‘Whoever has ears, let them hear….’ Jesus uses this famous phrase repeatedly in the gospels whenever he tells stories to his listeners. The stories Jesus tells are called parables – which means there’s a point to them, maybe even a sting in the tail. Jesus’ parables tease us, touch us, sometimes torment us. They speak truth in creative ways, but never tell us everything. A brief or superficial engagement with them will yield little. Their true value is only found after real reflection.
Jesus often finishes with this cryptic phrase because he knows it’s not enough just to have the ears physically to receive the message. We need to really hear it. In other words, to take it into our hearts and minds, to internalise it and live accordingly.
As St John describes his famous vision of heaven – now written in the Book of Revelation, the last book of the bible – he begins with an encounter with the risen Lord Jesus, now in heavenly glory. The vision is so overwhelming, John falls on his face in terror (1:17): however Jesus helps him to his feet and proceeds to give a series of instructions to various church communities in modern-day Greece and Turkey. We find these in chapters 2 and 3, and Jesus finishes each with the same phrase he uses when he told his parables in the Gospels: ‘Whoever has ears, let them hear….’
Hear what? Well, the focus of these heavenly messages has changed. In the gospels Jesus is mostly encouraging us to step out in faith and follow him. Here in Revelation, he is addressing those already following – in some cases, for a long time – but who are losing heart or losing their way. And Jesus wants them to see themselves not just as Followers but Overcomers. Whatever trials they face, he wants them to know: ‘I am still God, and you can still overcome.’
So each word of instruction ends: ‘To the one who overcomes….’ (or in some translations, ‘to the one who is victorious’).
And what follows is a glorious sequence of promises. Just taking those in chapter 3, those of us who stay faithful and overcome will, in heaven: be dressed in new heavenly (pure) clothes (v5); have eternal life (v5); have the promise of God’s constant presence – that’s what it means to be a pillar in the temple, the place where God dwells (v12); will never have to leave God’s presence (v12); and will even sit on God’s throne with Him! (v21)
To the small, suffering communities at the end of the first century, these must have been very great promises indeed. But notice that this is also what the Spirit is saying – the same Spirit who dwells in us too. We too are Overcomers. We too have these promises to hold onto. The glorious Lord Jesus cheers us on as well, and gives us hope to keep running our races.
The Spirit’s presence in our lives strengthens us to live in the here and now. But it also transforms us to live for the future, to live forever with God. It’s good to remind ourselves of the eternal glory that awaits us. May these promises give us hope today.