Part 21 of 23
Regalia includes the insignias and symbols that royalty wear to signify that they are royal. Modern government officials have traded in the traditional attire for the subtlety of business suits and power ties. However, in the old world crowns, signet jewelry, and specific fabrics and color clothing were common regalia of royalty. As we will see in the next section, Christ will appoint overcomers to positions of royalty. Although we will explore that more thoroughly there, it's of value to see what regalia will accompany those positions. What regalia will Christ give His ruling class?
Until the advent of modern fabric technology, one of the most obvious marks of royalty could be seen in the kind of clothes worn. Purple was a popular color for the ruling class since it was expensive to produce and rare. Some of the names of colors still harken back to times when royalty was identified by the colors they wore. Royal blue and royal red are examples of this. The average person could not afford to wear these colors, so it distinguished the powerful from the peasant.
In Heaven, the attire worn by the ruling class will also be unique, although the color choice of the Kingdom administration is different from times long ago. Notice what Jesus says about the dress code for the lords and ladies of His royal court:
You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments.
These verses tell us the kind of clothing that overcomers will receive in reward for their faithfulness. Notice that the white garment is given to overcomers who are deemed "worthy." What's of tremendous note is the fact that those who wear white will "walk" with Christ. White robes, as all other rewards, seem to represent a special connection with Jesus. The robes worn will speak of the wearer's faithfulness to Christ for all eternity. It's important to remember, though, that these actual robes are most valuable because of the fellowship with Jesus they represent. On the subject of the white robes in Heaven Dr. Wilkin said this:
The quality of your eternal garments will be determined by what you do in this life. Once this life is over, it will be too late to influence your worthiness to walk with Christ in white.
Not only will there be special clothing for those who overcome, but other regal markers indicate who Christ has appointed to His leadership service. We’ve touched on this verse in a previous section, but now let’s look for regalia. Here’s what Jesus says:
He who overcomes… I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of Heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name.
Some believe this “writing” is symbolic. They feel it’s unlikely that these will be literal tattoos. Others believe that this writing represents a wearable nameplate like those worn by temple priests. Although these may be true, I see no evidence from the text to indicate that we should not simply take Jesus at His word. He says He will write on His overcomers and I’m convinced that’s what He will do. As William Barclay put it:
In the time to come, when Christ has conquered all, his faithful ones will bear the badge which shows that they are his and share his triumph.
This divine tattoo, so to speak, marks overcomers as belonging to Christ for all time. Just as a tattoo is permanent, so too the divine sort will be more so. Who can wipe off the name which God writes upon the skin of an overcomer? It seems that all overcomers will bear the royal seal, a set of written marks given by the king. These marks will signify the authority which the overcomer has been given, and the relationship he has with Christ. Later in the book of Revelation, we find a group who have already received their divine tattoo at the time when John saw them. John says:
Then I looked, and behold, a Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His Father’s name written on their foreheads.
The writing on the resurrected body of a victorious believer is another reward in the category of regalia. Having the name of God, and the Holy City, and Christ written on the forehead would make it very difficult for anyone to mistake the overcomer for an ordinary person.
The overcomer will be engaged in governing duties throughout the ages of the kingdom. It seems that this mark will remind those he or she leads that the authority comes directly from the king. This regal mark will signify both the relationship which the overcomer has with Christ and the work for which the overcomer has been commissioned.
Probably the best-known rewards of regalia that Christ will give are crowns. Though some believe talk about crowns in the Kingdom of Heaven is symbolic, it's hard to brush away all of the references in the New Testament to being rewarded with crowns. From my quick counting, there are around a dozen references to crowns as rewards. Some of these could be figurative, but it's difficult to believe that this concept is discussed so often if it represents no tangible reality.
Before we dive into what the Bible says about crowns, let’s tackle this important question. What is the purpose of a crown?
Historically a crown had more than one use. First, a crown of flowers could be worn at times of joy like weddings and at feasts. Second, a crown was the mark of royalty or authority. Third, the crown of laurel leaves was the victor’s prize in sporting games. Fourth, “crown” can be figurative language for an intangible thing like honor, rejoicing, or dignity. The question for the astute Bible student becomes, which of these four meanings is intended when scripture says a crown is offered to victorious Christians? Is it a victor’s crown, a crown of royalty, a crown in times of joy, or simply figurative language? I’m convinced that in some cases it might include all.
The crowns which are given specific names in the New Testament are as follows:
1. the crown of rejoicing,
2. the crown of life,
3. the crown of righteousness,
4. the incorruptible crown, and
5. the crown of glory.
These crowns will be given to individuals who overcome in certain ways. Let’s look at each in turn. I have organized the crowns in a specific order, with the ones that sound like figurative language first. We will progress toward ones that sound much more tangible later in the list.
To start with, Paul makes casual mention of something he calls the crown of rejoicing. He puts it this way:
For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?
Here we find possibly the best example of “crown” being used as figurative language. He seems to use the word “crown” as a synonym for “hope” and “joy.” He then explains that the crown of rejoicing is the people who will be in the presence of the Lord Jesus. The implication is that there will be a great reward with the human capital that Paul has brought into the kingdom.
The reward will be the joy he experiences in seeing his work come to fruition. The reward of souls in Heaven, for Paul, was something he called “the crown of rejoicing.” This seems most likely to be figurative language for the emotion he expects to experience when the Kingdom comes. Though it’s possible that there will be a tangible crown of rejoicing, I don’t think that’s what Paul is saying. Nonetheless, we too can experience this figurative crown of rejoicing if we toil at the work of evangelism.
The next crown we will investigate may be figurative language, or it may be a literal crown given out by Jesus. It's called the crown of life. The crown of life is a crown which Christ promises to give to those who persevere through trials and temptations. James says:
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.
Whether or not there is a literal crown of life is hard to say. It's possible that James means a figurative crown made of abundant life. Whatever this crown is, Jesus promised to give it to the one who loves him. This should not be read as an offer for all saved believers. That's because Jesus gave definition to what it means to love Him when He said, “Whoever has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me."
If loving Christ is tied to obedience, then so too must the receiving of this crown. The one who loves Christ by keeping His commandments will get a crown of life. Though this crown may be figurative, I see no reason to reject the notion that there may be a physical crown given that bears this title. Though if that's the case, the crown itself is hardly the reward, the life lived in eternal abundance and fellowship with Christ is the ultimate reward that the crown must represent.
The next reference to crowns uses the title, the crown of righteousness. It is a crown promised to those who love Christ’s appearing. These words appear toward the end of what was likely the last letter Paul wrote before his martyrdom. He knew that his death was imminent when 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.
Paul's language here makes it sound like there is a literal crown that is waiting for him. That's because he identifies where this crown is waiting, when it will be given, who will give it, and how he and others earn it. He shows that he will not be the only one who receives this crown, but any believers who "have loved His appearing."
Those who eagerly await Jesus’ return and live accordingly will be given this crown. Though it seems to be a literal crown, even if it isn’t the implication is clear. Paul is looking forward to what the crown represents.
Though his life was drawing to a close, Paul anticipated being crowned with rulership in the coming Kingdom and the intimacy with Christ that would come along with that. That rulership would be sweet primarily because it would offer him the opportunity to have an eternal working fellowship with the Lord. He invited any who were willing to join him in his eagerness for Christ to return. Those who live in eagerness will receive this crown.
The imperishable crown is also talked about by Paul. The language in this passage also makes it sound as if there is a literal crown to be gained. He says:
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. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.
The “crown” that was given to the winner of a foot race in ancient times was made of laurel leaves. We might call it a garland rather than a crown. This is the type of crown that Paul compares the heavenly crown to, with one important caveat. Though it was green and beautiful at the time it was given, every laurel head-wreath eventually dried out and perished. Paul compares the perishable victor’s crown with the imperishable crown given to those who will overcome in this life. He explains that the one given in Heaven is imperishable. It will never fade away.
He explains how that crown will be earned, as well. He says, "I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified." It is going to take hard work as well as a mental and physical disciple to earn a crown which will never fade away. What's more, it's possible to disqualify ourselves from earning this crown. Obviously not being self-disciplined would lose us this heavenly privilege. Once again I must say that the crown itself is not the reason which Paul was striving so hard to earn it. It was what the crown represented that mattered.
The crown of glory is mentioned by Peter and is given to those who demonstrate godly leadership. He puts it this way:
Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords 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 does not fade away.
We see that Paul was not unique in thinking that a crown will be given to overcomers for a job well done. However, here Peter gets more specific about the group to whom he's speaking. In talking to church leaders, he instructs them to shepherd the flock well with good motives. The crown of glory is one given when Christ, called the Chief Shepherd, appears. This seems to be a specific crown for those who shepherd well. It is for those who offer Christ-like leadership in ministry and Christian community. It's possible that Peter simply uses a different name for the same thing that Paul has already explained, or maybe this is something different. Either way, the case for crowns is beginning to look pretty strong. Peter, James, John, Paul, and Jesus all mention crowns.
In talking to Christians at the church of Smyrna, Jesus said:
Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer… Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.
So not only do the apostles talk about receiving crowns, but even Jesus mentions His desire to pass out crowns to those who prove worthy of them. Crowns will not be given to everyone at wholesale price, instead, they will be expensive. Jesus says that crown-bearers will have to be faithful until death to get one. Since he's talking to a specific group of people, some of whom were facing martyrdom, He meant this quite literally. He doesn't say that being martyred is the only way to get this crown but instead, "be faithful until death." Not everyone will be martyred, but each has the opportunity to be faithful until death. Not everyone will be victorious in that opportunity. If you continue in faithfulness until your death, you will get a crown. Only a chapter later Jesus says this to another group of Christians in Philadelphia:
Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.
This comes after Jesus gives them a pat on the back for their hard work in persevering in the faith. He wants them to continue the good work and uses this powerful statement to demonstrate it. "Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown," must mean that all believers are able to lose the opportunity to receive a crown, and many likely will. The obvious conclusion is that crowns require perseverance to the end of one's life. Certainly, there are rewards that build up as we go, but from Jesus' words, we see that crowns require that we continue in the faith until we die, even if that death is a martyrdom.
Receiving crowns and other regalia from Christ will be a tremendous experience. However, the bigger picture includes a look at what the regalia represents. The faithful ones will not receive a crown for no reason. There is a very important aspect of Kingdom life to which the crowns will point. That’s what we will look at in the next section.