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The Crowns of Success (Part Two)
In Part One, we began examining the biblical idea of five heavenly crowns and what these rewards mean for Christians. We will continue our examination by considering the fourth of these, the imperishable crown, mentioned in I Corinthians 9:25: "And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown."
The prize Paul refers to is the victory in the Panhellenic Games, which were four separate sports festivals held in ancient Greece. The Olympic games were the oldest and most venerable, and the others were the Pythian, Nemean, and Isthmian games. Wikipedia notes:
Thus, Paul describes the athletic rewards as "perishable." The apostle Peter explains, however, that God has called us to "an inheritance incorruptible" (I Peter 1:4; emphasis ours), the same Greek word Paul uses in I Corinthians 9:25 for "imperishable." Our reward, our symbolic laurel for victory, will never rot, tarnish, or vanish. Paul characterizes our spiritual contest a battle (Ephesians 6:12), and to the victor—the overcomer—goes the spoils, the rewards, which he affirms Christ will give us at His return:
Fifth, consider the crown of life, mentioned in Revelation 2:10:
The crown of life is also called the "martyr's crown." In Greek, Stephen's name is Stephanos, meaning "crown." By his faithfulness until death, Stephen brought glory to God, making him the first Christian martyr or witness. In Isaiah 44:8, God tells us not to fear or be afraid, for we are His witnesses to His unique position in all the universe. We may not be martyred, but we are dead to sin, and we are to crucify our flesh with its desires. Paul exhorts us to present our bodies as living sacrifices, given in any way that God sees fit (Romans 12:1).
In John 12:25, Jesus uses two different words for "life": "He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life." Life in this world is the Greek word psyche (Strong's #5590), the seat of feelings, desires, and affections. His second word for "life" is zōē (Strong's #2222), "the absolute fulness of life, both essential and ethical, which belongs to God."
In his Forerunner article on this crown, Martin Collins writes:
Before we close, we should consider Isaiah 62:1-3:
Each victorious Christian in this age will be given immortality and crowned at the return of Jesus Christ. Although each will receive special and specific rewards, the New Testament's five crowns of victory are all part of one encompassing and greater symbolic, triumphant crown.
In Revelation 3:12, the overcomers are described as pillars forever in the temple of God. In this verse, "overcomes" can also be translated as "conquers," "prevails," or "achieves victory." In the previous verse, Revelation 3:11, Jesus urges Christians to "hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown" (stephanos), a singular laurel of victory.
An additional New Testament crown is not a crown of reward: the crown of thorns that Jesus wore during His crucifixion. In a way, though, the crown of thorns that Roman soldiers forced onto His head was an ironic stephanos, but one that we can understand to symbolize His victory over sin, becoming the Redeemer. His victory assures us that most of humanity will ultimately be saved (Romans 11:26-29). He assures us in John 16:33 that He has overcome—conquered, prevailed, achieved victory over—the world. The apostle John writes that, through this victory, Jesus is the appeasing sacrifice, not only for the sins of the elect, but also for the entirety of repentant humanity (I John 2:2).
Even so, the five crowns mentioned in the New Testament are specifically for those called now. God's elect have the opportunity for special responsibilities in God's Kingdom (John 14:2), and when Jesus returns, we will indeed reign as kings with Him (Revelation 11:15, 18). He Himself will wear many crowns—diadems, this time—and will bring His rewards for us with Him: "And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to His work" (Revelation 22:12).