The Bible is full of crowns. The first time the word crown appears in the Bible, it was spoken by the patriarch Jacob referring to the crown on the head of his son, Joseph, who ruled in Egypt. In the book of Exodus, a holy crown of pure gold was made for the high priest, and on it was an inscription reading “Holiness to the Lord” (Exodus 39:30). According to 2 Samuel 1:10, King Saul was wearing a crown when he died in the Battle of Gilboa. There’s a very interesting reference in 2 Samuel 12 to David’s seizing the crown of the king of the Ammonites: “Its weight was a talent of gold, with precious stones. And it was set on David’s head” (2 Samuel 12:30).
The New Testament refers to another kind of crown that was popular in the ancient world. These crowns weren’t made of gold; they sported no diamonds, contained no jewels. But they were as prized as the gold, silver, and bronze medals awarded to today’s Olympians. Ancient athletes who won their events in the games of old were crowned with wreaths of olive and laurel.
The Crown Jewels of Eternity
The apostle Paul, who must have followed the sporting news of his time, couldn’t resist using these athletic crowns to make a serious point: “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” (1 Corinthians 9:25).
The New Testament writers promise certain imperishable crowns for God’s people. Five of them are displayed in the vaults of heaven, ready to be awarded at the Day of Judgment.
There’s the Crown of Righteousness, which Paul enjoyed contemplating during his final imprisonment. Writing in 2 Timothy 4:8, he said, “Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.” This is the crown for all those who eagerly await our Lord’s return and frequently offer the Bible’s closing prayer, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus!”
There’s the Crown of Life, described in James 1:12: “Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”
There’s the Crown of Glory, given to God’s faithful servants who shepherd His flock as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly. “And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away” (1 Peter 5:4).
There’s the Crown of Rejoicing, mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 2:19, for faithful soul-winners.
And there’s the Incorruptible Crown, referred to earlier in 1 Corinthians 9:25, for those who live disciplined lives of purity.
In stark contrast to that, remember how our Lord was treated on the day of His crucifixion. “When they had twisted a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand” (Matthew 27:29). But when He comes again, we’ll see Him like this: “His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns” (Revelation 19:12).
In his book on heaven, Randy Alcorn points out that on the New Earth, we will reign in eternity over lands, cities, and nations. “Because crowns are a primary symbol of ruling,” he writes, “every mention of crowns as rewards is a reference to our ruling with Christ. In His parables, Jesus speaks of our ruling over cities… Paul addresses the subject of Christian ruling… He says, ‘If we endure, we will also reign with Him’ (2 Timothy 2:12).”
One day all the riches of all nations of history will slide off the moving sidewalk to face the judgment of Almighty God. Don’t labor for the crown that perishes, but for the imperishable crown which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award on that day to all who love His appearing.
 Randy Alcorn, Heaven (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2004), 208-209.