“Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.” (1 Corinthians 9:25)
Ancient athletes who competed for the prize devoted their whole lives to training and practised “self-control in all things,” hoping thereby to receive the victor’s crown someday.
There are 21 references to the victor’s crown in the New Testament, in either the verb or noun form. In most of these, the crown is used as a symbol of the Christian’s “incorruptible” reward at the end of his spiritual race.
In 1 Thessalonians 2:19, it is called a “crown of rejoicing,” speaking of the joy awaiting the faithful witness when he meets again with those he has influenced for Christ in this present life.
Paul spoke of our “crown of righteousness” (2 Timothy 4:8) when we shall be “like him” (1 John 3:2), with our old sinful weaknesses and desires gone forever. Peter said it would be an “unfading crown of glory” (1 Peter 5:4). James and John both said it is a wonderful “crown of life” (James 1:12; Revelation 2:10), that is, eternal life, in contrast to this present life of faithful submission to trials and persecution and possible death, for Christ’s sake.
The first four references to this victor’s crown, however, refer to the crown worn by Christ Himself. “Then Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe. And Pilate said to them, Behold the man!” (John 19:5).
Marvellous irony this, that a crown intended as an instrument of ridicule and pain would be transformed into a kingly crown of triumph! “But we see Jesus . . . crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man” (Hebrews 2:9). In the very suffering of death, He defeated death and sin and Satan himself, and His crown of thorns became a crown of eternal glory and universal honor.