There are five specific crowns mentioned in the Scriptures that believers will receive as rewards for various reasons.
The Crown of Life (James 1:12; Revelation 2:10)
The Crown of Rejoicing (1 Thessalonians 2:19)
The Incorruptible Crown (1 Corinthians 9:24-25)
The Crown of Glory (1 Peter 5:2-4)
The Crown of Righteousness (2 Timothy 4:7-8)
1. The Crown of Life. "Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which YHWH has promised to those who love Him." - James 1:12
"Do not fear what you [Church of Smyrna- 2nd Church] are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I [Yeshua] will give you the crown of life." - Revelation 2:10
This crown is clearly geared towards those who withstand a variety of trials, tribulations, and temptations. These all come in many different forms. If we kept reading in James, we would understand these trials are not from YHWH as YHWH cannot be tempted by evil Himself, but rather it is our own human nature and the enemy's forces that bring about these trials. Yet, earlier in this chapter, James the half-brother of Yeshua encourages us that we should "count it all joy...when you meet trials of various kinds." He shifts this into the light of the strengthening the muscle of steadfastness. I would also argue that you should rejoice because, if it's not your own human nature that's the source of the trial, it's the enemy that is coming after you, and you're probably doing something right.
Although certainly not a theological source I go to, Denzel Washington makes a good point here: "When the devil ignores you, then you know you're doing something wrong. The devil goes, 'Oh, no, leave him alone. He's my favorite. Conversely, when the devil comes at you, maybe it's because you're trying to do something right."
2. The Crown of Rejoicing. "But since we were torn away from you [Church of Thessalonica], brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, because we wanted to come to you - I, Paul, again and again, but Satan hindered us. For what is our hope or joy or crown of [rejoicing] (ESV - "boasting") before our Adonai Yeshua at His Coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy." - 1 Thessalonians 2:17-20.
The premise behind this crown is the idea of winning souls for HaMashiach, and to a certain extent, church-building. Paul's hope and joy of boasting/rejoicing is (in this case) the church in Thessalonica (one of the earlier churches) whom he witnessed to and helped build the church of (Acts 17).
There are certainly individuals who are very skilled, and very passionate about sharing the Gospel to anyone and everyone. Currently, the biggest revivals in the world are happening in Africa, and Southeast Asia, which are the most populous locations in the world (well over 60% of people live in Asia and Indonesia alone). In order to effectively do this, one must dedicate their lives to this; to learn the language, and to sacrifice their time and careers to build the long-term relationships with these communities to even break the ice of trust with these people groups. Not everyone can do this. I can give what I can to support this, but this may not necessarily be my calling. Obviously, I can do this at home with friends and family, but it may not be my life's calling.
3. The Incorruptible Crown. "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. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified." - 1 Corinthians 9:24-27
As a runner and an athlete (not professional), this hits home to my own life. There are no participation trophies here - you have to work for and earn this one. The amount of time and effort any athlete has to dedicate to their skill in order to be successful and win is enormous.
In college, I did not participate in any college sports, but I was in the Kinesiology and Physical Education program, so I was surrounded by many athletes, and got to hear firsthand their daily regimens. Most of them were on a daily schedule, workout, and diet. They would wake up at 4 am and eat a protein bar or protein-packed breakfast. Then they would go to their first team workout of the day. After this, they would go eat again. This would be the theme throughout the day, mixing in classes on top of it. Their coaches would require them to buy certain groceries so they wouldn't deviate from their diet. They had to be disciplined if they wanted to succeed. And my college wasn't even that successful at any sports. Imagine what a professional athlete must go through to maintain their elite skills and physique!?
This Incorruptible Crown is given to those who stick with the program, who exercise self-control in their life. We all have sins that we struggle with, others have it easier than others, and some struggle with terribly difficult debilitating sins. We must deny ourselves, and dedicate our lives to Yeshua, and walk in the Spirit. Just because it feels good, doesn't mean it's right! We cannot allow our feelings to dictate our lives and our beliefs. That role belongs to YHWH's Word, YHWH, Yeshua, and the Ruach HaKodesh. The Truth trumps your feelings. Your feelings do not create truth.
4. The Crown of Glory. "So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of HaMashiach, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of YHWH that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as YHWH would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory." - 1 Peter 5:1-4
This crown is for the leaders of the faith; the pastors, elders, priests, etc. who faithfully feed their flock. These shepherds do not lead by compulsion or coercion, but are humble servants willingly following YWHW's calling and setting the example. They are not in it for any gain, monetary or social, but for pure reasons.
I've personally never felt called to become a pastor, but even here on this blog, I am teaching, so I must be held accountable for these words that I share. I'll allow Yeshua and the Apostle John to close this section with the following passages.
There are many false teachers out there, and they must answer to Yeshua at the Judgment. "Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned." - Matthew 12:33-37.
We are certainly called to test these teachers while they are here. "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from YHWH, for many false prophets have gone out into the world." - 1 John 4:1
5. The Crown of Righteousness. "For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which Adonai, 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 4:6-8
Paul wrote this during his second imprisonment in Rome, only a short while before his death, which he must have assumed was near (Acts 28). This is one of the more beautiful passages in the New Testament in my opinion. Here, we also see a more clear picture of a crown, and how and when and to who it is awarded.
This crown is geared towards those who keep the faith in both doctrine and morality in the face of adverse circumstances. We are in a fight; a spiritual warfare. Will we be shaken by false doctrine, by the enemy's wiles, by the world's pleasures? In the second decade of the 21st century, we are in a very evil age in my opinion. False doctrines pervade the Church, and the world is beginning to turn its weapons towards the church. It will not be easy. Persecution is already here for many in the East, and is certainly coming for those in the West.
This crown is also awarded to those "who have loved His Appearing." At first glance, given this particular English translation, it would almost appear to refer to Yeshua's First Coming. However, if we take a look at the Greek as well as the context of when this crown is bestowed, it infers a different picture. "Loved" in the Greek is ἠγαπηκόσι (egapekosi - agape), and the verb tense is in the Perfect Participle Active. [Disclaimer, I hate grammar, but grammar can change the entire meaning of words and phrases.] A perfect particle active verb "refers to an action that occurred before the action in the main clause". What is the main clause in this context? "On that day..." which is the day when Yeshua returns to the Earth in power and glory and rewards His followers, when Yeshua bestows these crowns. So this verse is actually referring to Yeshua's SECOND Coming, and not His first.
This crown is bestowed upon those who look forward to Yeshua's Second Coming. Yeshua is coming back, and it will be AWESOME.
These are the five crowns specifically mentioned by Scripture, though there could very well be many more that have not been revealed as of yet.
But what are successful believers to do with these crowns and rewards? Most of us have probably heard that we will cast our crowns at the feet of Yeshua, just like the name of the famous Christian band (Casting Crowns) appears to indicate? But where do we get this from? The passage we draw this from Revelation 4, though it is largely inferred from this.
Revelation 4:9-11, "And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him Who is seated on the throne, Who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before Him Who is seated on the throne and worship Him Who lives forever and ever. They cast down their crowns before the throne, saying, "Worthy are You, our Adonai and YHWH, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and by Your Will they were existing and were created.""
There is so much going on in this chapter that necessitates a full discussion, however, this, unfortunately, is not the focus of today's discussion. I will briefly comment on the characters involved in this scene, but I will save further detail for future discussions.
The living creatures are initially described in vv. 6-8. These creatures mostly match the description of the living creatures of Ezekiel 1:4-14, which are generally classified as seraphim-type angels (there are up to at least nine categories of angels).
Next, we have the twenty-four elders. The identity of these elders (πρεσβύτεροι - presbuteroi) is much debated, ranging from celestial beings to church saints. In v. 4 we find a small description of them.
First, there are twenty-four of them. Twenty-four is twelve doubled (the entire math budget was expended on this calculation alone), which has its own significance regarding the twelve tribes of Israel, and the twelve disciples. Twenty-four is a rare combination in the Bible, but not unique to the elders. In 1 Chronicles 24, David divides the sons of Aaron (the priests) into twenty-four divisions to represent the entire nation. Israel is first called by YHWH to be a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19:6), and then Revelation seems to extend this to the Church ask a whole (Revelation 5:10).
This in and of itself appears to be a stretch to link these two concepts together, but it appears to be the best correlation we have. If this is the case, it is impossible to say whether these twenty-four elders are purely Israelite believers, Gentile believers, or a combination. If I had to guess, I would heavily lean towards a combination, or purely Israelites.
Second, they are seated on thrones. YHWH has His Throne. Yeshua has His Throne at the right-hand of YHWH. The twenty-four thrones of these elders. Those who conquer from the Church of Laodicea will sit with Yeshua on His throne (Rev. 3:21). Those who have been given authority to judge during the Millenial Kingdom (Rev. 20:4). And then obviously kings of nations in general. It should be noted that the Scriptures are silent whether angels receive or sit on thrones, and my hunch is no.
These elders, most likely, are similar to those in Revelation 20:4, where they have been specially appointed to rule.
Third, they wear white garments. Within the context of Revelation, white robes are generally associated with those that perish during the Tribulation (Revelation 7:9, 13, 14). Beyond Revelation, angelic messengers wear white robes (Mark 16:5; Acts 1:10).
Fourth, they are wearing crowns. In the original Greek, this word is στεφάνους (stephanos), which is different than the crown belonging to Yeshua/YHWH (διαδήματα - diademata), but also other celestial beings. In Revelation 13:3, the dragon wears these. (It should also be noted that the Antichrist in Revelation 6:2 wears a στεφάνους crown.) This would greatly infer that these elders are believers.
Fifth, the title elders. In the Greek, πρεσβύτερος (presbuteros) is where we get the word Presbyterian. In the Gospels, this referred to the chief priests and the elders. In the epistles, this referred to church leaders, and once in Hebrews to refer to Old Testament heroes of faith (Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, the Israelites crossing the Red/Reed Sea, the Israelites at the battle of Jericho, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets). Again, celestial beings are never referred to as 'elders'.
Lastly, the timing of the arrival of these twenty-four elders in lieu of the chronological sequences of the text. Some commentators will say that the close of ch. 3 initiates the Tribulation period, and this is from a dispensational view. This line of thought states that the seven churches in Revelation 2-3 represent seven different eras of the Church Age, with the last church, Laodicea, being the final era of the Church before the Tribulation, with ch. 4 beginning the Tribulational period. I do not believe there is enough textual evidence to support this, but it is also always certainly a possibility.
The event immediately following this event that John sees is the determination of the worthy Individual to open the Scroll with seven seals. Thus, we can at least infer that this image of twenty-four elders is prior to any of the seals being broken. We do not know at what point the first seal is broken in the Tribulation period. Most commentators would agree it happens very early on in the Tribulation period as it relates to the Antichrist conquering the Earth.
Given all this, my current personal opinion (subject to change) is that these are twenty-four individuals from all of history prior to the Tribulation period that were, and are worthy of these positions. The number of individuals mentioned in Hebrews 11 would most certainly surpass twenty-four individuals. One could maybe make an argument for the twelve sons of Jacob, and the twelve disciples (though there were thirteen including Judas). There is at least some precedent for the disciples in Matthew 19:28, "Yeshua said to them, "Truly I say to you, in the New World, when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.""
So, what will believers do with their rewards once they receive them from Yeshua? The Scriptures are not exactly clear. There is much we do not know about the Millenial Kingdom, and certainly more about Eternity following the Millenial Kingdom. But this is also very exciting as a result of the unknown!
Will we have need of these rewards in Eternity? What need will we have for physical things, when the eternal ecstasy of being in continual communion with Yeshua/YHWH is perpetually present? We do know that some rewards are promised to us, such as the crowns mentioned above.
In Matthew 25:14-30, we find the Parable of the Talents which appears to have eschatological significance: "His Master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your Master.'"
In the Parable of the vineyard workers, the faithful receive a day's wage (Matthew 20:9-16). In the Parable of the Virgins, it is the entrance to the marriage feast (Matthew 25:10). In the Parable of the Sheep and Goats, they inherit the Kingdom (Matthew 25:34). In the Parable of the Servants, they are in charge of the Master's possessions (Luke 12:42-44). In the Parable of the Ten Minas, they are given authority over cities (Luke 19:16-19). The Church of Thyatira, they are promised authority over the nations (Revelation 2:26-27).
Those who are 'good and faithful servants' will most likely receive positions of authority, inferring a hierarchy in the Millenial Kingdom/Eternity. What do these roles of authority entail? Again, it is not entirely clear, though positions of authority to judge (Revelation 20:4) are clear.
Is it wrong to desire these rewards? That depends on the intention and heart behind the desire. If it's for selfish, boastful reasons, then I would say you don't have the right intentions. You must ask yourself what motivates you. Some people are motivated by reward - not for boastful reasons, but as a goal/objective. Some people are motivated by the fact that they have been forgiven much, and therefore love much (Luke 7:41-47). What motivates you to do good and to follow YHWH's Word?
Aside from your motivations, the fact remains that there are rewards available. "And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to YHWH must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him." - Hebrews 11:6
I wish to finish with a passage that I think beautifully sums up all that we have spoken of thus far.
"Blessed be YHWH and Father of our Adonai Yeshua HaMashiach! According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Yeshua HaMashiach from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by YHWH's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the Last Time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith - more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire - may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the Revelation of Yeshua HaMashiach. Though you have not seen Him, you love Him. Though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls." - 1 Peter 1:3-9
Blessings and Maranatha!