Question: “Why is God going to give us a white stone with a new name (Revelation 2:17)?”
Answer: In the Bible, there is only one reference to God giving us a white stone with a new name: “To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it” (Revelation 2:17).
The meaning of the white stone is a mystery to Bible scholars. However, several interpretations have been offered:
• In ancient Greece, jury members would cast a white stone to signify an acquittal, whereas a black stone proclaimed the defendant guilty. The weakness of this interpretation is that the stones cast in the courts did not have names inscribed on them.
• A small object called a “tessera,” made of wood, stone, clay or bone, conveyed special privileges to its owner. The ancient Romans used tesserae as tokens of admittance to events in the arena. However, tesserae did not have to be white, and the durability of the materials used is questionable.
• A white stone was often used as an amulet or charm. However, this custom was associated with sorcery, so it would be odd if the Bible used it as a symbol of salvation.
• Another interpretation has to do with the building material used during the time John wrote Revelation. Important buildings were commonly made of white marble, including the temple of Asclepius in Pergamum (the city of the church Jesus is addressing in Revelation 2:17). In front of the temple were white marble pillars engraved with the names of people supposedly healed by the god. One problem with this interpretation is that the Greek word used in this verse, psephon properly means “pebble,” not “stone.”
• One of the better-accepted explanations of the white stone has to do with the high priest’s breastplate, which contained twelve stones. Each of these stones had the name of one of the twelve tribes of Israel engraved on it (Exodus 28:21). As he ministered in the temple, the high priest bore the names of God’s people into God’s presence. In the same way, the “white stone” with the believer’s name written on it could be a reference to our standing in God’s presence.
• Another widely held explanation suggests that the white stone may be a translucent precious stone such as a diamond. The word translated “white” in Revelation 2:17 is leukos and can also mean “brilliant, bright.” This interpretation holds that on the stone is written the name of Christ, not the name of the believer. Revelation mentions that the name of Christ is written on the foreheads of the saints (Revelation 3:12; Revelation 14:1, and Revelation 14:20).
The best theory regarding the meaning of the white stone probably has to do with the ancient Roman custom of awarding white stones to the victors of athletic games. The winner of a contest was awarded a white stone with his name inscribed on it. This served as his “ticket” to a special awards banquet. According to this view, Jesus promises the overcomers entrance to the eternal victory celebration in heaven. The “new name” most likely refers to the Holy Spirit’s work of conforming believers to the holiness of Christ (see Romans 8:29; Colossians 3:10).