The New Testament uses two different Greek words translated “crown.” The jeweled royal head-covering of a king or queen was called a diadema. That’s why a classic hymn says of Jesus, “Bring forth the royal diadem and crown him Lord of all.” David wore an impressive kingly crown covered with precious stones that weighed about 75 pounds (2 Samuel 12:30), but Christ’s authority is so great he deserves to be adorned “with many crowns” (Revelation 19:12). The other Greek word for crown (stephanos, from which we derive the name Stephen) meant a wreath or a victor’s crown worn by a triumphant soldier or athlete.
In the book of Proverbs, crowns symbolize blessing and honor. If you embrace wisdom, it will “present you with a glorious crown” (Proverbs 4:9). “Blessings crown the head of the righteous” (10:6). “A wife of noble character is her husband’s crown” (12:4). As we age, it’s encouraging to realize, “Gray hair is a crown of splendor” (16:31) and “Children’s children are a crown to the aged” (17:6).
Isaiah foretold that in the messianic era the Lord would give freedom and comfort to the brokenhearted and “bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes” (Isaiah 61:3). In that day God’s people “will sparkle in his land like jewels in a crown” (Zechariah 9:16).
Christians run the race of life “to get a crown that will last forever” (1 Corinthians 9:25). Paul looked forward to receiving “the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day” (2 Timothy 4:8). Jesus promised his disciples, “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown” (Revelation 2:10).
Acknowledging God’s Greater Glory
Once you receive a crown, why would you ever cast it aside? Yet, that’s exactly what the 24 elders do in John’s heavenly vision. “They lay down their crowns before the throne and say: ‘You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power’” (Revelation 4:10, 11). What a vivid picture of what it means to worship God! In the ancient world, a vanquished king would cast his crown at the victor’s feet as a sign of submission and surrender. The crowns in Revelation 4 are stephanous—victor’s crowns—but the elders don’t cling to any victories they personally have won; they celebrate the glorious victories of God.
Serving the Lord usually requires us to lay something down. Moses lay down his shepherd’s staff. Jonah had to give up his rebellious self-will and go where God told him to go. Esther faced the hard decision of choosing to intervene on behalf of her people even if it meant losing her life. In faith, Matthew chose to step away from his tax collector’s booth. James and John left their fishing boats. Thomas laid aside his doubts. Paul gave up his Pharisaical pride. Christ himself gave up so much that he went to the cross where he wore a painful crown of thorns.
Worship requires humility and poverty of spirit. Worldly possessions, selfish pursuits, accomplishments, trophies, diplomas, and awards—they all pale in comparison with God’s glory. Are we willing to join the 24 elders and cast down all of our crowns before the throne of God?
David Faust serves as the Associate Minister at East 91st Street Christian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana.
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