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What is the Crown of Life in the Bible? And What it Means

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The crown of life in the Bible, one of five different crowns, is a symbol of a heavenly reward that faithful followers of Jesus are promised to receive in eternity with their creator. Through the study of two scriptures where this special reward and the criteria to receive it are mentioned, we will explore what it means to be truly saved, receiving that crown of eternal life. 

image of crown with the text What is the crown of life in the Bible and what it means

Crown of Life in the Bible

The crown of life in the Bible is actually one of five heavenly crowns mentioned throughout scripture that God’s people will receive in Heaven as a reward for their faithfulness during their earthly life. The five crowns, in no particular order, are the crown of righteousness, the crown of rejoicing, the imperishable crown, the unfading crown of glory (also known as the victor’s crown), and of course, the crown of life. 

These five crowns are not literal crowns that we will wear on our heads, like royalty; after all, we only have one head! Rather, these crowns are symbols of the eternal rewards we will receive in Heaven.

The crown of life is specifically mentioned in two verses in the word of God; the first in James and the second in Revelation. But what does it mean? And what do these two verses have to do with each other?

The Crown of Life in James

The first time we see the crown of life in the Bible is in the book of James. In his doctrinally rich letter to the twelve tribes of Israel, James, Jesus’ half-brother, says: 

“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.”

James 1:12 (ESV)

This verse is found within James’ wisdom (given to him by the Holy Spirit) on facing trials in the Christian life. He encourages the twelve tribes, as well as us, to see trials as something to rejoice over. This seems insane, who is joyful that bad things are happening to them?

But James then tells us that these trials build us into the image of Christ, which should be our ultimate goal. Therefore, trials are progress. It makes sense now, because who isn’t excited over progress towards goals? 

James also encourages us to simply ask the Heavenly Father for what we need, specifically wisdom, to get through these trials. God does not leave us alone in our struggles, but is right there ready to give us what we need to get through them, we just have to ask! Not only that, but he also uses the trials to form us closer and closer into the perfection that was our original design. 

In verse 12, James mentions that all of this joy and steadfastness (remaining near to God and not giving up) throughout trials results in the blessing of the crown of life. 

The Crown of Life in Revelation

The second and only other time we see the crown of life in the Bible is in the book of Revelation, where John lays out his prophecies of the end times.

“Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

Revelation 2:10 (ESV)

This passage in the word of God is one of seven short letters written (most likely) by the apostle John to seven different churches regarding these prophecies of the end times and the second coming of the Son of Man. 

This letter is addressed to the church in Smyrna and contains a similar theme of trials, testing, and struggles as seen in James. John is warning this church that they are about to be imprisoned and face tribulation for ten days, yet they are to remain faithful, even to the point of death. This faithfulness to the point of death will once again result in the reward of the crown of life.

So what is this crown of life that is granted to faithful followers of God? The Alistair Begg Devotional puts it this way: 

“The “crown of life,” or, more accurately, the crown that consists of life, is “a picture of eternal life,” which God promises to His people. It suggests the idea of God welcoming us at the finish line and crowning us with honor, blessing, and life that is everlasting”

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

Romans 8:18 (ESV)

When I first read this, it was hard to understand why this crown of eternal life is mentioned as one of the heavenly rewards for our steadfastness in loving God throughout trials. Our salvation, which is what brings us eternal life, is not a result of or reward for our good works, as the Apostle Paul says in his letter to the church at Ephesus.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV)

And that is absolutely true. There is nothing we can do to deserve or win salvation and eternal life; we will never be worthy of it. Our justification by the blood of Christ Jesus is nothing but a free gift of God given to us out of his great grace and mercy.

So if works do not save us, then why would the crown of life, which is eternal life, be described as a special reward for a Christian’s works in the present life?

In the next verse, the apostle Paul goes on to say:

“For we are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

Ephesians 2:10 (ESV)

So our salvation does not stop at salvation. It is not for our glory and benefit, but rather for God’s glory and the benefit of his kingdom. Yes, he saves us because he loves us and wants to be with us in Heaven, but he still has purpose for us in our earthly Christian life. We are vessels through which the will of God is carried out. He created us with specific individual abilities and passions in order to do specific good works that he planned for us before we were even born!

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Jeremiah 1:5 (ESV)

All of this goes to say, if we are saved, but are not acting in faithful service for the glory of God, are we truly saved? Salvation and good works are a package deal. We don’t earn salvation by good works, but the transformation that our minds and hearts go through because of salvation and the receiving of the Holy Spirit naturally produces good works in us – so long as we have truly, wholeheartedly, received that salvation. 

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

James 2:14-17 (ESV)
image of blue crown in clouds for the post crown of llfe in the Bible

I just love the analogy James uses in this passage. If you come across a homeless person while you’re out running errands who has a clear lack of food, shelter, water, clothing, etc. and you, having the full ability to buy them a meal at the nearest fast food place, or buy them a coat at the nearest store, say to them “I hope you get the things you need” but don’t actually do anything, was that not just a waste of your breath? What good is that going to do?

In the same way, if we are saved but just sit in the comfort of knowing we have eternal life and forget about our calling, commands, and title of servant of God, does that really do anything? Have we really received the Holy Spirit and the free gift of God that is eternal life? 

Of course nobody can judge a person’s salvation other than the righteous judge that is God himself, but there are most definitely indicators of a true believer; and doing good works for God’s name’s sake is a great sign. 

Let’s bring it back to the original scripture in James 1 and Revelation 2. 

These two verses do not speak broadly of good works, but focus on a more specific aspect of our present life as we walk with Christ Jesus: remaining steadfast and faithful throughout trials of various kinds. 

This aspect of our walks after receiving the free gift of God that is eternal life should also be a natural response to the grace, mercy, and love that the Heavenly Father showed us through his one and only son. Just as producing good works stems from our faith and salvation, so does steadfastness.

After all, steadfastness, as it is synonymous with faithfulness, is a fruit of the Spirit; the Spirit we are indwelt with upon true salvation and true faith.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

Galatians 5:22 (ESV)

The Judgment Seat of Christ

The two mentions of the crown of life in the Bible have yet another consistency, and that is the word test/tested. The verse in James 1 says, ” when he has stood the test” and the verse in Revelation says, “that you may be tested.” Both are in the context of the hard times as the test, with the “passing” result being the crown of life. 

Think of a school test. The teacher has spent the last, let’s say, 4 weeks teaching you and your peers everything you need to know about a specific topic and giving you the resources you need to excel with it. At the end of the 4 weeks, you and your peers are given a test for the teacher to see what you’ve actually learned and give you a grade. 

The form you have selected does not exist.

The teacher has done their part already. He or she spent the time to prepare the necessary lessons, assign homework, and give out study resources to help you to actually retain the information. What you do with what the teacher gave you is up to you. You can choose to sit in class and space out while the teacher is talking as well as choose to ignore the study material, or you can pay attention, take notes, and study before the test. Whatever choice you make is going to be reflected in your grade.

Now let’s replace some characters and objects of this scenario. You are still the student, but God is the teacher. God, in his grace and mercy, has given you everything you need to break free of the chains of sin. He sent his only son to die on the cross where he bore your punishment for your sin, and he left behind the Holy Spirit to live inside of you and guide you in walking worthy of that salvation, becoming a reflection of the image of Christ. That is the lesson and the resources before the test. 

The test is the trials, struggles, hard times in your life (Jesus never says following him makes life easy). God has given you everything you need – justification through the blood of Jesus and sanctification through the Holy Spirit – to get through these trials and fulfill your single purpose that is to amplify God’s glory, and now you have a choice. You can recognize that God offered you salvation through his son, but choose to try and work through the trial in your own power, or you can call on the name of Jesus and remain faithful through the hard times.

One day you will find yourself in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ, at the right hand of the Heavenly Father, the righteous judge. Here you will receive your grade. What did you choose? Will you receive the crown of life?

You may enjoy this video on the five crowns of life in the Bible:

You may also enjoy one of these recommended resources for further study:

Heavenly Crowns by Heather Whitestone McCallum, Angela Elwell Hunt

Growing Into Your Crown: A Study in 1 Thessalonians by Randal E. Denny

ESV – “Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”

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