Embedded in this prophetic declaration of color and imagery is a startling statement that demands our attention to explore and embrace with living faith, as if our life depends upon it—because, after all, it does!
In Revelation 2, Christ speaks directly to the church of Smyrna in Asia Minor. This 2,000-year-old missive, initially written to seven specific churches, is just as relevant today. The church at Smyrna is described as experiencing times of tribulation (Revelation 2:9). Jesus had plainly stated during the course of His earthly ministry, "If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you" (John 15:20).
Unlike Napoleon, we aren’t going to seize a crown but will be given a crown—not because of what we have conquered, but rather, because we have allowed “territory” within our hearts to be conquered by the King of Kings—Jesus Christ.
When persecution came, it must have seemed very lonely and scary to see the bright hope of salvation darkened by the forces of evil. These folks had most likely been dispossessed by their families and persecuted by their communities. In the streets and alleys and shopping stalls of the Roman world, they had walked in the spiritual footsteps of Christ.
Then, it's as if the exalted Jesus Christ walks up alongside them and shares the realities on the ground, as well as the realities of God's future blessings. He speaks truth and speaks to their hearts by stating, "Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life" (Revelation 2:10).
Let's stop for a moment and consider a profound biblical reality that cuts to the quick of our spiritual lives. The seamless rhythm of the Scriptures continually reminds us that Christ never promised His followers it would be easy, but He did promise it would be worth it! Here in these verses, the King of Kings speaks of the gift of the "crown of life." He dynamically deems those He addresses worthy of such honor because of their sacrifice of self for Him. Now, in return, He speaks of a glorious reward that He earnestly desires to place on their heads.
This crown is synonymous with the victor's laurel wreath granted to victorious Olympian runners or triumphant Roman generals. But first, before gaining such a crown, they would have to give themselves away.
The vast contrast between two coronations
Consider for a moment how different this future crowning is from the coronation of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1804 when he was crowned as the French Emperor. He was not alone but surrounded by a throng in a cathedral. He was not dispossessed. He ruled much of Europe and all its riches. There is one more outstanding difference between his crown and that mentioned in Revelation. When Pope Pius VII came to crown him, Napoleon seized the crown from the pope's hands and crowned himself. How far removed is such a dramatic and self-aggrandizing action from the humble and faithful attitudes of the saints of Smyrna?
Incredibly, not much more than 11 years from crowning himself, Napoleon would be exiled. The "little corporal," a self-proclaimed emperor, would ultimately be stuck alone on an island, become sickly and die far from his homeland.
The profound biblical declaration is that not only Napoleon or the saints of Smyrna are to wear crowns and rule the nations. You and I are too. But, unlike Napoleon, we aren't going to seize a crown but will be given a crown—not because of what we have conquered, but rather, because we have allowed "territory" within our hearts to be conquered by the King of Kings—Jesus Christ. Most importantly, after being crowned, our reign under Christ will expand to encompass the entire earth for 1,000 years (Revelation 20:4).
The apostle Paul, who had most likely visited Smyrna when he lived in the nearby city of Ephesus for three years, fully embraced the reality of being granted such a crown by Jesus Christ for faithful service. This soldier for Christ penned in his last letter to the Church: "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 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" (2 Timothy 4:7-8). Paul's exclamation of hope emphatically applies to you and me as well, doesn't it?
Our destiny of wearing a crown
Before "that Day" arrives, let's consider our destiny to wear crowns as children of God. God has destined you to wear a crown. The prophetic declaration of Revelation 5:10, speaking of those who have been redeemed to God by Christ's blood, says it all: "You have made them into kings and priests for our God. They will rule on the earth" (Worldwide English New Testament).
Just imagine for a moment: God is molding us as His spiritual jewels into a display of His glorious rule over the nations. We have not been selected for such position through force of arms, popularity or cunning, but because we have been chosen by God's grace to such divine inheritance. Upon full awareness of such an honor of divine selection and future reward, we surrender our "personal kingdoms" in the here and now, so to speak, but it comes at a present cost for each of us.
Bearing a crown of thorns
What cost? Before we wear a glorious crown in "that Day," we must bear another type of crown for now. Hebrews 2:9-10 sheds light on such a crown by proclaiming, "But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings."
It has been stated by others, "We must bear a cross before we bear a crown." Perhaps even more poignant for our consideration is the proposition that "a life without thorns is an eternity without a crown."
But why? When Christ places His saints over the peoples of the Millennium, He desires us to convey "a spirit of experience." Those under our tutelage need to know that those placed over them have not merely existed in a world of plastic and Teflon, but that they have struggled in the challenging world of flesh and blood. Yes, a world of consternation, and yet a life of overcoming and spiritual success by God's grace.
Oh yes, the future subjects in the coming wonderful world of tomorrow will appreciate following those who are the "real deal"—rulers who sympathize with their life experiences and what they are going through. Shakespeare put it so eloquently in Romeo and Juliet when he penned, "He jests at scars that never felt a wound." Isn't our relationship with Christ strengthened by what He experienced? (See Hebrews 4:15.) We should expect that our walk toward our future crowning moment will follow in the path of the King of Kings.
Even with this needed job description in place, let's take a present-day reality check. At times, we spiritually grind down to almost a halt because of existing in this age apart from God and being subject to the whims of Satan and the ravages of human nature. It can seem very attractive to go back to the flow of society. All of us can sympathize with the pleading cry of the saints down through the ages of "How long, O Lord?" (Revelation 6:10).
"I am the path"
Yet this is the crucible of learning each of us must step through. We must fully experience it to full completion rather than "throwing in the towel."
In ancient times, those endeavoring to participate in the Olympics had to state on oath that they had fulfilled the required 10 months of strenuous training before being allowed to enter the contest. Any athlete who had not submitted himself to this necessary discipline of spirit and flesh would have no chance of winning and would seriously lower the standards of excellence demanded in the games. All this for a corruptible wreath of laurels that were already decaying when placed on the victor's head.
In contrast, the apostle Paul, who was no stranger to the crown of thorns placed on him in his ministry, said to "run in such a way that you may obtain...an imperishable crown" (1 Corinthians 9:24-25).
Caring for those crowns—now!
Finally, we must now care for that crown! Christ directly admonishes and exhorts Smyrna's neighboring saints in the city of ancient Philadelphia to "hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown" (Revelation 3:11). It is His same message to us today. Jesus Christ always remembers the value of the reward that lies ahead of us.
Perhaps the echo of the prophet Isaiah of "This is the way, walk in it" (Isaiah 30:21) is best underlined by the response of one earthly ruler who, rather than seizing a crown like Napoleon, seemingly was willing to cast aside the one on her head.
When Queen Victoria had just ascended her throne, she went, as is the royal custom, to hear a performance of Handel's Messiah. Her advisers informed her that she must not rise as the audience stood at the singing of the "Hallelujah Chorus." When that magnificent chorus was being sung and the singers were shouting "Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth," she sat with great difficulty.
It seemed as if she would rise in spite of the custom of kings and queens, and finally when they came to that part of the chorus where with a shout they proclaim Him "King of Kings," suddenly the young queen rose and stood with bowed head, as if she would take her own crown from off her head and cast it at His feet.
As we walk through the portals of our daily existence and the unfolding doors of biblical prophecy, let us be willing to equally rise to the occasion and cast aside our pride, as well as our doubts and fears, and realize that the Ruler of our life has said, "I will give you a crown."