Revelation 3:12

Sermon preached on March 4, 2012 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

I became a U.S. citizen two weeks ago. One of the things that that means is that I don't have to be concerned about getting deported. If you're not a citizen and you do something wrong they can deport you. I never really worried about getting deported. After all, I'm a pastor and I've never had any criminal intent. But a news story I heard a few years ago peaked my interest. It said that there was a change in the law and that a non-citizen could get deported for committing a misdemeanor. If my memory is correct it said that previously, in order to get deported, someone had to be convicted of a felony, a very serious crime, but that they policy had been changed and that non-citizens could be deported even if they only committed a misdemeanor, a relatively small crime. That didn't concern me because I didn't plan on committing any crime. But then I read that some traffic violations are considered misdemeanors. For example, going through a red light could be, in certain circumstances, considered a misdemeanor. Still, I wasn't concerned because I don't make a habit of going through red lights.

But now that I'm a citizen, it's not a concern at all. There are very few circumstances where a naturalized citizen can lose his citizenship. If they found out you lied on your application, you could lose it. Also, if a naturalized citizen committed treason against the U.S., they could deprive him of citizenship. If a naturalized citizen went to a foreign country and joined the army and that army was engaged in war against the U.S., he could be deprived of citizenship. If a naturalized citizen went back to his native country and served in a high level position, where like a cabinet minister, he could lose his citizenship. But those cases are very rare. I have no intention of doing any of those things, so I feel pretty secure.

But having said all that—who knows what's going to happen in the future? My place here is not really sure, not really permanent. Some day I'm going to die. I'm a U.S. citizen, but it's temporary. I'm only here for a short while.

In the New Jerusalem, it's not going to be like that. The position of God's people in heaven will be absolutely secure. They will never lose their citizenship, their place in glory. Our text contains one of the greatest promises in the entire Bible. The truths that are given to the church here ought to fill you with hope, cause you to rejoice and look forward to your great future. Here Jesus is telling us that

those who overcome will secure in the heavenly city forever.

Jesus is telling us about our eternal safety. Jesus said to the church at Philadelphia, (Revelation 3:12)

"Him who overcomes I will make
a pillar in the temple of my God.
Never again will he leave it.
I will write on him the name of my God
and the name of the city of my God,
the new Jerusalem,
which is coming down out of heaven
from my God; and I will also write
on him my new name."

The first image is of being made a pillar in God's temple. Of course we're not to take this literally. Lot's wife was made a pillar of salt and that wasn't a good thing. So obviously are to take this figuratively.

If someone ever asks you if you take the Bible literally you shouldn't just give a simple, 'Yes'. There's a temptation to do that because when certain people ask you that question they sometimes mean,

"You can't possibly believe that Adam and Eve were real people, that they actually existed. You can't really believe that Eve was made from one of Adam's ribs that God took from Adam's side. Do you mean to tell me that you take the Bible literally?"

It's like they believe that you shouldn't take anything in the Bible literally. In a situation like that, it's easy to just say,

"Yes, I believe the Bible should be taken literally."

But that's not the right answer. Rather you should tell them that like many other books parts of the Bible are to be take literally and parts of it are to be taken figuratively, and just like other books, it's not hard to figure out which parts are to be taken literally and which parts are to be taken figuratively.

That's the case with this idea of a pillar. Nobody wants to be made into a literal pillar and it would be ludicrous to take it that way. It's meant to be taken figuratively. This is obvious not only from our text, but also from the fact that in the New Jerusalem there isn't actually going to be a literal temple. In Revelation 21:22 John saw the New Jerusalem and said,

"I did not see a temple in the city,
because the Lord God Almighty
and the Lamb are its temple."

There will be no literal temple in the New Jerusalem. Those who overcome are not going to be literal pillars.

So what does it mean that those who overcome will be pillars in the temple in the New Jerusalem? I think there are two things involved in it.

First, this implies that those who overcome

will be the leading citizens of the New Jerusalem, the citizens who have a special place close to God.

Those who overcome will be given special places of importance in the New Jerusalem, in the service of God. For example, in Galatians 2:9 Paul tells of his second trip to Jerusalem after his conversion. He said,

"James, Peter and John,
those reputed to be pillars,
gave me and Barnabas the right hand
of fellowship when they recognized
the grace given to me.
They agreed that we should go
to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews."

James, Peter and John were the leaders of the church in Jerusalem. They had positions of special importance. They were more prominent than others.

So it will be in glory. The new heavens and the new earth are going to be wonderful. Every one there is going to be filled with joy and happiness. To use Jesus' words in Matthew 13:43,

"Then the righteous will shine like the sun
in the kingdom of their Father."

We are all going to shine there. But there are going to certain positions of honor that are given to certain individuals and not to others.

We see that in the angelic order. In the Old Testament we read about different types of angels, cherubim and seraphim. In the New Testament we are told about the archangels. One of them is even given a name, Michael. (Jude 9) It also seems that Gabriel is an archangel, but he isn't given that title directly. Archangels seem to be chief angels. Some see them as like army generals, commanding angels under them. But the point is that there are differences in the angelic order. Not all of them are the same.

So it will be with humans in glory. Some will have higher positions. For example, in the eternal kingdom, two individuals are going to sit with Jesus, one on His right and one on His left. In Matthew 20:20–23 we read that the mother of Zebedee's sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of Him. She said,

"Grant that one of these two sons of mine
may sit at your right and the other
at your left in your kingdom."

But Jesus told them they didn't know what they were asking. He said,

"to sit at my right or left
is not for me to grant.
These places belong to those for whom
they have been prepared by my Father."

Those two will have special places of honor.

But notice that the specific statement here is that they will be pillars in the temple in the city.

We saw from Revelation 21:22 earlier that God and the Lamb are the temple in the city. In other words, those who overcome are going to be in close association with God. They are going to have special positions of prominence.

Jesus loved all the disciples. But there were
three that were especially close to Him—James, Peter and John. Those were the three that He took with him up the Mount of Transfiguration. Those were the three that He separated from the rest in the Garden of Gethsemane and took with Him when He went to pray.

Then in John's gospel we read about the 'beloved' disciple, the one that Jesus loved. John 19:26 describes a scene from when Jesus was on the cross and says,

"When Jesus saw his mother there,
and the disciple whom he loved
standing nearby,
he said to his mother,
'Dear woman, here is your son…"

The question is: are you going to overcome and have a position of special honor? Some are going to miss out on these positions. 1 Corinthians 3:11–15 speaks of Christian workers and how they need to be careful how they build. Paul wrote,

"For no one can lay any foundation
other than the one already laid,
which is Jesus Christ.
If any man builds on this foundation
using gold, silver, costly stones,
wood, hay or straw,
his work will be shown for what it is,
because the Day will bring it to light.
It will be revealed with fire,
and the fire will test the quality
of each man's work.
If what he has built survives,
he will receive his reward.
If it is burned up,
he will suffer loss;
he himself will be saved,
but only as one escaping
through the flames."

Those whose work consists of wood, hay or straw are going to miss out on positions of honor.

There's a story that's told of George Whitefield and John Wesley that illustrates this. I'm not sure the story is genuine because they story is told two different ways. The way I first heard it was that it was what Whitefield said about Wesley, but I later found out that it's also told the other way round. I'll tell it about Whitefield because that's the way I first heard it. Whitefield was a Calvinist and Wesley an Arminian. They worked together for much of their careers but there was a time when their theological differences made them go their separate ways. After they parted, someone asked Whitefield,

"Do you expect to see John Wesley in heaven?"

Whitefield replied,

"No. John Wesley will be so close to the Throne of Glory, and I will be so far away, I will hardly get a glimpse of him."

That's an interesting story about humility and our attitude about others and we don't want to press it too far. All Christians are going to see Jesus' face. All are going to fully enjoy glory. We are all going to sit down in the heavenly kingdom with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Yet some Christians are going to be raised to special places of honor. They will be ahead of others. Certain people are going to be on the right and the left with Jesus. Certain people are going to be pillars in glory. How honored they are going to be! We know it's all of grace, yet, in glory, some people are going to be pillars in heaven. We're not going to be jealous of them. Rather we're going to be marveling at God's grace to sinners—that He has raised them so high.

What's at stake in Christian living, in overcoming—closeness to God, a position of prominence in glory, being able to serve in an exalted capacity.

Many Christians today, by their example, give you the impression that it's not that important how you live, how carefully you live, how scrupulous you are in the service of Jesus—because all Christians are going to get to heaven.

But that's just not so. It's vitally important how you live. Jesus wants you to overcome. He wants you to be strong in the faith. He wants you to remain faithful no matter what the consequences. He wants you to overcome! Look at the reward He offers those who conquer. They will become pillars of God. They will be especially close to Him.

The lesson from this is

how you should be striving for a place of honor in glory.

Again, this is not to be thought of in a selfish way—but this is about the service of Jesus. How can we be slack about that? In 1 Corinthians 9:24 the apostle Paul said,

"Do you not know that in a race
all the runners run,
but only one gets the prize?
Run in such a way as to get the prize."

Christians, overcome for Jesus. Conquer in the situations you find yourselves in.

The second lesson is drawn from the fact that this promise is given to a church of little strength and yet great rewards were promised to them. It shows us that

faithfulness in little things is promised great rewards.

Grant Osborne notes, (p. 196)

"As with Smyrna, the churches that seem the weakest (characterized by faithfulness rather than 'success') have the greatest rewards."

What are the things that Jesus gives you to do? Sure, we all want to do important things, like David defeating Goliath, but those tasks don't come along that often.

What's the task that Jesus has given you that you have to overcome? Is it putting up with a difficult husband and not being angry and bitter about it? Is it putting up with a difficult neighbor and being kind to him in spite of the fact that he doesn't deserve it? Is it resisting the temptation to lie when you could get yourself out of trouble by telling that lie? Is it being patient while you suffer from an illness that you don't want to have—and not being disappointed in God because of it? Is your task the task of praising God in difficult and trying circumstances? Is it being content even when you don't get that job that you really want? Is your task one of honoring your parents when it's difficult to honor them? Is your task the task of saying, 'No', to that temptation that seems so attractive?

None of those things are like fighting Goliath. Yet Jesus tells you that if you overcome in the little things that He gives you—your reward will be that you will have a great position of honor in glory—you will be a pillar in the temple of God. Don't despise the little things that God gives you to do. There is glory in them, there is future glory for you if you overcome. Christians, overcome. Take the promises seriously.

The second idea conveyed by being a pillar in the temple of God is the idea of permanence. Those who overcome

will have a permanent place in the final kingdom.

Jesus says that the one who overcomes will be made a pillar and

"will never again leave it."

There have been terrible tornados in Indiana and the surrounding area the last couple of days. The devastation is incredible. Whole neighborhoods have been destroyed—homes and schools gone. People had to be evacuated.

The city of Philadelphia was prone to earthquakes. There was a great earthquake in a.d. 17 and many of the people were forced to move outside the city. Vern Poythress writes, (The Returning King, p. 92)

"people were afraid to live any longer within the old city limits, and were building houses in the surrounding area. The insecurity of the city as a whole made the promise of security and stability particularly pointed."

What Jesus is promising here is that His people will be secure forever in the city of God and will never again be displaced from their homes. This promise has to do with security. We will be safe forever. Grant Osborne writes, (p. 199)

"In a city that had no settled structure, with buildings that at any moment could be torn apart by further tremors, it must have been tremendously encouraging to know they were citizens of an eternal city."

To drive this thought home Jesus tells the church at Philadelphia that

God will write on the overcomers the name of his God, the name of God's city, and His own new name.

Robert H. Mounce writes, (Revelation p.105)

"The impact of the threefold inscription is to show that the faithful belong to God, hold citizenship in the New Jerusalem, and are in a special way related to Christ."

You not only will dwell in a great and secure city, you belong to God. Jesus will write God's name on us. In Revelation 14:1 we read of the 144,000 that were with the Lamb. John says that they,

"his name and his Father's name
written on their foreheads."

Having God's name on us is to have God's seal of ownership on us.

In the old west they used to brand cattle. The actual branding has bad connotations about it because it involved the burning of the skin of the cow. But the idea of ownership was key to the concept. Wherever that cow went, whoever found him—it didn't matter, the owner's seal of ownership was on him. Everyone knew who he belonged to. In the same way, we are marked out as belonging to God. We are His forever.

Secondly, the faithful ones will receive the name of the city of His God. My naturalization certificate has the name of my new country on it, "The United States of America". In the same way, when you became a Christian you became a citizen of heaven. Philippians 3:20 tells us that,

"our citizenship is in heaven."

You belong to the New Jerusalem. The idea of the New Jerusalem is perhaps best summarized in Revelation 21:3. It says,

"Now the dwelling of God is with men,
and he will live with them.
They will be his people,
and God himself will be with them
and be their God."

The new name of Jesus is not explained. It is a name that will be revealed in the last days. Grant Osborne writes, (p. 199)

"The most amazing thing is not the meaning of the 'new name' but the fact that we will share it."

Those who overcome will be brought into such a close relationship to God. Their position will be one of absolute security.

In closing I want to make two applications, one for Christians, one for non-Christians.

First to Christians,

these promises that Jesus gives should give you hope and joy.

There are two ways it should do that.

First, regarding Christians who have gone to be with the Lord. We're sad when we lose loved ones. But we should know that they are in glory, that their joy knows no bounds. If we have lost a Christian who has excelled in serving the Lord, then we know that they are in a position of special prominence in the New Jerusalem. How we should praise God for His grace and goodness to them.

Second, you should know that there is glory ahead for you if you overcome. Be faithful. God will reward you. Trust Him. Look ahead with hope, joy, anticipation.

For those of you who are not Christians, what this text shows you is that

you need these things.

The alternate of being brought close to God, of living with Him forever, of belonging to Him and having your citizenship in the New Jerusalem—the alternative is absolutely horrible. What blessings Christ offers you. Is the sin that you love worth missing out on all these blessings? Of course not. Go to Jesus today.