Rev. 21:3 – Then I heard a loud voice from the throne: Look! God’s dwelling is with humanity, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will no longer exist; grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer, because the previous things have passed away. (HCSB)
God’s dwelling is with humanity
In verses 3-4 John hears a loud voice from the throne: “Look! God’s dwelling is with humanity, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will no longer exist; grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer, because the previous things have passed away.”
The greatest joy of the new heaven and new earth is restored intimacy with our Creator. Before the Fall, Adam and Eve walked with God in the garden and spoke with Him face to face. But sin shattered that closeness. The first humans hid themselves among the trees from the presence of God. Shame and separation haunted them, as it did their offspring and every person after them. While we see examples of righteous people who walked with God – Enoch and Noah, for example – the norm for human beings is to hide ourselves from Him.
And, frankly, God so often seems to hide Himself from us. We seek Him in times of trouble and seasons of great need, and so often He seems unwilling to be disturbed. When pain and suffering, loneliness and alienation, despair and grief – all consequences of the Fall – engulf us, we cry out to the Creator and hear only the faint echo of our own voices.
Where is He? Does He not hear? Does He not care? Why has He forsaken us? It’s hard to admit it, but we routinely experience a loss of intimacy with God because that’s the kind of world in which we want to live. The sin nature – that inbred tendency to live independently of God – churns within us and drives us to live as if we are the masters of our destinies; we seek our Creator only when we come to the end of ourselves.
But it is not this way in the new heaven and new earth. God is fully revealed and we are glorified – conformed to the image of Christ – so that our natural desire is for the intimacy Adam and Eve experienced in the garden. He does not hide from us, and we do not sense the shame that drove Adam and Eve to seek cover among the trees. There is personal contact with our sovereign Creator as He looks into our eyes, holds our faces in His Fatherly palms and gently sweeps the tears from our eyes with His thumbs. We call him Abba – dearest Daddy – and He calls us His children. There is security, warmth, serenity, joy, and unending peace. God is with us and we never again experience the consequences of separation from the One who is our life.
This is not to say God abandoned us after the Fall. Quite the contrary. He dresses the naked first family in animal skins, introducing the grace of atoning sacrifices (Gen. 3:21). Later, the apostle Paul writes of a day when God clothes His people with immortality (1 Cor. 15:53-4; 2 Cor. 5:4), reversing the curse due to our sin. Between that first sacrifice in the garden and the ultimate glorification of mankind, God works through righteous men like Noah to testify of His justice and grace.
He calls Abraham from Ur and lays out promises for a people, land, and worldwide blessing. He appears to Moses in the burning bush and sends him to Egypt to rescue His people, later giving them the law, the sacrificial system, and the feasts – all of which picture the redemption to come through the Lamb of God. He sends prophets to share precise predictions about the coming Messiah – from His birthplace in a small Judean village to the gruesome manner of His suffering and death – and to warn the Israelites of the consequences of seeking other gods. Most importantly, He comes to earth in the flesh – the Christ, the God-Man, the Son of Man, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Pitching His tent
The apostle John writes that the Word became flesh and dwelt – literally tabernacle, or pitched His tent – among us. Through His virgin birth, sinless life, substitutionary and sacrificial death on the cross, and resurrection from the dead, the Son of God fulfills the law and concludes the atoning sacrificial system, accomplishes the prophetic picture in the spring feasts of Israel, and opens the way for direct and intimate relationship with our offended God by grace through faith.
Today, He is with us in the Person of the indwelling Holy Spirit. We have His promise never to leave us or forsake us. We are assured He is preparing a place for us in heaven and that He is coming one day in power and great glory to fulfill all things. No, He has not abandoned us. Not by a long shot. But when the day arrives in which He brings the New Jerusalem down from heaven to earth, and He makes His home on the redeemed, regenerated, and restored earth, we are to experience an intimacy with God not known since the days of Adam and Eve.
John declares, “Death will no longer exist; grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer, because the previous things have passed away” (v. 4). The “previous” things – also translated the “first” or “former” things – are the consequences of the Fall. God’s warning of death to the sinner is a constant reminder throughout human history that separation from God, who is light and life, is death – first, spiritual death; followed by physical death; and ultimately, for the one who rejects God’s provision in Christ, the second death, which is the lake of fire.
Grieving, sadness, pain, anxiety, illness, disease, enmity, warfare, abuse, waste, frailty, aging, atrophy, rust, loss of memory, fear, and a host of other evils – all are the natural result of a life lived independently of God. For unbelievers, they get what they want – separation from God for all eternity. Hell is a place where God acknowledges the desire of people who want nothing to do with Him and where He gives them what they desire.
Believers, however, receive what they desire, and they enjoy everlasting intimacy with God, who removes all sin and all its stains from those who call upon Him. For those who want to live their way, God grants them their wish, and the result is death. For those who want to live God’s way, He graciously gives them the desires of their hearts, and the result is everlasting life.
While it does not seem reasonable to assume God erases our memories in heaven – even memories of the most horrifying experiences and vile sins – He does offer us the calm assurance that Jesus has paid our sin debt, that His suffering and death on our behalf are worthy of remembering, and that God in His providence made something good even of our greatest failings. What a great joy to see the brush strokes of God’s marvelous light against the dark backdrop of our sin.
Next: Making everything new – Revelation 21:5-6