"The twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne…" (Revelation 4:10)
Preparing for worship this Sunday, we have a song that reads:
We fall down,
We lay our crowns,
At the feet of Jesus.
This song is most clearly taken from this scene in John's revelation. Okay, so we can sing the song and not be unbiblical in so doing, but can we sing it biblically? That is, can we sing it with the meaning intended in scripture?
The impression I've always had when singing this song: anything of worthiness, any accomplishment, any acclaim we have, we surrender to Jesus as an indication of submission to His universal lordship. Does that hold up?
- What things does scripture have in mind when it mentions humans' crowns?
- If this is a heavenly scene, ought we be laying crowns down here on earth?
Scripture mentions the crowns of our God-King in several places. His thorny crown of suffering, His ruler's and conqueror's crowns in Revelation. A crown in integral to the concept of kingship. A ruler without a crown may be a president or a prime minister, but he is no king. Good or bad, he has no absolute right to rule with sovereignty over his people. The crown symbolizes ultimate authority to a subject. Even so, earthly dominions may be corrupt, they may also be resisted - even overcome. However, Christ's kingdom will ultimately stand alone, and every creature - heavenly, earthly, and hellish - will acknowledge Him as Supreme Lord. Christ is seen with crowns because He has conquered sin and death, has held His victory parade, and now reigns far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is, and will ever be, named.
So what is this about us having crowns? Surely this does not refer to symbols of earthly authority, does it? Here are the relevant references:
- The Crown of Life
"Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable." (1 Corinthians 9:25)
"in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing." (2 Timothy 4:8)
"Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him." (James 1:12)
"And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory." (1 Peter 5:4)
"Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life." (Revelation 2:10)
"‘I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, so that no one will take your crown." (Revelation 3:11)
This crown represents the reward of eternal life given to believers. All but one of these verses is referring to events that occur at the end of mortal life, and James 1:12 does not make any time-related reference at all. MacArthur writes of the Rev 2:10 reference:
Those who prove the genuineness of their faith by remaining faithful to the Lord until death will receive as their reward the crown (stephanos; the victor’s crown) of life. The crown (reward, culmination, outcome) of genuine saving faith is eternal life...
- The Crown of Joy
"Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown..." (Philippians 4:1)
"For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming?" (1 Thessalonians 2:19)
Crown in this sense is a synonym for "reward." In a sense, Paul's work of preaching the gospel was it's own reward. "What then is my reward? That, when I preach the gospel, I may offer the gospel without charge..." (1 Corinthians 9:18)
The joy at seeing people escape the wrath to come was very precious to Paul. He placed tremendous value on the salvation of souls, and the prospect of seeing these believers in the presence of Jesus was the ultimate reward for his toil. He could boast of their faith in Christ, encouraging others - and himself - by the fact of their re-birth. While he himself could not save a single soul, yet these fellow believers were his crowning achievement. Anyone that has been used by Christ to aid in the drawing of a brother or sister feels this same joy. When we have given the gospel to someone and seen them respond with repentance and faith, our hearts well up with joy as we celebrate their salvation, their baptism, and their progress in the faith. Life holds few rewards as great as this.
- Other Crowns
"Around the throne were twenty-four thrones; and upon the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and golden crowns on their heads." (Revelation 4:4)
Editor's note: Originally I had postulated that these elders were redeemed men in heaven. These "elders" appear in 12 verses of John's vision. Thanks to Don Carson for making me look to these texts for a better understanding of the identity of these elders. These beings are likely angelic because:
- they present the prayers of the saints to God (5:8), a task assigned to angels (8:3)
- they speak to John, a role normally reserved for angels in apocalytic writing (7:13; 5:5)
- they are numbered among the other angelic beings (5:11-14; 7:11; 19:4)
The crowns the elders wear are not described and may or may not apply to us directly. However, these ruling angels lay down their crowns in fealty to Christ, affirming His copmlete Lordship over all of heaven.
Should we be "Laying Down" our Crowns?
"And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying, “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.”" (Revelation 4:9-11)
This is the text we started with. Every created being, at the sight of Christ, immediately yields whatever honor has been bestowed and humbles themselves in the presence of God the Son. All honor was on account of Him in the first place; an extension of His favor to much lesser beings. Dukes, barons and other nobility receive their elevated status from the Crown, retain it at the Crown's discretion, and place their rightful resources in the service of the Crown. They may hold court in their own county, holding the highest of positions and responsibilities, but they are mere subjects in the presence of the king himself. Likewise, when Christ appears, the elders immediately fall off their thrones and yield the symbols of their own privilege to the Great King of Heaven - from whom they were received. At that point, all they can do is worship.
So that's heaven... but what about here? Must this act of worship wait for heaven? Not at all. We are after all His subjects here and now. We have already taken hold of eternal life, haven't we? We have already received a deposit of the full inheritance that awaits us, haven't we? Are we not daily blessed by never-ending mercies pouring forth from the throne of Christ? Do we not already know the joy of the Lord, if not in full at least in part? Does the Word of God itself not demonstrate the continuous lovingkindness of God toward finite minds? Is the joy of fellowship with each other not a sign of His tenderness and care for us?
No, there can be no doubt that we already have received much undeserved honor from God on account of Christ, and that the only right response is to surrender it all back to Him. Victories over sin can be laid as swords and shields at the feet of our conquering King. The salvation of friends and family members should result in the praise of His name - "The Lord Saves." Answered prayers, perseverance, righteous acts - all should be catalysts for the most reverent worship. With our voices and bodies we can outwardly pay homage to Him as an overflow of our heart's attitude towards Him. Indeed, to keep such feelings hidden is to draw into question either His worthiness, or the existence of such feelings.
We know now in part. We do now in part. The praise we will offer in heaven will be complete; nothing will be held back out of embarrassment, shame or ignorance. In response to His incomprehensible holiness we will become living instruments, together creating a symphony of glorious praise for our God and Savior. Yet even now we are in His presence, and even now we can strive to honor Him with our worship.
Lord, help me to worship you with my whole being. To love You with my whole heart, mind, soul and strength. May I willingly offer to you all the credit and glory for every good thing in my life. May all my actions and thoughts be brought into line with the reality of your consummate supremacy. And when I join with my fellow subjects in worship, may I hold nothing back. May my voice ring clear and resonate with the chorus, may my hands play instruments with passion and skill; and as this offering rises up to You, may you somehow transform it into something beautiful... a fragrant aroma... an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.