The Five Crowns
By Theodore H. Epp
We know from God's Word that after the Christian is raptured, he will be brought into the presence of Christ, who will be sitting upon His Judgment Seat, known as the "Bema" (Greek), to be examined and rewarded, according to his works. This is not a tribunal, such as Pilate's Judgment Seat, but is similar to the judgment seat at the Greek Olympic games, to which the winner came to receive his prize.
The rewards to be bestowed at the Judgment Seat of Christ are spoken of as "crowns." The significance of the term lies in the fact that crowns are symbolic of royalty, and the saints are to reign with Christ. "Do you not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters?" (1 Cor. 6:2). "Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years" (Rev. 20:6). Positions of honor for believers in the coming kingdom will be determined by their present fidelity and separation to Him, fellowship with His sufferings, and devotion to His service.
In Romans 8:17 a distinction is made between our inheritance as sons of God and our being fellow-heirs with Christ. "And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together."
To be an heir of God is to inherit the things He has prepared for us, such as our heavenly home and His glory. We are to be fellow-heirs with Christ, if we suffer with Him. He has received a special reward for His suffering and will be sitting upon His throne and reigning for a thousand years here upon earth. We shall have the privilege of sharing that throne and of reigning with Him if we suffer with Him.
This suffering may not always be physical suffering. It may be "bearing reproach" with Christ, as the writer of Hebrews expresses it (Heb. 13:12-14). One day the twelve disciples came to Jesus and asked what their reward would be for leaving everything and following Him. He told them that they would sit upon twelve thrones and rule the twelve tribes of Israel. Then two of the disciples came to Jesus and asked that one might be seated on His right side and the other on His left. To this our Lord replied that He could not give them those positions – such assignments will be made by God the Father. This is what is meant by such a passage as Matthew 10:32-33: "Whosoever therefore shall confess Me before men, him will I confess also before My Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny Me before men, him will I also deny before My Father which is in heaven."
At the time of our examination before the Judgment Seat of Christ, we shall be pronounced either worthy or unworthy. If we have denied Him before men, He will have to deny us before the Heavenly Father, saying, "This man is not worthy of a seat with Me on the throne." If we have confessed Him before men, He will recommend to the Father that we be seated with Christ upon His throne.
Paul clearly understood all of this for many times he spoke of the coming glory. In one place he said that the suffering of this present time is not to be compared with the glory that is to follow. He even forgot all the things behind him in order that he might press toward the goal for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. He clearly understood that there was a reward waiting for him.
A. The Crown of Life
This crown is mentioned twice in Scripture. It is often spoken of as the "martyr's crown" – the crown that will be given for faithfulness unto death. "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love Him" (Jas. 1:12).
"Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life" (Rev. 2:10).
The crown of life has often mistakenly been referred to as "eternal life." We must remember that eternal life is not a crown. It is Christ Himself living within us. The crown of life, on the other hand, is a special reward, possibly offering one an honored position in the government of Christ during the Millennium.
B. The Incorruptible Crown
Mention of this is made in 1 Corinthians 9:25-27. The context shows that Paul is speaking of service and rewards. He is telling us what he did for the Gospel's sake, that he might win men for Christ. "Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible" (1 Cor. 9:24-25).
Running a race and striving for mastery are not pictures of salvation. Salvation is God's greatest gift, and it can neither be earned nor bought. In Paul's day, freeborn Greek citizens were the only ones allowed to compete in the games. For the heavenly crowns, only born-again ones are eligible to be contestants. Salvation is the starting point, not the goal. We do not strive to enter into salvation. We enter into salvation by faith, and then we work to win the crowns. Salvation is the entrance into the arena, not the prize at the end of the race.
In the Grecian games, the one who reached the goal first was the only one crowned, but in this heavenly race there is no competition. No one runs against the other – the one condition is that we should observe the rules of the game: "I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway" (1 Cor. 9:26-27).
Paul knew the rules for the race. The incorruptible crown is thus seen to be a reward for a victorious life. It is for the Christian who bears in his body the marks of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus might be made manifest. It is for the one who, in the power of the new life which he has received in the second birth, triumphs over the flesh.
It is in view of the Judgment Seat of Christ and the crowns that are to be won that Paul says that he keeps his body under discipline and makes no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof. He saw the possibility that after he has preached to others and told them how to become children of God and how to live, he himself might be a castaway (one who is denied the rewards intended for him).
This crown is worth striving for. No wonder he wrote: "Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe" (1 Thes. 2:10).
C. The Crown of Rejoicing
This is the reward for the soul-winner. Those brought to the Lord Jesus Christ by us shall be our crown of rejoicing at His coming. Anyone who has known the joy of leading another to Christ can well understand why the reward is so named, for he knows that there is no joy comparable to that which springs from the consciousness of one's having been used of the Lord to bring souls to Him.
"For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?" (1 Thes. 2:19). "Therefore, my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved" (Phil. 4:1).
What an incentive to personal soul-winning! What a joy it will be to see a great host of souls walking the streets of glory, brought to the knowledge of salvation as a result of our efforts for Him! I fear that many Christians will lose this reward, however, for very few have been busy in soul-winning.
D. The Crown of Glory
"The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed; Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away" (1 Peter 5:1-4).
This is Christ's reward for the feeding of the flock – the recompense from the Chief Shepherd to all the faithful undershepherds. This crown of glory is also suggested in Luke 10:35: "And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto them, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee."
Souls are committed to our care. We are expected to care for, nourish, and feed these souls, not with man's philosophy, but with a heavenly food – the very Word of God. What an opportunity for pastors to earn a great reward; yet this privilege is often forfeited for a reward which can be seen in this present life. Many a pastor has his lips sealed by the earthly reward of a huge salary. What a heavenly reward might have been his!
E. The Crown of Righteousness
"For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing" (2 Tim. 4:6-8).
This is not to be confused with the gift of righteousness for salvation mentioned in Romans 3:21-23. This crown is for showing real joy in the return of our Lord Jesus Christ by living a righteous life. "He that hath this hope in him purifieth himself" (1 John 3:3). Is it not normal that a Christian who knows the meaning of the "blessed hope" should love Christ's appearing?
Does not the bride wait with tender yearning for the coming bridegroom, keeping herself for him alone? Is she not busy preparing herself for the wedding day? The crown of righteousness will be given to those who, in hope, joy, and anticipation of the second coming of Christ, purify themselves and make ready for His coming.
One of the ways in which the believer prepares himself is by being active in winning souls. Furthermore, he purifies his own life and lives righteously before the Lord.
Alas, there are many who do not love His appearing! Some even scoff at it, as the Scriptures predicted in 2 Peter 3:3-4. In contrast to these, let us love His coming and demonstrate in our daily experience the power of that glorious hope. His promise is, "Behold, I come quickly; and My reward is with Me, to give every man according as his work shall be" (Rev. 22:12).
– Reprinted by permission of Theodore H. Epp Estate, all rights reserved.