(Rev. 21:3 ESV) 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”
There are several subtleties here worth noting.
First, “dwelling” and “dwell” are taken from the Greek for tent or tabernacle. This is, of course, a reference to the Exodus, but also parallels John 1:14–
(Jn. 1:14 ESV) And the Word became flesh and dwelt [tabernacled] among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
God promised in the Torah to dwell among his people.
(Exod. 29:44-30:1 ESV) 44 I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar. Aaron also and his sons I will consecrate to serve me as priests. 45 I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. 46 And they shall know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the LORD their God.
And, of course, the language in the NT that refers to the Holy Spirit indwelling God’s children is also an allusion to the Exodus. Thus, we have all three members of the Trinity said to dwell or tabernacle among God’s people — culminating at the End in God himself bringing heaven to earth so that he may dwell with his peoples.
God dwelling with Israel during the Exodus, Jesus’ ministry on earth, and the indwelling Spirit all point to this moment in fulfillment.
“They will be my people” in some manuscripts is “peoples.” Commentators disagree to which is the better reading. Will we be many peoples joined to become one people? Or is God emphasizing that many peoples will be his? Either way, the point is much the same. The afterlife is for all nations, races, and people — who will all serve the same God.
Loud voice from the throne
Whether this is God himself speaking, or his angelic spokesman, hardly matters. The fact that the voice is loud emphasizes the importance of what is being said. If you thought Rev 21:1-2 were big deals, well, it gets bigger. After all, nothing is bigger than God — and he has chosen to live in the new heavens and new earth — to tabernacle or to “tent,” like a Bedouin — among his many peoples. That is, in many ways, the culmination of scriptural history.
At last, just as God once walked with Adam in the cool of the morning, God will once again share earth with his children.
Death shall be no more
(Rev. 21:4 ESV) 4 “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.”
This language is almost entirely from Isaiah, and some has appeared earlier in the Revelation but in less detail–
The promise of 7:17 is once again stated (cf. Isa 25:8), and the end of death is repeated (cf. 20:10). There will be no more mourning, crying, or pain (cf. Isa 35:10; 51:11; 65:19), contrasting with what had been (18:7–8; cf. 11:15; 16:10–11). “The first” is replaced by “the new,” expressed in words from the one seated on the throne, who now speaks and asserts responsibility: “I am making all things new” (see Isa 43:18–19).
Christopher C. Rowland, “The Book of Revelation,” in Hebrews-Revelation (vol. 12 of NIB, Accordance electronic ed. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998), 721.
We can’t help but recall Paul’s promises at the end of 1 Cor 15 —
(1 Cor. 15:25-26 ESV) 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
(1 Cor. 15:51-56 ESV) 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55 “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
Death is an enemy of God and Jesus — to be destroyed when the age ends, after all other enemies have been defeated. And Rev 21 fits this prophecy very well.
It’s not just that the dead will rise again with transformed, resurrection bodies. Death will be defeated and we’ll live in a world where death no longer occurs.
On living forever
Now, this is important for more reasons than the obvious. We’ll live forever — with church people. Church people! Do you hear me?? If we can’t get along in this life, when we only have to see each once or twice a week for a few years, how on earth will we get along in eternity?
Church is a preview of heaven. After all, we’ll be with the same people, worshiping the same God. And if that’s the case, then church — both the assembly and church as an organization — should draw the lost toward Jesus. We should be attractive — always as the church, but especially when assembled in praise as we’ll be in heaven.
If we can’t manage that in this life, well, the next life may be hell, not on earth, but hell in the new heavens and new earth — which would be truly sad.
This is why, I’m convinced, so much of the NT is dedicated to instructions about getting along. The Sermon on the Mount, the Kingdom parables, all of 1 Corinthians, Rom 12-15, and countless other passages are ethical instructions. These aren’t about obeying rules so that God won’t send us to hell (not that the thought is entirely absent) but so that church will be a joy, a delight, and preview of heaven.
Frankly, it’s more than a little astonishing that God Almighty, the Lord of Hosts, the Creator of the Universe, wants to rip down the wall that separates heaven from earth so he can live with us.
We need to be getting ready for a very special house guest. He obviously sees more in us than we see in ourselves. And perhaps the solution is to take seriously the notion that we are reigning on God’s throne today.
No, really. I mean it. If we were busy in God’s mission, bringing not only salvation but righteousness and justice to the chaos of this world, we’d be better people. We’d be less petty. We’d get along because the mission requires it, and we’d celebrate the victories God gives us together.