Sunday Study: Five Crowns in Heaven

Compiled from Jack Kelley's

There are five types of crowns mentioned in the New Testament that will be given to qualifying believers after the Rapture. These crowns are identified as

  1. the Incorruptible Crown (or the Victor’s Crown) in 1 Cor 9:24-25
  2. the Crown of Rejoicing (or the Soul Winner’s Crown) in Phil 4:1 and 1 Thes. 2:19
  3. the Crown of Righteousness (For Those Who Love His Appearing) in 2 Tim 4:8
  4. the Crown of Life (or the Martyr’s Crown) in James 1:12 and Rev 2:10
  5. the Crown of Glory (or the Elder’s Crown) in 1 Peter 5:4

1. The Incorruptible Crown aka the Victor’s Crown is also the one that the Bible has the most to say about because it’s one that every believer can win. Paul used a sports analogy to help us understand the rules for winning so we wouldn’t be confused about how this works, (1 Cor. 9:24-27).

And in going for this crown we’re not competing against each other, but against our old selves, also called “the flesh”.

Achieving victory means putting the flesh to death; getting rid of our selfish desires, our bad habits and attitudes, and any behavior that puts the Lord to shame. One of the places where the Bible has much to say about what it takes to win this crown is Ephesians 4-6. In fact every one of Paul’s letters to the Church exhorts us to compete for this crown, out of gratitude for what we’ve been given. Gaining victory over the flesh is the best thing we can do to show the Lord how thankful we are that He saved us.

As in all competitive events there’s no penalty for losing, only a reward for winning. And failing to win in one event does not mean that we forfeit rewards legitimately won in others. But we have to win fair and square, (2 Tim. 2:5) and more than anything else, our attitude has to be right. Any thought of recognition or personal gain, or even of making points with the Lord will disqualify us. The only acceptable motive is bringing glory to God. (1 Cor. 3:12-15 & 4:1-5)

2. The Crown of Rejoicing aka the Soul Winner’s Crown “Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!” (Phil. 4:1;4)

“For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy” (1 Thes 2:19).

Luke tells us there is rejoicing even now in heaven (Luke 15:7).  Paul was happiest when he thought of all the people who had come to the Lord through his teaching, writing, and church planting. And the harvest of his labors has continued unabated through out the entire Church Age. Since there’s no number stated as a qualifier we don’t have to be intimidated by Paul’s unbeatable results. We just have to make the most of every opportunity the Lord brings across our path. And remember, we’re judged here by our effort, not our results. Each person bears the responsibility for his or her own choice regarding salvation. So we don’t have to be argumentative or coercive or manipulative, we just have to make a clear and concise presentation of the gospel and then pray that it’s received. This is the model Paul established for us.

3. The Crown of Righteousness for Those Who Love His Appearing “Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing” (2 Tim 4:8).

Since our righteousness is derived from our faith, this Crown is not for those whose lives have been the most pure. When we long for the Lord’s return, we’re demonstrating our belief that He’s coming for us. We’re not afraid that we won’t measure up but are absolutely certain that when He comes for His Church, we’ll be among those He takes (Phil. 3:20).

A person who depends on the righteousness of his or her own works can only feel either arrogance or fear, not longing. Some are arrogant enough to believe that they deserve entry into Heaven because of their exemplary life. Their pride keeps them from longing for the Lord because they’re getting so much satisfaction from feeling superior. They’re like the Pharisees who looked the Lord right in the eye and chose to rely on their own works rather than His Grace.

Others live in fear that they’ll be rejected at the last minute for some forgotten failure. They don’t long for the Lord because they’re scared to death of being rejected.

Only the one who depends exclusively on God’s Grace can long for the Lord.

4. The Crown of Life aka the Martyr’s Crown “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” (Jas 1:12)
“Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Rev 2:10)

This crown is for all believers, but is especially dear to those who endure sufferings, who bravely confront persecution for Jesus, even to the point of death.  In Scripture the word “life” is often used to show a relationship that is right with God. It was Jesus who said, “I have come that they may have life and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).

We’re familiar with the trials and tribulations of the First and Second Century believers, but even in our time hundreds of believers die for their faith every day, and many more thousands are evicted from their homes, incarcerated, or forced to live in fear for their lives.

The Crown of Life is a reward for special acts of service, perseverance under trial and dedication to the King. So if you are experiencing severe temptation, trials, or persecution, be encouraged and persevere through them.

5. The Crown of Glory aka the Elder’s Crown “To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.” (1 Peter 5:1-4)

Only those who are called into ministry can qualify for this crown. The requirements are clear, and many loyal shepherds of the Lord’s flock will finally get the recognition they so richly deserve. Others, who’ve lorded it over the believers entrusted to their care, or strapped heavy yokes of legalism to their backs, will be forced to stand aside and watch as the Lord rewards those who’ve stayed true to His word.

These are the five crowns listed in the New Testament. Some of us may receive all five of these crowns, but every one of us can qualify to receive at least one. There’s nothing we can do that will bring the Lord more pleasure than to reward us for striving for these crowns.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship” (Romans 12:1).

The Awards Ceremony described in 1 Cor 3:10-15 clearly distinguishes these crowns from the free gift of Salvation by sequence and purpose. Our Salvation is granted at the moment of belief (Ephesians 1:13-14) and marks the beginning of our new life.

This awards ceremony is sometimes called the Bema Seat judgment, after the Greek word for judgment, because of the similarity. In the ancient Olympics, judges awarded crowns of leaves (called stephanos) to the winners of the various contests at the “Bema Seat”, or judges’ stand, just like they award medals in our time.

The events of 1 Cor 3:10-15 take place on the believers’ Judgment Day, after the rapture, and reflect the fruits of our Christian life. (It’s important to remember that everyone involved in this ceremony is a believer). Simply put, salvation is the gift at the beginning that makes it possible for us to earn the crown at the end.

The requirements are simple. If the motives of our heart are pure when we perform certain “acts of righteousness,” we may be earning one or more of these special rewards. But if there’s any thought of personal recognition or of earning some special credit for ourselves, we’re disqualified. The Lord told us in no uncertain terms; if we perform for the praise of men, we’ve gotten all the credit we’re going to get. We’ll receive no reward from the Lord. But if we keep our good deeds secret He who sees all things will remember and reward us (Matt 6:1-4).

The only acceptable motive in earning these crowns is what I call an “attitude of gratitude.” This attitude motivates selfless acts of love, performed for no other reason than to express the gratitude we feel for the free gift of salvation we’ve received. Both the reactions of others and the observable outcome of our efforts are irrelevant. It’s one of the few areas of our life where we’re not held accountable for results. The motive of our heart is the only thing that matters.

I’m persuaded that the Lord’s ways are so different from ours, and our motives are so difficult for us to discern, that it’s hard to tell what crowns we may be earning. And this goes double where the motives of others are concerned. Hence Paul’s admonition in 1 Cor 4:5

Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.

Only the Lord is capable of judging the quality of of our works. The things of which we’re proudest could be burned up in the fire, while little acts of kindness we don’t even remember could sparkle like precious gems in His eyes.

Where’s My Crown?
By the way, what do you suppose we do with these crowns, once we get them? According to Rev 5:10 we immediately turn and, bowing before His throne, place them at His feet. In so doing, we acknowledge that even our “acts of righteousness” were made possible because of His gift to us.

If you’re working to earn the gift He’s already offered for free, you’re wasting your time and your life, and missing out on the joy of service. If you’re working to enhance or preserve His gift you risk offending Him, by showing that you think His effort was not sufficient.

If you’re overwhelmed by the fact that He has accepted you just as you are, and just can’t restrain yourself; passing His love along every where you go without any thought of reward, then one day soon He may crown you with many crowns.