Symbolism of thorns in Scripture
As well as thorns and thistles being a very real physical component of 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 thistles 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.”
- 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).
The ultimate fulfilment of the symbolism that thorns and thistles have in the Bible is found in Matthew 27:29:
“And 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 symbolised 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. 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?”