By Ron J. Bigalke Jr.
In 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20, the Apostle Paul expressed the heart of a shepherd for his sheep. The pastoral concern of the Apostle demonstrates that the wellbeing of the sheep is the first priority of the shepherd. Paul communicated his shepherd’s heart for the sheep in verse 19, when he referred to the church as his “hope or joy or crown of exultation.” Paul demonstrated emphatically the great priority of the spiritual wellbeing of the church “in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming.” With regard to eschatological (prophetic) events, two questions arise concerning the identity of the “crown” and the timing of the “coming.”
The Crown of Glory and Joy
Scripture reveals various crowns that will be given to believers, which appear to be based upon service to the Lord. In 1 Thessalonians 2:19, the focus is a “crown of exultation,” which is perhaps a crown received for faithfulness in evangelism and discipleship (given the context of Paul’s words to the Thessalonian church). Other passages of Scripture may confirm this understanding. For instance, 1 Corinthians 9:25 reads,
“Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things.”The teaching is that the believer who lives a disciplined life will receive an imperishable crown. Paul alluded to the Isthmian games wherein athletes would discipline themselves to receive a perishable reward, but Scripture reveals that those who are disciplined unto the Lord receive an incorruptible, imperishable crown.
In 2 Timothy 4:8, Paul stated,
“in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.”Apparently, this crown will be given to those who anticipate the Lord’s return, that is, yearn for his appearing. All Christians should confess yearning for the Lord’s return, but when conversation progresses with one another, it is sometimes evident that some believers are quite comfortable in the present world and should repent of such foolish notions. The idea that Christ could return at any moment should result in great rejoicing. Even now in the present world, one should not view the completion of a degree, or desiring to be first married and have children and be successful, as more important or desirable than the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. Sadly, there are some Christians who may prioritize life in the present as opposed to the Lord’s appearing, which is the reason for the focus in 2 Timothy 4:8 upon the crown of righteousness for those who truly yearn for the return of the Lord.
Revelation 2:10 refers to another reward, the crown of life, which would be granted to those believers who endure trials, such as suffering a martyr’s death. First Peter 5:4 reveals,
“And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”The reference to the crown of glory should be understood as a reward given to those pastors/elders who shepherd God’s flock faithfully.
Scripture clearly reveals several different crowns that will be granted to believers. Some may say piously that these rewards do not matter, and the only significance is to experience eternity with Jesus Christ. Scripture, of course, responds to these sentiments in 1 Corinthians 9, wherein believers are commanded,
“Run in such a way that you may win” (v. 24).Paul said that such rewards are important and stated that he ran “in such a way, as not without aim” (v. 26). He did not state such words of his flesh, but expressed these sentiments by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, all Christians should adopt the same conclusion that these crowns are important.
In 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20, Paul referred to the believers at Thessalonica as a crown of glory to him. His sentiment is understandable because the glory of a mentor/teacher is in his students. There is certainly little comparable glory than to be used by God to help others mature in their relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
The event that Paul described in these verses is identical with the biblical revelation concerning the judgment seat of Christ. As a result of his convert’s’ spiritual maturity, Paul could regard the time when his works will be evaluated as an occasion of glory and joy. Therefore, it would be best to understand that the reference is with regard to the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ at His coming for the church, for it is then that believers will stand before the Lord Jesus Christ at the judgment seat, and will be granted crowns and rewards.
The Coming of the Lord Jesus
The Greek word translated “coming” in 1 Thessalonians 2:19 is parousia, which may refer to the arrival of a king in classical and biblical times, and is one of three words that reference the second coming of Christ. The other two words that may reference the second coming of Christ are apocalupsis (“revelation”) and epiphaneia (“appearing”). Perhaps readers are familiar with epiphany — the liturgical season that focuses upon the coming of Christ — which is derived from epiphaneia. It is important to understand that there are different words used for the second coming of Christ. With regard to parousia in particular, it is essential to examine the context to determine whether it is referring to Christ coming for the church in the rapture or to Christ coming at the end of the seven-year tribulation in judgment to establish His kingdom. Sometimes the focus of the word parousia can be the moment of arrival, and other times the focus may be upon the state that is initiated by that arrival. Therefore it is crucial to examine the context to understand the reference, because it can refer to a person arriving, simple presence, or even the appearance of Antichrist.
Context indicates whether parousia is used in reference to the coming of the king, the establishment of the kingdom, or in reference to the rapture. Some Bible teachers combine all the usages, and believe that parousia only means one thing, such as the coming of Christ to earth to establish His kingdom, which it does not.
Paul expressed his desire to visit the church at Thessalonica but was hindered by Satan (1 Thess 2:17-18). Even though a physical visit was not possible, Paul was concerned for the believers. He was “more eager with great desire to see [their] face,” and therefore longed for the presence of the Lord Jesus when a joyous face-to-face meeting would occur. At the coming of Christ for His church, the Thessalonian believers would be his “crown of exultation” before the Lord Jesus. At the rapture, the believers will be Paul’s hope and joy in the presence of the Lord Jesus, which indicates a different context than the coming of Christ in judgment to establish His kingdom.
Crown Him with Many Crowns - GraceThruFaith (Jack Kelley)
The Law of Rewards - Randy Alcorn (Book)
What is the difference between the Rapture and the Second Coming? - GotQuestions.org
John MacArthur: The Rapture Of The Church
The Genesis Factor: Myths and Realities - Ron Bigalke (Book)