How can someone take your crown if God gives it to you? (Rev. 3:11)
This is a very important and timely question. The first thing we must notice is that this is a warning given to those living, before actually receiving their crowns. The timeline of Revelation is given in chapter 1 verse 19, “Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this.” The things “that are” includes chapters 2 and 3, and describe the events during the “church age,” that is, from the descent of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1–4; 1 Cor. 12:13) until the Rapture (1 Thess. 4:13–18). So, the verse in question (Rev. 3:11) is a warning that unfaithfulness during our sojourn here upon earth may lead to our losing our future reward. We need to consider how this might happen.
The apostle Paul wrote “Henceforth 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.” (2 Tim. 4:8) And, in contrast, the apostle Peter wrote about those who would dismiss the appearing of the Lord saying “Where is the promise of his coming?” (2 Pet. 3:4) So, here is a case where a crown of righteousness is promised to those who “love his appearing” but if they are distracted from this hope by the influence of the doubters they may be robbed of receiving their crown.
To better see the significance of this we must look at the context of the verse we are considering. The series of Churches which received the messages given in chapters 2 and 3 were real Churches existing at the time the apostle John wrote Revelation. However, a careful examination of the text and comparing the circumstances described with history shows that these Churches also represent successive periods in the history of the whole Christian testimony.1,2 Important for this question are the messages to Sardis and Philadelphia.
These two Churches correspond to the awakening of devotion to Christ represented in the Reformation and in the 19th Century respectively. Those of Sardis are warned “Remember, then, what you received and heard” (Rev. 3:3). Truly a great deal of truth which had been ignored for centuries was brought out by the reformers. Gradually, much of this truth lost its power for many. So, they were warned to remember the truth that had previously been recovered for them.
After several centuries, formalism robbed Christianity of much of its spiritual power and another awakening was brought about by a fresh outpouring of the Spirit of God in the 1800s. Again, much truth that had been long ignored was brought out. This stimulated growth and much evangelistic and missionary activity. The letter to the Philadelphian assembly contains the verse we are considering and so directly relates to the truth brought out in the 1800s.
One of the most important of these recovered truths is that the Lord Jesus is returning to gather His people to Himself before “the great and terrible day of the Lord” (Mal. 4:5, NASB). The Assembly will not go through the period of trial (Rev. 3:10) called the “tribulation.” So, although Scripture does not identify a specific crown associated with the proclamation of this event, called the “Rapture”, it is clearly something that the Assembly holds as a comfort to those who are faithful to the Lord Jesus during His time of “patience” (Rev. 1:9). Sadly, many today are ignoring or have even spoken against this important truth.