Martyrs and Overcomers

Two repeated themes in Revelation are closely related - “Witness” and “Overcome.” Beginning with Jesus of Nazareth and his martyrdom on Calvary, his followers are summoned to persevere in his “Testimony.” In this way, they will “overcome” and emerge victorious in the city of “New Jerusalem.” They must “overcome, even as I overcame.” Moreover, Jesus is presented to the “Seven Assemblies of Asia” as the “FAITHFUL WITNESS, the Firstborn of the Dead, and the Ruler of the Kings of the Earth.”

By “faithful witness” is meant the “testimony” he gave in his sacrificial death. His shed blood “freed us from our sins and made a Kingdom, Priests for his God.” Now, he is the “First and the Last” who possesses authority even over “death and Hades.” As he declared to John - “I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore” – (Revelation 1:5, 1:18).

Cross on Mountain - Photo by Claudio Carrozzo on Unsplash
[Photo by Claudio Carrozzo on Unsplash]

The Greek term rendered “
witness” in English is ‘martur,’ the term from which the English noun ‘martyr’ is derived. In secular Greek, it was used for a “witness,” especially one who gave testimony in a legal proceeding.

By the first century, the term may not have assumed the full sense of “martyr,” but as applied in the Book of Revelation, it certainly approaches it. The “saints” who give “testimony” for Jesus pay the consequences for doing so (Strong’s - #G3144).

Similarly, John is introduced as one who “bore WITNESS of the word of God and of the TESTIMONY of Jesus” since he found himself banished to Patmos “on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” Here, the term “word of God” is synonymous with the “testimony of Jesus.” It refers not just to any testimony, but to the “testimony” about Jesus that, in this case, placed the Apostle in personal jeopardy.

The English term “testimony” translates the Greek noun ‘martyria,’ meaning “testimony, witness.” It is closely related to the term ‘martur’ and refers to the “testimony” given by a “witness,” most often in a legal proceeding.

While John may not have given his life for his “testimony,” he certainly paid a heavy price by losing his freedom and legal rights. But he was by no means the first or the last disciple of Jesus to suffer so. Previously, in the city of Pergamos, the saint named Antipas was “killed among you, where Satan dwells.” In his letter to the congregation, Jesus calls him “my FAITHFUL WITNESS [martyr],” the same term applied to Jesus in the Book’s prologue – (Revelation 2:13).

When the fifth seal was opened, John saw the souls of saints who were “slain for the word of God, and for the TESTIMONY [martyria] which they held,” just as he was exiled because of his “witness” for the “word of God” and the “testimony of Jesus” – (Revelation 6:9-11).

In Chapter 12, having failed to destroy the “woman clothed with the sun” or her “son,” the enraged “Dragon” set out to “wage war with the rest of her seed, those that keep the commandments of God and have the TESTIMONY of Jesus.” Once again, saints were killed for the “testimony of Jesus.” Nor was Satan alone in his vendetta. Later, the “Great Harlot, Babylon” is seen “drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the WITNESSES [martyrs] of Jesus.”  – (Revelation 12:17, 17:6).

At the commencement of the “thousand years,” judgment was made on behalf of the saints who were “beheaded for the TESTIMONY of Jesus and the word of God, and have not worshipped the Beast.” Once more, the “word of God” and the “testimony of Jesus” are paired. That the “witnesses” were killed is beyond doubt, as is the reason for it. But now, added to the list is their refusal to render homage to the “Beast from the sea” - (Revelation 20:4).


Not only is Jesus the “Faithful Witness,” he is also the first to “overcome.” In Chapter 5, John wept bitterly because no one could be found who was “worthy” to open the “scroll sealed with Seven Seals.” That is until he heard one of the “twenty-four elders” command him to “weep not, for the lion of the tribe of Judah has OVERCOME to open the scroll.”

When he looked, instead of the “lion” he saw the “Lamb as having been slain.” That is, Jesus “overcame” and qualified to open the “Sealed Scroll” through his sacrificial death – (Revelation 5:5-6).

At the end of each of the Seven Letters in Chapters 2 and 3, the reader finds promises made to the “one who OVERCOMES.” That saint will “eat of the tree of life in the Paradise of God,” not be harmed by the “Second Death,” eat of the “hidden manna,” receive authority over the nations, not have his name “blotted out of the Book of Life,” become a “pillar” in the sanctuary in “New Jerusalem,” and sit with Jesus on “my Father’s Throne.”

The Seven Assemblies of Asia “overcome” the “Dragon” by rejecting the deceptions of the “false apostles,” the “Nicolaitans,” the “teachings of Balaam,” and “Jezebel, who taught my servants to eat meat offered to idols.” Moreover, they persevere through tribulations, bear faithful “witness,” and refuse to compromise with the surrounding pagan society even if their refusal results in their impoverishment and death.

Most critically, the saints “overcome” by refusing to render homage to the “Beast from the Sea” or its image, and by refusing its “Mark” or “Number” even though the “False Prophet” causes those who will not go along with the Beast’s program to be put to death - (Revelation 15:2).

Finally, after the “Dragon” was expelled from heaven, a voice declared that the “brethren overcame” him by the “blood of the Lamb, by the WORD OF THEIR TESTIMONY, and because they loved not their lives unto death” - (Revelation 12:11).


Thus, giving “faithful testimony” and “overcoming” Satan are two sides of the same coin. Put another way, bearing faithful “witness” is how the persevering saint “overcomes” the “Dragon” and perseveres until the end.

This does not mean every saint must die a martyr’s death. While John suffered banishment for the “testimony of Jesus,” he was not executed, at least, not in the account recorded in the Book.

In the province of Asia, some believers suffered “imprisonment,” and others were accused falsely by members of the “Synagogue of Satan.” Not every believer experienced martyrdom. Regardless, Jesus exhorted the Assemblies to be “faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

The last clause provides the key for how believers “overcome” – “FAITHFULNESS UNTO DEATH.” Likewise, the brethren “overcome” the “Dragon” because they do not “love their lives unto death.” It is that level of allegiance to Jesus that separates “overcomers” from those who “eat meat offered to idols.”

Thus, to “overcome” the saint must persevere in his or her “witness” for Jesus even in times of persecution and whatever the personal consequences of doing so might be.




The Living Word

The Suffering Servant