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Sixth Edition, 1915
By Dr. John Thomas (first edition written 1861)



Chapter 3


6. Coronal Wreath




In the English Version, stephanos is rendered "crown." There are two words in the Apocalypse so rendered, -- diadema and stephanos. The latter is used in Matt. xxvii. 29, "they platted a crown of thorns;" and in 1 Cor. ix. 25, "to obtain a corruptible crown;" and in 1 Pet. v. 4, "a crown of glory that fadeth not away." In the Apocalypse, when unassociated with other words, it signifies a garland, chaplet, or wreath, encircling the head from the crown to the back thereof at its junction with the neck. Such was the stephanos, or coronal wreath, with which the victorious athletae, or combatants, in the public games of antiquity were decorated. These combatants were runners, wrestlers, and pugilists, who agonized, or contended earnestly, for the glory, honor, and recompense of victory. Paul alludes to them in saying, "Know ye not that they who run in a race all run, but one receives 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 coronal wreath; but we an incorruptible."

Elliott, in his Horae Apocalypticae, has the following remarks upon the stephanos. "By the imperator or emperor, up to the time of Augustus, was meant, as is well known, simply the victorious Roman general, saluted with that title by his soldiers on the field of battle, and with the triumph and its coveted honors and insignia following. Now, though with Augustus and his successors the most absolute monarchical power attached to their emperorship, yet it was their policy to veil it under the old military or imperial badges. Hence their public insignia (of which the mock robing and crowning of Jesus by the Roman soldiery is an affecting remembrancer) were still the laurel crown and purple robe. The assumption of the diadem, or broad white fillet set with pearls, viewed as it was by the Romans as a badge of oriental despotism, and of the servitude of subject vassals, these emperors carefully shunned. The remembrance long remained with them of the feelings exhibited by the Roman people on its being offered by Antony to their great ancestor, Julius Caesar; insomuch that it was considered an act of madness on the part of Caligula (and the act was quite isolated) to attempt to assume it. Abundant memorials exist to show that all through the time to which the first Seal refers, the crown remained the badge of Roman emperors, the diadem of barbarous kings. In fact, not till about the time of Diocletian, near 200 years after John's banishment to Patmos, was the diadem adopted by Roman emperors: the innovation being accompanied both with the other insignia, and even the adoration too, attendant on eastern royalty. The change constituted an epoch in Roman history; and one markedly noticed, as will afterwards appear, in the Apocalypse. Thus, then, about Diocletian's time, and thenceforward, but not till then, the diadem was the imperial badge; -- for a century or more conjointly with the laurel, then I believe exclusively. So that whereas, with reference to such a period as the close of the fourth century, it would have been an impropriety, and with reference to the sixth an anachronism, to represent the stephanos, or laurel crown, as a badge of empire on an imperial or royal head, -- just as much, and indeed more, it would have been an anachronism to represent a Roman emperor of the two and a half first centuries with a diadem" (Vol. i. p. 126).

In the Apocalypse the diadem is peculiar to the Seven-Headed Dragon and the Ten Horns of the Beast. It is true, that in Apoc. xix. 12, "many diadems" are represented on the head of the Spirit-Man; but then these are the diadems which he wrests from the Ten Horns when he conquers them, and takes possession of their kingdoms.

The stephanos was a very appropriate device for association with life, honor, glory, rejoicing, and righteousness. It was constructed of the laurel, which is evergreen, and therefore emblematic of the ion-Life which is perennial; still when plucked from the living tree it is corruptible, and fades away. So with the believer; as long as he holds fast to what he has, retains his hold upon Christ, by his dwelling in his heart by faith in the word of the patient waiting for him, and not denying his name; Christ, who is the Wisdom of the Deity, is to him a living and unfading tree; and he, as a leaf thereof, does not wither: but if, having received "the word," he does not hold it fast, or denies the name of the Spirit-Man, he is as a leaf plucked from its parent stem; he fades, and another has snatched from him his stephanos, which nought enriches the persecutor, and makes him that loses it poor indeed. Hence, the high importance of the exhortation to the Philadelphian saints, "Hold fast what thou hast that no one may have seized upon thy coronal wreath."

In "the Hour of Trial" there were many examples of this seizure of the stephanos. The following will afford an illustration of others. There were at Antioch a presbyter and an unofficial member of the ecclesia, the former named Sapricius, the latter Nicephorus, who, through some misunderstanding, after a remarkable intimacy, became so completely estranged, that they would not even salute each other in the street. Nicephorus after a time relented, begged forgiveness of his fault, and took repeated measures to procure reconciliation, but in vain. He even went to the house of Sapricius, and throwing himself at his feet, entreated his forgiveness for the Lord's sake; but the presbyter continued obstinate.

In this situation of things "the Hour of Trial" came suddenly upon them. The Spirit-Man had come, as he had forewarned them. Sapricius was carried before the governor, and ordered to sacrifice to the gods in obedience to the edict of the emperors. "We christians," replied Sapricius, "acknowledge for our king Jesus Christ, who is the true God, and the Creator of heaven and earth. Perish idols, which can do neither good nor harm!" The Prefect tormented him a long time, and then commanded that he should be beheaded. Nicephorus hearing this, ran up to him as he was led to execution, and renewed in vain the same supplications. The executioners derided his humility as perfect folly. But he persevered, and attended Sapricius to the place of execution. There he said further, "It is written, Ask and it shall be given you." But not even this appeal to the word, so suitable to Sapricius' own circumstances, could affect his obstinate and unforgiving temper.

Sapricius, however, suddenly recanted, and promised to sacrifice to the idols. Nicephorus, amazed, exhorted him to the contrary; but in vain. He then said to the executioners, "I believe in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ whom he hath renounced." The officers returned to give an account to the governor, who ordered Nicephorus to be beheaded; who may be said to have seized the coronal Sapricius had thrown away.

When the combatants in the public games obtained the coronal evergreen, it was because they had contended according to the regulations, which justified the awarding of the crown to the victor. It was therefore a coronal of justification. He was in a state of right; and therefore entitled to all the honor, glory, and rejoicing due to successful combatants. The laurel wreath was therefore a crown of righteousness, a crown of glory and honor, and a crown of rejoicing, in a gymnastic sense. Upon the principle of analogy, then, the Spirit has chosen the stephanos in preference to the diadem, as the symbol of the glory, honor, rejoicing, and incorruptible life, he has promised to those who are found in that state of right -- of moral right -- he has organized, and defined in "the word." They who come up to the regulations he has ordained in this, are righteous; and being thereby justified, when the day of coronation arrives, "glory, honor, incorruptibility, and life" will be to the resurrected righteous, "a crown or stephanos, that fadeth not away." The diadem is inherited; the stephanos is the prize of "him that overcomes."

But, though the stephanos of the public games was of laurel, still they would fade. Hence, the stephanos in its literality is not introduced into the apocalypse. It stands there analogically, as something that encircles and is bestowed upon victors, but with the material changed. Thus, in Apoc. iv. 4, John sees the twenty-four presbyters with golden stephans upon their heads, which they cast before the throne, indicating thereby that "the glory, honor, and power" represented by the stephans, are derived from the Lord who sits thereon. They are of gold, because they are acquired by faith -- by that faith which is symbolized by fine gold, as the most precious of metals. The most precious metal, in other words, is the emblem of the most precious attribute of a christian. Hence, a tried faith is likened by Peter to gold tried with fire. This is the analogy which he expresses, saying to certain under persecution, "Ye are in heaviness through manifold trials; that the putting to the proof of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory in an apocalypse of Jesus Anointed" (1 Pet. i. 7). Faith like fine gold is a "precious faith," embracing "exceeding great and precious promises;" by faith in which when duly appreciated, "THE DIVINE NATURE" is created and cherished in the hearts of men. To such, the apostle addresses himself, saying, "To them who have obtained like precious faith with us in the righteousness of the Deity, even of our Saviour Jesus Anointed; grace to you and peace be multiplied in the exact knowledge of the Deity, even of Jesus our Lord." How little faith must there be in the world if the faith of the apostles is to be regarded as the standard! The faith extant is not comparable to theirs in kind nor in degree; consequently, but few of this generation will enter into the symbol of the twenty-four wearing "golden stephans upon their heads."

"Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the stephanos of life." Such was the promise to the Smyrneans -- a promise equivalent to that to the Philadelphians. To be faithful unto death is to hold fast the word of the patient waiting for Christ, and not to deny his name; and to receive the stephan of life is to rise from the dead and to live forever.




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