Why did Jesus wear a crown of thorns when He was crucified? Sure, there’s the obvious reason that He suffered for our sins, and this was one form of suffering; however when we start to look deeper, we begin to see there is a lot more significance to the thorns.
Let’s start with Mark 4:1-20, where Jesus is telling the Parable of the Sower. In verse 18 (I used the King James on this study), He says:
“And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word, 19 And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful.”
So now we learn that thorns relate to the cares of this world, deceitfulness of riches, and lust of various things. Hmm, three things… where else have we seen that number? Peter denied Jesus three times, Jesus was tempted three times, Nehemiah had three enemies…
By the way, the Old Testament talks about sowing among the thorns too. Jeremiah 4:3 says
“For thus saith the LORD to the men of Judah and Jerusalem, Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns.“
It’s a Thorny Problem
Let’s trace the story of the thorns all the way from Genesis. In 3:18, we read “Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field” thus learning that thorns are part of the curse Adam and the world received in exchange for sin (disobedience). Thorns represented strife and toil, because those things keep on growing back, even after you remove them!
Skip ahead to Numbers 33:55, and we’ll learn a bit more of the symbolism of thorns:
“But if ye will not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you; then it shall come to pass, that those which ye let remain of them shall be pricks in your eyes, and thorns in your sides, and shall vex you in the land wherein ye dwell.“
Now it starts getting interesting! Thorns represent things that sting; they prick, they hurt, they vex us. Ya gotta love that old King James English! Furthermore, the comparison is drawn to the nations that were not dealt with as the Israelites entered the promised land.
The promised land is a very interesting study in itself, and without going into it in too much detail, here’s a brief picture: Leaving Egypt was salvation, the Red Sea was baptism, the wilderness is unfortunately where most Christians remain – struggling under the law, the Jordan was baptism in the Spirit, which brings us to the promised land, which is the Christian’s battle in the spirit to conquer his own soul and bring it into the rest and peace which is in Christ Jesus (Heb 4:11). When we make a stand for Christ by crossing that Jordan, the retreat is cut off, and the way forward through Jericho and the rest of the strongholds can only be won in faith.
So that brings us back to thorns, which are the strongholds in our mind and flesh which war against Christ in us.
Romans 8:6-8 “For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. 7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.“
Our lifelong assignment is to conquer each and every stronghold of the soul, to bring glory to God in our lives. Ultimately, this will be totally fulfilled when Christ returns and we are transformed completely into His likeness. But don’t use that as a cop-out from working on things here on earth! Paul says to be diligent to enter His rest (Hebrews 4:11).
When we compromise with the world, we are making ‘peace’ with a stronghold in Canaan, and it will become a thorn in our side. Perhaps it is a TV show that our flesh enjoys, perhaps it is a certain friend that is a bad influence. It might be drugs, pornography, or food. Maybe it is fear, anger, rejection, bitterness or unforgiveness. Everyone has a different Jericho they deal with, but the solution is always the same – address it in faith with zero compromise.
A couple other references on the same lines here: Joshua 23:13 where Joshua tells them the same thing Moses did, and then Judges 2:3 where God speaks through a prophet and tells the Israelites He’s going to follow through with His promise, in regard to these thorns.
Thorns and Slothfulness
Have a look at Proverbs 24:31
“I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding; and, lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down.“
Our hearts are like cities; have a study of Nehemiah and checkout the symbolism there. The walls that Nehemiah was building were to keep out the enemy. Strong walls are are joined at a gate. The gate of our mind is meant to discern and judge every thought that approaches (2 Cor 10:5), and either accept or reject it according to the truth of the Word.
Proverbs 25:28 “He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls.“
When we are slothful about tending to our garden, which represents our hearts – for that is where we grow the fruit which God wants from us – thorns spring up. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take work to get the thorns there; they come up pretty well all on their own. But it does take work to keep the ground clear, and the soil well-broken to receive the Word in faith.
Speaking of laziness, lazy people tend to take whichever option is most appealing. This is essentially the lust of the eyes, or of the flesh. Whichever appeals most to the eyes, or requires the least work, gets chosen. In the bible, we find 33 references to Acacia wood. Acacia trees are very beautiful, however they have incredibly nasty huge thorns.
In Numbers 25:1 we read:
“And Israel abode in Shittim, and the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab.“
Shittim is the Hebrew word for Acacia, which is a type of tree which you can see in the picture to the right.
So the Israelites chose to hang out in the middle of all these pretty Acacia trees (lust of the eyes), and in so doing, ended up committing harlotry (lust of the flesh).
When you choose to live among the thorns, look out, because you’re going to get pricked. Speaking of, the way that particular plague was ended was when Phinehas thrust a javelin through the man and woman who were sinning. Sounds kind of like 2 Samuel 23:6 to me:
“But the sons of rebellion shall all be as thorns thrust away, because they cannot be taken with hands. But the man who touches them must be armed with iron and the shaft of a spear, and they shall be utterly burned with fire in their place.” NKJV
When you’re dealing with thorns in your life, it needs to be with the full armor of God in place (Ephesians 6:10-17). Furthermore, the thorns cannot be removed by human hands… it is the word of God (Hebrews 4:12) that is able to discern the strongholds, and the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives that is able to remove them.
The Crown of Thorns
An interesting not-so side note, take a look at Ex 25:10, 26:15, 27:1 and 30:1. You’ll find that all the wood for the ark of the covenant, the tabernacle, the altar, the pillars, and all the other things was Acacia or shittim wood. You’ll need the KJV to track down “shittim” as the NKJV has translated all of them “acacia.”
So we have a picture here of Christ clothing Himself in the human condition – thorns and all – and coming to dwell among His people in the ark and the tabernacle, which were made out of thorns.
By now, you’ve probably guessed where this is going, so let’s just get to the point. Mark 15:17 says
“And they clothed him with purple, and platted a crown of thorns, and put it about his head…“
Christ received a crown of thorns on His head prior to crucifixion because it was an intense symbol of His deepest association with the full extent of our sin. Every temptation, thought stronghold, and enemy died right there on the cross. The very curse of death from Genesis died on that cross as well, pointing to the incredible intricacy with which God arranged every last tiny detail of the crucifixion to ultimately bring glory to Himself.
If you’ve got some time, and you’d like to dig into this subject of thorns in a bit more detail, checkout Pastor Mike Hoggard’s teaching The Crown of Thorns in the video below, or watch it here on YouTube.