"the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne..."
This Scripture is taken from a description the Apostle John gives of a vision he had in Heaven. In the vision he is seeing the very throne room of Heaven, and upon the throne sits the Lord Almighty (Omnipotent), "Who was, and Who is, and Who is to come". What a wonderful picture of the dual character of both Father and Son!
What I love about Scripture is the depth of the Word! There are several underlying lessons within this short verse. The immediate understanding of this particular passage is the image of the 24 elders bowing to the throne and casting their crowns before the throne ... or literally at Jesus's feet. Although scholars have come up with various interpretations as to who these 24 elders are, to me it is clear that they represent the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 Apostles. Together they form the Church of Jesus Christ.
If you have done a serious study of Romans 11, you will find the Apostle Paul laying out God's concise plan for bringing both the Jewish faith and the Christian faith together to form His unified Body. This body of elders in the throne room of God are truly the fathers of our faith! And no one can dispute their right to wear crowns.
Before I go any further it is important that we understand the context with which this use of "crowns" is used. The Greek word translated “crown” is stephanos (the source for the name Stephen the martyr) and means “a badge of royalty, a prize in the public games or a symbol of honor generally.” Used during the ancient Greek games, it referred to a wreath or garland of leaves placed on a victor’s head as a reward for winning an athletic contest. As such, this word is used figuratively in the New Testament of the rewards of heaven God promises those who are faithful.
In fact, the Apostle Paul uses the allegory of "running the race" and "winning the prize" many times throughout his epistles. And 1 Corinthians 9:24-25, he echoes this ancient idea of a wreath, or crown, being placed on a victor's head: Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.
None of us can dispute that these 24 elders -- these faithful men of the Lord's Church -- deserve their crowns. They are the royalty of our faith and their crowns certainly symbolize the honor due them. But what about us? Did you know that we, too, will receive crowns?
I know it is difficult for some Christians to accept this concept. They view the seeking of crown's as a Christian seeking rewards for works. But that is never expressed in the Bible. Paul is very specific in 1 Corinthians 9:24-25 ... we should want to receive the prize of faithfulness; there is no pride involved in our desire to be faithful. He explicitly tells us, "Run so you may obtain it[the prize; the crown]!
In fact, the Bible names the crowns that are ours for running the race and being faithful:
1. The Imperishable Crown: As previously shown, in 1 Corinthians 9:25, Paul says: Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it (run) to receive a perishable wreath (crown), but we an imperishable.
2. The Crown of Rejoicing: (1 Thessalonians 2:19) “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?
3. The Crown of Righteousness: (2 Timothy 4:8) “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.”
4. The Crown of Glory: (1 Peter 5:4) “And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.”
5. The Crown of Life: (Revelation 2:10) “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.”
It should be apparent in reading these passages that the crowns we receive are not from our works, but come because of our faithfulness to Christ, and through His intercession for us. It is Christ in us who enables us to run the race and claim the prize. Therefore, please do not shy away from seeking your crowns! They are priceless and a worthy inheritance for a life lived in grace, perseverance and faith.
Finally, the last image we get from Revelation 4:10 is that of the casting crowns before the throne; of effectively casting them at Jesus's feet. I believe that this image expresses what we will feel when we are standing before Him. Whatever crowns we have won because of our faithfulness here on earth will seem insignificant in the reality that we are standing before the King! Just as the elders did, we will bow in humble and adoring worship at his feet, and offer our crowns to Him. Only He is worthy of all honor and glory! And regardless of how we lived out our faith on earth, or how many crowns we deserved, those priceless crowns will seem such a small offering; but it will be the best gift we can give Him. He will bestow the garland of victory upon our heads, but they are His for the keeping ... He is the true Victor in our race, and eternal life with Him is the prize!