There are five crowns many Christians believe exist, they are the imperishable crown, the crown of rejoicing, the crown of righteousness, the crown of glory, and the crown of life.
There are actually three crowns given in Heaven by Christ for deeds of ones character on Earth. There are many who subscribe to an imperishable or incorruptible crown because of its mention in Corinthians, or a crown of rejoicing as depicted in Thessalonians, but these crowns are given out of context erroneously.
The Greek word translated “crown” is stephanos (the source for the name Stephen the martyr) meaning “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.
The Imperishable Crown - NOT A REAL CROWN
“Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.” 1 Corinthians 9:24-25
All things on this earth are subject to decay and will perish. Jesus urges us to not store our treasures on earth. “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:” Matthew 6:19.
This is analogous to what Paul was saying about that wreath of leaves that was soon to turn brittle and fall apart. But not a heavenly crown; faithful endurance wins a heavenly reward which is “To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you,” 1 Peter 1:4
In this regard and in context, the reference to an imperishable crown is more about the condition of the crowns in heaven, rather than a description of any actual crown itself. It is to say the crowns given in Heaven will not corrode, blemish or need polishing.
The Crown of Rejoicing - NOT A REAL CROWN
“For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?” 1 Thessalonians 2:19
“Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice” Philippians 4:4
The rejoicing crown is also not a physical crown, it is an expression by Paul in the context of exhorting the brethren. Paul was talking about the difficulties they faced in the service and ministry of the Lord and that the salvation of these brothers who received the word of the Lord are the glory and crowns to rejoice in. The context is important…. 1 Thessalonians 2:10–20
The Crown of Righteousness - Actual Crown
The Crown of Righteousness is to those who have accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior which places them in right standing with God, which is what righteousness means. Because it is obtained and possessed in a righteous way, and not by force and deceit as earthly crowns sometimes are, it is an everlasting crown, promised to all who love the Lord and wait for His return.
“There is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day, and not to me only, but unto them also that love His appearing” 2 Timothy 4:8
God does reward us, both in this life and in the life to come. There are different types of rewards in addition to these, rewards are based on our labor in the faith in this life, which is completely separate and apart from salvation.
The Crown of Glory - Actual Crown
“And when the Chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of Glory that fadeth not away” 1 Peter 5:4
This is associated with your glorified body in Heaven, though Peter is addressing the elders, we must also remember that the crown will be awarded to all those who wait for Christ appearing. This word “glory” refers to the very nature of God and His actions. It entails His great splendor and brightness.
Stephen who, while being stoned to death, was able to look into the heavens and see the glory of God. “But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.” Acts 7:55-56
This word also means that the praise and honor we bestow to God alone is due Him because of who He is (Isaiah 42:8, 48:11; Galatians 1:5). It also recognizes that believers are incredibly blessed to enter into the kingdom, into the very likeness of Christ Himself. “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Romans 8:18
The Crown of Life - Actual Crown
The Crown of Life is referred to in James 1:12, Revelation 2:10
Jesus references this crown when he speaks to the Church in Smyrna..
“Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.” Revelation 2:10
The crown of life is salvation, for without salvation there is no life. They are one in the same. It is associated with those who persevere through challenges and persecutions. The reason for this association is because many break under the pressure and do not overcome. Jesus made this point repeatedly and each time with more and more clarity.
“Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” Matthew 7:13-14 (Revelation 2:7, Revelation 2:11, Revelation 2:17, Revelation 2:26, Revelation 3:5, Revelation 3:12)
“Blessed is the man that endureth temptation, for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love Him” James 1:12
This connects directly to what it is to overcome, it includes an examination of your work in the process. To be “tried” refers to the judgment seat of Christ. Jesus will test every aspect of your heart and works (2 Corinthians 5:10; 1 Corinthians. 3:13-15; Hebrews 4:12).