The “white stone” in Revelation 2:17, given to those who “conquer” or “overcome,” has been subjected to as many differing interpretations as have the “two witnesses” of Revelation 11. That doesn’t mean we are hopeless in our efforts to understand what Jesus meant, but it does suggest that we should be cautious and avoid dogmatism, regardless of whichever view we ultimately embrace.
Some argue that the white stone signified acquittal by a jury, as over against a black stone that pointed to the guilt of the defendant. If that is the background to our text, Jesus would be highlighting the reality of our forgiveness. What a blessed image indeed, that God the Father pronounces us not guilty by virtue of the redemptive work of his Son, our Savior.
Others point to the practice of certain pagan religions in which people would carry an amulet or stone with the name of their deity inscribed upon it. It supposedly was used as a source of magical power. If this is the background to our Lord’s reference, “the written name will be that of God or of Christ, as in Rev. 3.12 (cf. 14.1; 19.12). The point is then an allusion to ancient ideas of the power of divine names. To know the name of a deity was to possess a claim upon his help: here the power of Christ to save and protect is exalted over that of his pagan rivals” (Colin Hemer, 99).
I could go on listing options, but let me come to the view that I think is most likely. White stones were often used as tokens of membership or tickets for admission to public festivals. If this is the background for the text, the white stone may be a symbol for the believer’s admission to the messianic feast of Revelation 19. It is “white” in order to portray the righteousness of those who are granted entrance. As we read in Revelation 19:8, it was granted to the Bride, i.e., the Church, “to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure, for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.”
Little wonder, then, that John goes on to write, “And the angel said to me, ‘Write this: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb’” (Revelation 19:9a). Blessed indeed!
I must confess that I’m even more intrigued by the “new name” written on the stone “that no one knows except the one who receives it” (Rev. 2:17). This is clearly an allusion to the prophecy in Isaiah 62:2 (“The nations shall see your righteousness, and all the kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give”) and 65:15 (“but his [God’s] servants he will call by another name”). In both cases these concern Israel’s future kingly status and restoration to Yahweh, but are here applied to individuals within the Church, she who is the true Israel of God.
Another question is whether this new name given to the overcomer is Christ’s or the individual’s. Greg Beale believes that the “name” in Revelation 2:17 is a reference to the “name of my God, the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from my God, and my [Christ’s] new name” in Revelation 3:12. These are not separate names, notes Beale, but “all refer to the intimate eschatological presence of God and Christ with his people” (253), as expressed most clearly by Revelation 22:3-4.
That’s certainly a possibility, but I’m inclined to think the “new name” in v. 17 is one given uniquely to each individual believer and that it “symbolizes the individual’s entry into a new life, status or personality. . . . The thought may then be compared with that of 2 Cor. 5.17” (Hemer, 103-04). In other words, because those who are in Christ are now “new creations” it is only fitting that they should each receive a “new name” suitable to their position in and relationship with Jesus.
This isn’t to say that the old or original name, given to us by our parents or the world, is evil or to be casually discarded. Rather, one’s name, at least in biblical times, typically signified or pointed to one’s character or calling or function. Today, we name our children for altogether different reasons. Perhaps we hope their name will inspire confidence and power, so we name a son “Gregory” rather than “Gomer” (with all due apologies to any of you whose name actually is Gomer), or a daughter “Melissa” rather than “Minnie Ola” (I can get away with that one since Minnie Ola was my grandmother’s name).
Others select names based on what’s fashionable or what rhymes. Some, such as myself, are named after grandparents or to reflect a biblical truth (“Charissa” comes from the Greek word for “grace” and “Sophia” from the Greek word for “wisdom,” just to cite two examples). But in biblical days a person’s name was more than simply a label to differentiate them from others. A person didn’t simply have a name: a person was his name. Name ideally reflected nature.
All this to say that God will re-name each of us in accordance with the transformation of our nature into the likeness of his Son, to reflect the new and altogether unique identity each has received by grace and the irrevocable destiny we have in Christ. My new name, like yours, will reflect the character of the new creation in which I am a participant, as over against the old or original creation corrupted by sin and death. My new name, like yours, will be suitable to the new heavens and new earth in which I’ll dwell, a place devoid of evil and error.
But there is more to this “new name” than merely its newness. It is a name that “no one knows” except for the individual “who receives it.” Might this point to the intimate, intensely personal nature of one’s life in God? Could it be that Jesus is highlighting the depths of intimacy and acceptance that each of us enjoys (and especially will enjoy) in the secret recesses of our souls? Yes, I think so.
In this regard we must also remember that the “manna” given to us is described as “hidden” (Rev. 2:17a). Some believe this is simply a reference to its having been “hidden” in a jar in the Ark of the Covenant, but I think something more is involved. If Jesus is himself the manna, perhaps the point is that all that awaits us in him is “hidden” in the sense that it is reserved and kept safe and guarded against all possibility of loss so that we might revel in its certainty and the assurance that what God has promised, he will indeed provide.
To sum up, there is an identity you have in God, reflected in your new name, that transcends whatever shame or regret or disappointment is wrapped up in who you are now. There is a very private and personal place of intimacy with him that brings hope and freedom and joy that none can touch or taint or steal away. Paul said it best when he declared that “your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3b). Peter echoed much the same thing in saying that we have “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven” for us (1 Peter 1:4).
It’s not the greatest hymn ever written, but I remember as a child singing “A New Name in Glory” by C. Austin Miles. The only line that stayed with me is found in the chorus: “There’s a new name written down in glory, and it’s mine, O yes, it’s mine!” I don’t yet know what it is, but I will! Praise God, I will.
From him who is now named,