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Why did Jesus wear a crown of thorns?

by and


In Genesis 3:17–19 we read;

And to Adam he [God] said,

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”

In God’s originally perfect creation Adam and Eve, when created on Day Six, were placed in the Garden of Eden. Here, they were given one commandment; they were not to eat from ‘the tree of the knowledge of good and evil’ (Genesis 2:17). In the above verses from Genesis 3, after Adam and Eve had disobeyed God’s command, thus bringing sin and death into the world (Romans 5:12), God explained to them some of the fuller consequences and effects of their sin: the Curse. The Curse was not merely imposed upon them, but upon all creation, over which they had been given dominion.1 Contained within this Curse is a specific reference to the introduction of thorns and thistles into the now fallen creation. In the immediate context—that is, Adam and Eve and the predicament they now found themselves in—“Adam’s sin has spoiled his environment, and it suffers along with him”.2 As Henry Morris wrote, “The earth which had previously cooperated readily as the man tilled and dressed it (Genesis 2:5-15), now became reluctant to yield his food. Instead it began to yield thorns and noxious weeds, requiring toil and sweat and tears before man could eat of it.”3 The effects of the thorns and thistles have continued from that day to now, as any farmer or gardener well knows.4 Before the Fall and Curse, all would have worked together in perfect harmony. Adam could have taken pleasure watching plants grow with ease and producing an abundant source of food. However, what would have been a joy-filled task for Adam in the Garden of Eden now became laborious, requiring toil and struggle.

Curse incompatible with millions of years

Caleb Salisbury Thorns-fossil
Christians who believe God’s infallible Word (no thorns before sin) cannot also believe in man’s fallible ‘word’ (millions of years of thorns before people).

The thorns and thistles introduced in Genesis 3 pose significant problems for Christians who do not take Genesis as real history, as it is intended. If, as long-age secular geologists claim, the earth took billions of years of slow and gradual processes to reach its current form, then we have to conclude that thorns found in the fossil record are also millions of years old. This would mean that thorns, and death, must have come before Adam’s sin and long before any human being arrived on planet earth. This is obviously problematic and leads to a re-interpretation of the plain reading of the biblical text through imposing the fallible ideas of man on to the text instead. In contrast, thorns in the fossil record are not a problem for biblical creationists, who believe the majority of the fossil record resulted from Noah’s Flood, which destroyed the earth as it then was. This catastrophic event happened more than 1,500 years after sin entered the world, so biblical creationists would not be surprised to find thorns in the fossil record. Rather, it would be very consistent with the natural chronology of the Bible.

Symbolism of thorns in Scripture

As well as thorns and thistles being a very real physical component to the cursed world that we all now live in, they carry further symbolic negative overtones throughout the Bible, firmly pointing back to the Curse in Genesis. Their symbolic meaning also creates problems for those who do not read Genesis as a true historical account, as the negative biblical overtones associated with thorns and thistles are integral to their historical origin at the time of the Curse. Without the connection to their historical origin, their symbolic meaning becomes empty and vague.

The numerous references to thorns and thistles5 throughout the Bible remind us of the historical Original Sin and Curse that followed. The negative biblical overtones associated with thorns and thistles after Genesis 3:18 are demonstrated in their representation as obstacles, punishment, or serving as a reminder of sin and its consequences. For example:

  • In Numbers 33:55, God warned the Israelites that if they did not drive out the inhabitants of the land of Canaan, allowing them to remain, the Canaanites would be an obstacle to them. They would be, “thorns in your sides”. Proverbs 15:19 again uses the imagery of thorns as obstacles, saying, “The way of the sluggard is like a hedge of thorns, but the path of the upright is a level highway.”
  • In Isaiah 34:13, when God is speaking of the consequences of His judgment on the land of Edom, thorns feature as part of their punishment: “Thorns shall grow over its strongholds, nettles and thistles in its fortresses. It shall be the haunt of jackals, an abode for ostriches.”
  • The New Testament also uses thorns and thistles in reference to the inner workings of the worldly heart, corrupted by sin. In the parable of the sower, Matthew 13:3–8, some seeds “fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them” (v. 7). Also, the outward expression of that worldly heart which apostatizes from Christ is likened to a barren wasteland, which, “if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned” (Hebrews 6:8).

Jesus’ thorny crown

The ultimate fulfilment of the symbolism that thorns and thistles have in the Bible is found in Matthew 27:29:

“[A]nd twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ ”

Here the governor’s soldiers placed a crown of thorns on Jesus’ head, to mock him as the King of the Jews. Oh, if only they had known both what they were doing and the symbolism that their actions entailed! Thorns were not present in the original very good world, but the Roman soldiers didn’t have any trouble finding thorns to place on Jesus head. Thorns that were a direct result of man’s original sin are now found in abundance in a world that is steeped in sin. What the soldiers unwittingly did was hugely significant. There is nothing random in the Bible; every word that has been written in its pages is significant. The crown of thorns vividly symbolized the curse of sin being placed on Jesus’s head. It immediately takes the reader back to Genesis, reminding us of why Jesus went to the cross, to take the penalty for sin on our behalf.6 He died as the perfect sacrifice for our sins, so that the Curse that God had pronounced upon this earth because of sin, can be removed for those that believe in him, and that ultimately creation itself can be redeemed. “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:20-21). Christ’s actions will blunt every sharply pointed thistle and thorn as well as the other effects of the curse. The Christian can shout, “O death, where is your sting?”7

While the Roman soldiers may have mocked Jesus, just as many others do today, He is indeed the King of Kings, Creator and Lord of this universe. He conquered sin and death through his death and resurrection, so that all those who repent and believe on Him can be saved. This is good news to all people. Amen!

Published: 25 March 2016

References and notes

  1. Genesis 1:28, commonly referred to as the Dominion Mandate. Return to text
  2. Matthews, K.A., The New American Commentary, An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture, Genesis 1–11:26, Broadman & Holman Publishers, p. 252, 1996. Return to text
  3. Morris, H., The Genesis Flood, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 35th printing, p. 125, 1976. Return to text
  4. It is interesting to note that there are design features found in some of the ‘thorns and thistles’ that have been examined. See for example: Robinson, P., Cactus spines, sharper than you may think!, J. Creation 28(2):9–11, 2014; creation.com/cactus-spines. Return to text
  5. Represented by a range of different Hebrew and Greek words. Return to text
  6. 1 John 4:10 Return to text
  7. 1 Corinthians 15:55. Return to text