“…And they loved not their life even unto death.” (Revelation 12:11 ESV)
Let me point out a few things before I tell you what I believe this phrase means, which I find shocking. The word “even” was added by the translators. The word “loved” is Greek agapao, a verb meaning “to love” and “to welcome or entertain.” “Life” is the Greek word psuche, which is most often translated “soul.” The word “unto” is the Greek word “achri,” which is most often translated “until,” meaning “to the point of.” The same phrase translated “even unto death” in Revelation 12:11 is used in Acts 22:4, where Paul says of his former self: “I persecuted this Way to the death,” meaning he diligently persecuted followers of the way of Christ, refusing to quit until they were killed.
With the above in mind, I believe the last clause of this verse literally means: “they actively and continually shunned and refused to regard their soul, until it died.“ This is huge, and actually mirrors what Jesus emphasized during his ministry.
Matthew 13:34 clearly states that in public, Jesus only taught using parables – physical symbols representating deeper, spiritual things. Therefore, when Jesus said that to follow him we must take up our cross and lose our life (psuche) for him in order to find it, he wasn’t speaking of literally carrying a piece of wood or dying physically. He’s speaking of losing our soul-driven, self-devoted life for a spiritual life that is founded on devotion and relation to God.
Remember, the call of Jesus is to pick up our cross, deny our self AND to follow him. Unlike the common understanding, the self-denial Jesus had in mind isn’t about restricting what you eat, what you do, what you buy, where you go, etc. It’s deeper than that. You can restrict all those things without any change of heart toward God and without following Christ. It’s about refusing to edify, promote or defend yourSELF. Self-denial is really the total absence of awareness of or regard for self, PERIOD. All the various forms of self-improvement and self-restriction that are promoted in the church and the world still bring focus to self, so they aren’t self-DENIAL.
Self-denial is critical to following Jesus, because you can’t be aware of and concerned with yourself and God simultaneously. Because a believer has become a member of the body of Christ and is called to total devotion to the Father, self has no place any longer. The life of a disciple of Jesus is about giving heed and pursuing God’s kingdom only and ignoring the loud demands your selfish (and often religious) soul will make – demands to be heard, respected, acknowledged, and obeyed. Sometimes the soul will demand you conform to a certain standard it sees as “good” or “holy.” But holiness is simply devotion to the Father’s voice, which often makes no sense to the soul, which is “rational.”
The phrase “they loved not their life” means these people actively and consistently gave no love – no compassion, tolerance, welcome, kindness, patience, recognition or obedience to their SOUL, until it became powerless and essentially died. Absence of love results in death. This is a hard process, but a vital one. One thing that’s been on my heart is that if I’m going to suffer, at least let it be for a love-driven pursuit of God and His Kingdom – His will being done on earth. Nothing else is worth it.