THE VICTOR’S WREATH
BY: ADOLPH E. KNOCH
WREATHS are the prizes awarded to the saints for surpassing service. Just as in the Olympic games of ancient Greece, the victor in each contest was rewarded with a wreath, sometimes of laurel, as a sign of his success, so the saints will receive a mark of approval when they are manifested before the dais of Christ and are requited for that which they have done in His service. (1 Cor.9:24-27, 2 Cor.5:10) Literal wreaths soon fade and dissolve into dust, but ours are incorruptible, eternal tokens of victory, the prize awarded to those who struggle to exceed in His service. Wreaths are only for the saints, both Circumcision and Uncircumcision, and they differ not only in each case, but in kind, to accord with the character of God’s dealings.
Victor’s wreaths and regal crowns should be carefully distinguished. Possibly crowns originally were metallic wreaths worn by the conqueror of a country in token of his victory, and so became a sign of the sovereignty of a reigning ruler. As this was transmitted to his descendants, it became the token of inherited authority or nobility, and lost its original sense of a victor’s reward. The wreath of Scripture is not a regal crown. It does not give us royal rights. It is not connected with our reigning with Christ in the celestial realms. This kind of a crown is given for endurance. If we are enduring, we shall be reigning together. (2 Tim.2:12) The wreath is for those who excel in righteousness or any other virtue.
Paul has already worn some of his figurative wreaths in anticipation of the day of award, in His presence. His joy and glory and wreath were none other than the Thessalonians themselves, the visible tokens of his victory in Thessalonica. (1 Thess.2:19) He uses the same figure of the Philippians. They were his joy and wreath. (Phil.4:1) They were a memorial of his victory in that place, so become to him what a wreath would be to an athlete in the public games. So all who are the fruit of our labors are our wreath, both now and in that day. There is no need of a literal garland, for they suffice to display to the eyes of all what we have accomplished.
As a contestant in the games gets a wreath for every branch of sport in which he wins, so we may expect recognition for every quality in which we excel. Literally, it seems strange to think of Paul, for instance, with a tower of wreaths upon his head, but figuratively he can accommodate any number without discomfort or ridicule. Indeed, all the virtues in which each one has excelled will be worn by him for all to see, without the necessity of literal laurel leaves.
Righteousness will be one of Paul’s wreaths in that day. Looking back upon his life, he could say: “I have contended the ideal contest. I have finished my career. I have kept the faith. Furthermore, there is reserved for me the wreath of righteousness, which the Lord, the just judge, will be paying to me in that day; yet not to me only, but also to all who love His advent.” Let us note carefully that the wreath is not something that he had not previously possessed, but a recognition and a reward for the righteousness which he displayed in his career. Wreaths are in the making, so to speak, in the present life. It is the speed that the runner shows during the race that wins him his chaplet. He is not awarded speed, but only a prize for it, which may have no price tag, but a high value in honor.
Defeat disgraced our Lord with a wreath of thorns. (Matt.27:29, Matt.15:17, John 19:2) Victory will place upon His head a wreath of gold. (Rev.14:14) The expression “crown of thorns” may give a false impression. I took it as a contrast to His kingly crown in the coming eon. Instead of being a King, He became a Criminal. But now I see a more marvelous contrast between the apparent failure of His past ministry and the marvelous success of His future work. He came to Israel seeking fruit, but He found very little. There was barely any harvest. But, as the great Harvester of the end, He will succeed, and the head that bled from the cruel spikes of the thorny wreath will wear a golden coronal when He harvests the sheaves at the era of the end. (Rev.14:14-16)
Because of the suffering of death, Jesus is wreathed with glory and honor. (Heb.2:9) Here we leave the figure of the stadium, for there are no prizes for suffering. This goes much deeper, and calls for a wreath of a special kind, which is the opposite of that which it rewards. Glory and honor come to the great sufferer. Each one of us, who know Him and His sacrifice, have our part in wreathing Him by means of thanksgiving, praise, and adoration. We all may take a principal part in this continuous coronation, even if we have no wreath.
And this, it seems to me, is the secret of man’s high place in God’s counsels. The earth will not be subject to him because he has inherited a crown, but because, by testing and suffering, by the experience of evil which humbles him, he will be wreathed with glory and honor, and thus fitted to have the habitance subjected to him during the eons. (Heb.2:6-8)
“What is man that Thou art mindful of him?
Or a son of mankind, that Thou art visiting him?
Thou makest him some bit inferior to the messengers,
With glory and honor Thou wreathest him,
And dost place him over the works of Thy hands.
All dost Thou subject underneath his feet.”
In this, as in all else, there is a difference between the Circumcision and the Uncircumcision, due to the excess of grace which is ours in Christ Jesus. Life, with us, is hardly a thing for which to strive, being a gift of grace. But with them there is a much stronger stress on faithfulness than faith. Those who are faithful until death are given a wreath of life. (Rev.2:10) Those in Philadelphia are exhorted to hold to that which they have, that no one may be taking their wreath. (Rev.3:11) James tells us the man who endures trial is happy because it qualifies him for the wreath of life. (Jas.1:12) All of this has a tinge of legality and works, which does not harmonize with the transcendent grace we now, enjoy. Life will hardly be regarded as a wreath by us, for we have not deserved it by our conduct, but accepted it as a gracious gift, by faith alone.
There is one wreath, which we all may win. The wreath of righteousness is for those who are righteous no doubt. Yet the apostle tells us that it is also for all who love His advent. There is no real difference here, for there is no greater incentive to righteousness than an intense desire to be in His presence, where no injustice can abide and all unrighteousness is exposed.
Men are ambitious to excel, and are proud of prizes they have won, and medals they have received, or degrees bestowed upon them. These have their value for this fleeting life, but, like the laurel chaplet once bestowed, they fade and crumble and decay. The great hero of one day may be dishonored on the next. We, however, receive enduring recognition for our striving, even though we realize that this also is due to His grace. Few, indeed, may ever see our wreaths in this life, even if we have them. But what a marvel that, for the eons to come, we should have joy and honor and glory, for doing that which it was our duty to do, and which we would gladly lay at His feet, Who alone is worthy to wear all the wreaths that we or God bestow upon Him!
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VICTOR’S WREATH, THE [Adolph E. Enoch] 1