because of what Jesus has done you have a divine right to rule and reign with him. True, you don’t deserve it. You never have and never will. And yet there you sit like a king, a joyful testimony of the incomparable riches of his grace!