Peter tells us that the faithful elder could expect the crown of glory that fades not away, and this he will receive at the appearing of the Chief Shepherd (1Peter 5:4). The time of Jesus’ appearing has been discussed before, and it concerns when it will become clear to all that Jesus is really the Christ (Messiah), whom the Jews so long expected. This would be made clear when the Jews were judged for rejecting their Messiah and his Gospel, which occurred in 70 AD with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. Therefore, whatever crown Peter referred to would have been given the elders at that time.
The Greek word Peter uses is stephanos (G4735), and it refers to the victory wreath worn by the champions of the Olympic games, and for victorious leaders in battle. The crown, itself, was made of interlocking branches of the bay laurel, perhaps chosen because it was a broad-leafed evergreen, implying never ending. It was often worn by the Caesars of Rome, because of its being an emblem of long-lived martial victory, power and glory. The same Greek word is used in the Gospels for the crown of thorns worn by Jesus (Matthew 27:29; Mark 15:17; John 19:2, 5), no doubt in mock display of what the Romans considered infinite defeat, weakness and disgrace.
Nevertheless, Peter referred to a stephanos (G4735) or crown of glory in 1Peter 5:4. Paul wrote of disciplining himself to obtain an incorruptible (G862) stephanos (G4735) or crown (1Corinthians 9:25). This is not to be confused with Peter’s mention of our incorruptible (G862) inheritance in 1Peter 1:4. We cannot discipline ourselves enough to ‘earn’ or otherwise ‘obtain’ what is, in fact, a gift. Our inheritance is the gift of eternal life that God gives us through Jesus (Romans 6:23). The incorruptible crown, for which we labor to achieve during difficult times, is the reward we earn when our faith is under fire. Such a reward is incorruptible, unlike the reward (crown) earned by those who strive to win in the Olympic games (cf. 1Corinthians 9:25). So, Peter speaks of a stephanos or crown of glory (1Peter 5:4) and Paul of one that is imperishable or incorruptible. Once our trial of faith has ended, and we have been found faithful, no one can take away our crown. It is not corruptible or perishable like a Super Bowl ring. It is our integrity that is on display. We lived out our faith during the fiery trial and showed those who know us what sort of believer we are.
Paul also mentions a stephanos or crown of righteousness (2Timothy 4:8). Paul was awaiting his execution (2Timothy 4:7) and says that he was faithful, having fought the good fight, and was then awaiting his reward, because he had loved the appearing of the Lord. That is, the struggle in which he labored to finish, he endured for the sake of Jesus being manifest to the world as the Messiah or King over all. That was announced to the world in the sign of judgment upon the Jewish nation, at the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple (cf. Matthew 24:30; 26:64). Jesus reigns from heaven over the nations and though they are angry over this prospect, believers love his appearing or manifestation as King (cf. Revelation 11:15-18; 2Timothy 4:8). We preach Christ crucified, but also resurrected and reigning over all. The world doesn’t want to hear this or think that there are consequences for the things they do when they think no one sees, or no one cares.
James mentions a stephanos or crown of life. Jesus also refers to this in Revelation 2:10, and says we can lose it, if we don’t maintain what we have already accomplished (cf. Revelation 3:11). It is important to understand that this does not refer to our earning our salvation. This crown is not a reference to eternal life. Rather, put another way to show its sense, it is life’s crown! That is, it is the crown the believer receives for living out the life of Christ within him, especially during times of trial. For example, the prophets of old were often thought to be evil men preaching gloom and doom to the nation. It was only after what they predicted had come true that the nation in captivity realized the integrity of their lives, and that they had been sent by God. The crown of life, of their lives, was their good name, their vindication in the eyes of those who hated them. It was this sort of crown that the epistle of James and Jesus in Revelation 2:10 and 3:11 refer.
Paul also mentions a crown (G4735) of joy in 1Thessalonians 2:19, saying that believers in the presence of Christ at his coming make up Paul’s “crown of rejoicing,” because we are the glory and the joy of those who wrote the New Testament (Thessalonians 2:20). Children in the presence of Christ are the parents’ crown of joy; a believing church in the presence of Christ is a pastor’s crown of joy etc. And, in the context of the appearing of the Chief Shepherd (1Peter 5:4), the faithful elder (1Peter 5:1) receives his crown (G4735) of glory (praise) for faithfully tending the flock of God by being first an example during times of persecution.