The letter that Jesus sent through John to the church in Pergamum contains two glorious promises for the “the one who conquers” (Rev. 2:17). We looked in a previous article at the promise that Jesus would give him/her “some of the hidden manna.” Today we look at the second promise: “And I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it” (2:17). Continue reading...
The letter that Jesus sent through John to the church in Pergamum contains two glorious promises for the “the one who conquers” (Rev. 2:17). We looked in a previous article at the promise that Jesus would give him/her “some of the hidden manna.” Today we look at the second promise: “And I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it” (2:17).
Some argue that the “white stone” (2:17) 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 name would be that of God or of Christ (see Rev. 3.12; 14.1; 19.12). “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” (Hemer, 99).
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.”
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. I’m inclined to think the “new name” in v. 17 is one given uniquely to each individual believer and that it points to the fact that in Christ we are a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). We have a new identity in him. All things about us are made new in Christ and our sinful past is a long-forgotten memory.
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. In other words, a person’s name was more than simply a label to differentiate them from others. You 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).