We have seen how folks at one end of the Christian spectrum err in the direction of self-deprecation and obsession with “surrender” and “sacrifice” (see previous post), but folks at the other end depart just as far from the New Testament message in their insistence upon celebrating having achieved “victory in Jesus” to the exclusion of any recognition of a need to grow up, and to become mature, disciplined disciples.
Unlike “surrender”, nikao, “to be victorious, to conquer, to win, to be successful, to prevail” (L/S) does at least appear in the New Testament: twice it is rendered “conquer”, once “get victory”, 24x “overcome”, and 1x “prevail.” Seventeen of these occur in the Revelation, ten of which refer to folks who have remained doggedly faithful in the face of severe persecution (2:7, 2:11, 2:17, 2:26, 3:5, 3:21, 12:11, 15:2, and 21:7). Three refer to the triumph of Jesus himself (3:21, 5:5, 17:14), and four to the temporary, apparent victory of the forces of evil (6:2 – twice –, 11:7, and 13:7).
Of the rest of the New Testament, one reference is to Jesus (Jn.16:33) as he reassures his disciples that he has already overcome the world, and one is in the parable (Lk.11:22) where he speaks of a strong man being “overcome” by one stronger than he.
The remaining eight are confined to two epistles. In Rom.3:4, Paul is referring to God’s victory in his just judgment, and in Rom.12:21 he urges his readers not to allow themselves to be “overcome by evil”, but proactively to “overcome evil with good.”
John, in his first letter (2:13-14), addresses the young men of his congregation as those who “have been gaining victory” – a present perfect tense – over the evil one. The perfect tense describes action that began in the past, but continues into the present, and perhaps beyond. Later (4:4), he reminds them that their victory over the anti-Christian spirits of the world (v.1-3) is possible because “the Spirit that is in / among you all is greater than what is in the world.” The game isn’t over yet! And in 5:4-5, his assertion is that following the Lord’s instructions is not burdensome, because those who have been born of God (enlisted in the Kingdom) are (present tense) in the process of overcoming the world. The “victory” (nike) that has conquered (aorist tense) the world, is identified as their / our faithfulness! This is yet another place where the dynamic understanding of pistis (#1) is absolutely essential.
The noun nike, and its later form, nikos, is used only five times total. In I Jn.5:4, referenced above, and also I Cor.15:54,55,57, it is celebrating his people’s sharing in Jesus’ victory over death / the grave (refer also to Heb.2, although the word is not there), and Mt.12:20, which quotes a messianic prophecy of Isaiah (42:1-4). In every instance, the “battle” in which both Jesus and his people have “overcome / conquered / been victorious”, is the ultimate struggle against the forces of evil and death. There is no reference whatever to the petty annoyances of life to which some folks love to apply it. (Perhaps they have never recognized the real enemy?) As in so many of our other studies, the real issue, whether on a personal or a corporate level, is “Who’s in charge here?” And the reply is clear (Rv.17:14) –”The Lamb will conquer them, because he is Lord of Lords and King of Kings, and those with him are called (#54) and chosen (#56) and faithful (#1)!”
There are a few other words that are rarely rendered “overcome” or “prevail”.
Peter uses hettaomai (II Pet.2:19-20) in warning his readers that they will become slaves to whomever / whatever they choose to allow to “conquer” them (similar to Paul’s use of nikao in Rom.12:21).
Luke employs katakurieuo (Ac.19:16) along with ischuo, to describe the defeat of the impostor-exorcists at the hands of a man possessed by an evil spirit.
Ischuo also appears in Ac.19:20 of the growth and success of the true message of the Gospel, and in Rv.12:8 of the dragon and his cohorts. Ischuo is more commonly used as one of the “power” words (#31), having primary reference to physical strength.
The prefixed form, katischuo, occurs only twice: emphasizing the inability of the “gates of hades/death” (Mt.16:18) to “prevail” against Jesus’ church, and the way the chief priests were able to beat down Pilate’s objections (Lk.23:23) to their lynch-mob.
Perhaps the most fascinating word of all in this group is hupernikao, a prefixed form of nikao. Liddell/Scott records only three writers to have used it: two of them renowned medical doctors – Hippocrates in the 5th century BC, and Galen in the 2nd century AD; and Paul in Rom.8:37.
The preposition huper may refer to something being “above, over, or beyond” normal expectations; or, if a relationship is being described, it can mean “on behalf of, for the benefit of” a person or cause.
As a prefix, it carries the flavor of “exceedingly” or “excessively” (English cognate, “hyper”!)
Medically, an active form of the verb might refer to a patient having “conquered” or “prevailed” to recover from his illness; a passive form might indicate that he succumbed to it. But Paul is not speaking of disease.
He has just listed a host of situations or conditions that might threaten one’s confidence or trust in the love of God. The subject is the all-encompassing completeness of God’s provision for every eventuality (not to avoid it, but to get through it), by the triumph of Jesus’ resurrection, even in the face of the most brutal persecution. It is “in all these things” that we are “gaining an exceptional victory (traditionally, “more than conquerors”) through the One who loved us.”
Slowly and carefully re-read vv.31-38, and let the picture soak into your consciousness.
No shallow boasting of “victory” over a stubbed toe, an unpleasant associate, or even a bad habit, is here. Rather, we are being provided with the “ammunition” required, to exercise the faithfulness described by John (I Jn.5:5), and to participate joyfully in the triumph of our King!
Thanks be to God!