The Revelation: More than Conquerors, Part 3 (College football and other commentaries)

lion-dove-lamb-yeshuaIt’s a little surprising that Hendriksen’s book is titled More Than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation. After all, the phrase “more than conquerors” is from Romans 8:37, not the Revelation. But the Revelation does speak of Christians conquering (or prevailing) repeatedly. So it fits.

But I’ve always been intrigued by this turn of phrase. I remember the first time I read it (I was in high school, I think). It was exciting! I enjoy winning, and to be more than a winner sounded pretty cool — much better than the damned-to-hell preaching that was common in that time and place. I loved Paul’s optimism.

But what does it mean? I mean, if I win, I win. How can I win more than win? How can I prevail more than prevailing?

Is Paul saying it’s more like Alabama’s victory over Michigan State than over Clemson? A shutout versus a nail biter? I do like the shutouts better! But I really like knowing that, even if we lose in the playoffs, we’ll be back next year to win.

Losses can be a path to victory. Maybe it’s about God being able to turn our defeats into the means of ultimate victory? Every team wins and every team loses. But not every team uses the losses to become champions. God does this through us.

We are more than winners. We are winners for whom even the losses build toward a championship.

We are winners for whom God himself is providing the victory. (It’s like, you know, when we need an impossible play for Arkansas to beat Ole Miss, we get an impossible play.)

For those of you who live on a different planet, the crazy lateral shown here gave Ole Miss a second conference loss, sending Alabama to the SEC championship game rather than Ole Miss. No crazy lateral and Alabama probably winds up in the Sugar Bowl unmotivated and losing. (Thank you, Arkansas!)

Because of an insanely improbable lateral that we had nothing to do with, we got a chance to win a national championship. And our earlier loss to Ole Miss motivated the team to do the things it had to do to win it all. No loss to Ole Miss, and we may well have made the playoffs, but Clemson probably beats us.

(Yes, there is a college football analogy — a good one — for every theological truth.)

So now that I’m 61, I figure it’s time to look up what the experts say about being “more than conquerors.” Maybe someone has figured it out. (Bold is mine in each case. Italics are from the original author.)

More than conquerors, itself a militant expression, means that God works through harsh realities (v. 28), and the present tense in Greek means that he does not do so once (in a while) but always. The victory comes not by escaping suffering, nor even in courage in the face of suffering, but in God’s love in the midst of suffering. If human works cannot earn salvation, then neither can the human will sustain faith during persecution. It is not our hold on Christ which sees us through, but his hold on us. The victory is God’s love “that will not let me go”—in life or death.

James R. Edwards, Romans, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011), 225–226.

(I just bought the UBC series, and keep finding nice nuggets of insight not in my other commentaries. (And it was on sale!))

Nevertheless, can pain, misery and loss separate Christ’s people from his love? No! On the contrary, far from alienating us from him, in all these things (even while we are enduring them) Paul dares to claim that we are more than conquerors (hypernikōmen). For we not only bear them with fortitude but triumph over them, and so ‘are winning a most glorious victory’ (BAGD) through him who loved us (37). This second reference to Christ’s love is significant, and the aorist tense shows that it alludes to the cross. Paul seems to be saying that, since Christ proved his love for us by his sufferings, so our sufferings cannot possibly separate us from it. In the context, which began with a reference to our sharing Christ’s sufferings (17), they ‘should be seen as evidence of union with the crucified one, not a cause for doubting his love’.

John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World, The Bible Speaks Today, (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 258.

The word used in the Latin version of the New Testament is supervincimus. We are not just more than conquerors but superconquerors. We are supermen. The New Testament says it is the Christian who is the superman; it is the Christian who rises to the supreme level of conquest; it is the Christian who has at his disposal the power to conquer which no one else can find. In fact Christianity, instead of diminishing our manhood, our strength and our authentic existence, enhances them. In Christ we don’t conquer people in bloodbaths of fights but we conquer trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger and the sword. How much more strength does it take to conquer distress or persecution or peril than it does to beat up somebody on the street corner?

But what is the key to being supermen, being supervincimus: through him who loved us. The means by which we conquer is not our own strength, but rather Christ gives the capacity to overcome.

R. C. Sproul, The Gospel of God: An Exposition of Romans, (Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 1994), 159–160.

For what is indeed wonderful is this, not that we are conquerors only, but that we are so by the very things meant as plots against us. And we are not merely conquerors, but we are “more than conquerors,” that is, are so with ease, without toil and labor. For without undergoing the real things, by only setting our mind aright, we raise our trophies against our enemies. And with good reason. For it is God that striveth together with us. Do not then be doubtful, if though beaten we get the better of our beaters, if driven out we overcome our persecutors, if dying we put the living to fight. For when you take the power and also the love of God into account, there is nothing to prevent these wondrous and strange things from coming to pass, and that victory the most advantageous should shine upon us. For they did not merely conquer, but in a wondrous way, and so that one might learn that those who plotted against them had a war not against men, but against that invincible Might. See the Jews then with these among them, and at a loss quite, and saying, “What are we to do to these men?” (Acts 4:16.) For it is marvellous indeed, that though they had hold of them and had got them liable to their courts, and imprisoned them and beat them, they were yet at a loss and in perplexity, as they got overcome by the very things whereby they expected to conquer. And neither kings nor people, nor ranks of demons, nor the devil himself, had power to get the better of them, but were all overcome at a very great disadvantage, finding that all they planned against them became for them. And therefore he says, “we are more than conquerors.” For this was a new rule of victory for men to prevail by their adversaries, and in no instance to be overcome, but to go forth to these struggles as if they themselves had the issue in their own hands.

John Chrysostom, Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistle to the Romans, 1889, 11, 456 (authored around 400 AD).

This, again, both is and isn’t quite like the normal Christus Victor atonement-theologies. Paul comes close to that kind of thing in a couple of other passages, but here the note of victory is as it were hidden behind, but only just behind, the fact of sin’s condemnation. We should not, because it is hidden, downplay this element in Romans 8. In chapters 5, 6 and 7, ‘sin’ has been increasingly present and troubling, and the fact that it is now judicially condemned has the force of the victory we know from the book of Revelation: ‘the accuser of our comrades has been thrown down!’ When Paul speaks of being ‘more than conquerors’ at the end of the chapter (8:37), he is not making a new point. He is drawing out the significance of what he had said in the opening verses of the chapter.

N. T. Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013), 4:899.

Suffering may, then, take the form of actual persecution. Even in the liberal, modern, Western world—perhaps precisely in that world!—people can suffer discrimination because of their commitment to Jesus Christ. How much more, in places where the worldview of those in power is explicitly stated to be opposed to the Christian faith in all its forms, as in some (not all) Muslim countries today. But suffering comes in all kinds of other ways too, from illness to depression to bereavements, harder and harder moral problems, poverty, tragedy, accidents and death. Nobody reading either the New Testament or any of the Christian literature from the first two or three centuries could have accused the early Christians of painting too rosy a picture of what life would be like for those who follow Jesus. But the point is this: it is precisely when we are suffering that we can most confidently expect the Spirit to be with us. We do not seek, or court, suffering or martyrdom. But if and when it comes, in whatever guise, we know that, as Paul says towards the end of his great Spirit-chapter, ‘in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us’ (Romans 8:37).

And it is all because of Jesus. Once we glimpse the doctrine—or the fact!—of the Trinity, we dare not slide back into a generalized sense of a religion paying distant homage to a god who (though somewhat more complicated than we had previously realized) is nevertheless simply a quasi-personal source of general benevolence. Christian faith is much more hard-edged, more craggy, than that. Jesus exploded into the life of ancient Israel, the life of the whole world, not as a teacher of timeless truths, nor as a great moral example, but as the one through whose life, death and resurrection God’s rescue operation was put into effect, and the cosmos turned its great corner at last. All kinds of other worldviews are challenged to the core by this claim, but it stands up remarkably well. It is because of Jesus that Christians claim they know who the creator of the world really is. It is because he, a human being, is now with the Father in the dimension we call ‘heaven’ that Christians came so quickly to speak of God as both Father and Son. It is because, though the Spirit makes him present to us, he remains as yet in heaven while we are on earth, that Christians came to speak of the Spirit, too, as a distinct member of the divine Trinity. It is all because of Jesus that we speak of God the way we do.

And it is all because of Jesus that we find ourselves called to live the way we do. More particularly, it is through Jesus that we are summoned to become more truly human, to reflect the image of God into the world.

Tom Wright, Simply Christian, (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2006), 117, 119.

Lord, in Your hand our fate is held;
Our suffering finally quelled;
And so we linger in Your light
And gaze beyond the darkest night.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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13 Responses to The Revelation: More than Conquerors, Part 3 (College football and other commentaries)

  1. laymond says:

    I get the feeling that Alabama football fans would forfeit their place in Heaven (if they had one) for a national championship. And some of the things they say and do might just give them their wish, They sure aren’t lukewarm on football. Love your neighbor never enters the conversation. Since you opened the door with your comparisons, I thought I would walk right in. question; can a true Alabama fan go to heaven?

  2. Laymond, the very word ‘fan’ is short for ‘fanatic.’ Good question, brother!

  3. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Laymond asked,

    can a true Alabama fan go to heaven?

    Pick one:

    * Yes: 4 out of the last 7 years

    * Yes, 8 home games a year, but only if you can get your hands on a ticket

    * Yes, every time Auburn loses

    Laymond also wrote,

    Love your neighbor never enters the conversation.

    So little thanks I get. You’ve not noticed how I’ve greatly reduced the number of Alabama football posts as my team has become more successful? It seemed the kind thing to do.

    Oh, and my thanks to Arkansas for beating Ole Miss is truly heartfelt. Wooo Pigs! Sooey! Razorbacks!

  4. Jay, I’d love to see a series from you on modern idols – to see if college football makes the list, along side making the USA values equal to Christian values.

  5. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Jerry,

    I took on football as idolatry in http://oneinjesus.info/2012/01/thought-question-is-football-a-religion/. Probably some of the most thoughtful comments ever posted here.

    Also at http://oneinjesus.info/2012/01/theology-general-the-gospel-and-football-part-1/ and http://oneinjesus.info/2012/01/theology-general-the-gospel-and-football-part-2/

    If Paul can use athletics as a metaphor for Christian living, it must be okay to use football similarly.

    (1 Cor. 9:24-10:1 ESV) 24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

    (Phil. 3:13-14 ESV) 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

    (2 Tim. 4:7-8 ESV) 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

    He seems to have been a fan of track and field and maybe boxing.

  6. laymond says:

    Paul said “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things.”

    This should apply to fans of athletes as well.

  7. My comment was somewhat ‘tongue in cheek’ playing off of Laymond’s question. Actually, I think your use of the interrelationship of the two games was an excellent illustration of how God does for us what we cannot do for ourselves (and I have been impressed by how little gloating you have done over The Tide’s success.) Did I ever tell you I was at Namath’s first college game? I’m sure that even then you were a fan.

  8. Once when I was a student at Sunset, we were assigned to write a paper on the metaphors in the Pastoral Epistles. I called mine “The Olympic Marine.”

  9. Alabama John says:

    Semper Fi

  10. laymond says:

    Jerry, just fess up, you realized you had agreed with me on something, and just had to take it back, like a republican agreeing with a democrat, just can’t be done and retain your republican creds.

  11. No Laymond. I do agree with you on this one and your comment was the catalyst for mine. I don’t want to disagree with anyone all of the time. So I took this opportunity to back you up, because I seriously believe that some people, but not Jay, have made an idol of sports in general and college football in particular.

  12. laymond says:

    sorry Jerry, I forgot the smiley face 🙂 I really wasn’t questioning your intentions.

  13. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Jerry,

    I was pretty young in Namath’s years, but I remember them. My earliest UA games had Steve Sloan at QB. He started in 64 and 65 as I recall; and so I was 10 or 11. Obviously, the memories of Namath were very fresh — and I watched him as the Jets new QB with fascination. My dad used to take me to the Tuscaloosa games and some of the Bham games. Very fond memories.

    Now that the basketball team is doing so well under new coach Avery Johnson, I’m thinking of reconsidering my gloating position — but only as to basketball. And maybe women’s softball.

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