The Victor’s Crown

July 25, 2011

In the letter to the church at Smyrna, a church which only received commendation from the Lord, Jesus said, “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10, NKJV).

The word rendered crown is the Greek term stephanos. W. E. Vine observes that this word

denotes (a) “the victor’s crown,” the symbol of triumph in the games or some such contest; hence, by metonymy, a reward or prize; (b) “a token of public honor” for distinguished service, military prowess, etc., or of nuptial joy, or festal gladness, especially at the parousia of kings. It was woven as a garland of oak, ivy, parsley, myrtle, or olive, or in imitation of these in gold. In some passages the reference to the games is clear, 1 Cor. 9:25; 2 Tim. 4:8 (“crown of righteousness”); it may be so in 1 Pet. 5:4, where the fadeless character of “the crown of glory” is set in contrast to the garlands of earth. In other passages it stands as an emblem of life, joy, reward and glory, Phil. 4:1; 1 Thess. 2:19; Jas. 1:12 (“crown of life “); Rev. 2:10 (ditto); 3:11; 4:4, 10: of triumph, 6:2; 9:7; 12:1; 14:14.

Greek athlete wearing the victor's wreath. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Vine continues:

It is used of “the crown of thorns” which the soldiers plaited and put on Christ’s head, Matt. 27:29; Mark 15:17; John 19:2, 5. At first sight this might be taken as an alternative for diadema, “a kingly crown” (see below), but considering the blasphemous character of that masquerade, and the materials used, obviously diadema would be quite unfitting and the only alternative was stephanos (see Trench Syn. Sec.xxxii).¶

Our photo features a close up of the head of a running athlete and dates back to the late Hellenistic period. This statue was retrieved from the Agean Sea off the coast of Kyme, and is displayed at the Izmir Museum (biblical Smyrna).

Sometimes the question is raised as to whether Jesus meant to be faithful as long as you live or to be faithful to the point of death. The answer is, “Yes.” Yes to both.

Click on image for higher resolution.