Revelation 21 is easier to read than most of the book of Revelation. There is an interesting element in the opening verses where one verse explains the preceding one. For example, in Vs. 1 John mentions “a new heaven and a new earth.” Tons of speculation swirl around this and similar passages. People tend to see validation for the idea of heaven-on-earth at the end of time. All such speculation aside, in the next verse, John explains that whatever preceded “a new heaven and a new earth” has ceased to exist. Then adds that he saw “the holy, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Vs. 2). Is it possible that this “prepared” thing could be related to the kingdom prepared from the foundation of the world (Matt. 25:34)? Both were “prepared.” In Vs. 3 John affirms that “the dwelling place (mentioned above under different figures) is (not “was,” and not “will be”) with men, and in it, “He will dwell with them, and they will be his people…” Finally, in Vs. 4, the sentiment we all love: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
It is irresistible for us to think of any realm but heaven where the things of Vs. 4 might be true. Most preachers (myself included) have used this verse when addressing things that will not be in heaven. There are things we do each day that we will not do in heaven.
The following points are often made to the interest of us all: In heaven you will never need a Kleenex tissue: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Vs. 4). You will never attend a funeral: “Death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying” (Vs. 4). You will never call a doctor or a chiropractor – there will be no pain anymore (Vs. 4). There will be no boring history lessons: “For the former things have passed away” (Vs. 4). You will never shop at a Goodwill: “Behold, I am making all things new” (Vs. 5). [The Goodwill point is just for fun, but it shows how far we can go in our interpretation of this passage].
These applications of Vss. 4 and 5 are interesting to us, even if a bit fanciful. We tend to lose our footing at this point in the book of Revelation. For one thing, we are taught that the book is largely figurative from chapter 4 on. For some reason, at this point, we take up a literal interpretation applied to a spiritual setting.
Revelation 21:6 closes the story begun in Revelation 1:8. “It is done.” The One who is “the beginning and the end” announces what is now involved. He speaks with reference to the Kingdom of promise (Dan. 2:44-45); that is, the church which he purchased with his own blood (Acts 20:28). It is “a new heaven and a new earth” (Vs. 1; Isa. 13:6-22; 34:1-17). John used the Old Testament language of a new beginning for God’s people. It is “the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” (Vs. 2). That is, it is new in kind and divine in origin (Gal. 4:22-26; Heb. 12:22). It is the dwelling place of God showing God’s presence among his people (Vs. 3; Acts 15:16; Heb. 8:1-3). The throne shows that Jesus reigns over his people (Vs. 5; Acts 2:30, 33).
What benefits are associated with God’s kingdom? Tears are wiped away, that is, spiritual things are better now! (Phil. 4:4) There is no more death and sorrow, that is human governments (Rome) will martyr God’s people no more (Rev. 14:13). There is no more crying and pain, that is God’s people now know peace (Phil. 4:7).
When I say that the previous points on verse 4 may be “a bit fanciful,” I do not detract from the glories of the heavenly realm. We have no earthly parallel to what it will be like to be with God. We try to understand based on things taught in Scripture. It is of interest that Paul speaks of the new bodies that await us in the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:50-57). Aubrey Johnson made the following observations in his new book, My Father’s House Words of Comfort in the Loss of a Child:
Because your present body is unsuited for heaven’s habitat, giving it up is less than threatening. Your new body will be incorruptible, and thus highly desirable. There will be no more tedious workouts or painful medical procedures. Tummy tucks, liposuction, facelifts, and hair implants will all be a thing of the past. Imagine a world without tooth decay: no numbing, drilling, and filling; no crowns, bridges, or implants; no gum disease or root canals. In heaven, there will be no hip or knee replacements followed by lengthy rehabilitation. Walkers and wheelchairs will be noticeably absent along with CPAPs and oxygen tanks. And no one will be placed on a waiting list for a new heart or kidney. A new body is a big deal. Especially one that does not age or decay. Earthly ailments such as anencephaly, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, cancer, and COVID will no longer threaten. There will be no more struggle to breathe or to move; no more pain or fear. Given these things, living for heaven is the sensible things to do (72-73).
Only in Christ do we have the benefits suggested by the church (Rev. 21:1-5), and the promise of a new resurrection body (1 Cor. 15:50-57). In the church the reality of no more tears, death, mourning, crying, and pain hold out to us what made up the dreams and hopes of those early saints. The promise of a new body in the resurrection holds out an anticipation of glory that is far beyond anything this earth holds in view.