The Supreme Reality of the New Heaven and the New Earth
And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, (21:3)
The supreme glory and joy of heaven is the Person of God (cf. Ps. 73:25). Here, as twenty times previously in Revelation, a loud voice heralds an announcement of great importance. The source of the voice is not revealed. It is not God (who speaks in v. 5), but is probably an angel (cf. 5:2; 7:2; 14:9, 15, 18; 19:17). The portentous announcement he makes is “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men.” Skenē (tabernacle) can also mean “tent,” or “dwelling place.” God will pitch His tent among His people; no longer will He be far off, distant, transcendent. No more will His presence be veiled in the human form of Jesus Christ, even in His millennial majesty, or in the cloud and pillar of fire, or inside the Holy of Holies. The amazing reality that “the pure in heart … shall see God” (Matt. 5:8) will come to pass. Christ’s prayer, recorded in John 17:24, will be answered: “Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me” (cf. John 14:1–3; 1 Thess. 4:13–17). There will be “no temple in [heaven], for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (21:22). Their presence will permeate heaven and will not be confined to one place of manifestation.
So staggering is this truth that the heavenly voice repeats it several ways. To the mind-boggling reality that the tabernacle of God is among men he adds the statement that God will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them (cf. 22:3–4). This will be a manifestation of God’s glorious presence to His people like no other in redemptive history and the culmination of all divine promise and human hope (Lev. 26:11–12; Jer. 24:7; 30:22; 31:1, 33; 32:38; Ezek. 37:27; 48:35; Zech. 2:10; 8:8; 2 Cor. 6:16).
What will it be like to live in God’s glorious presence in heaven? First, believers will enjoy fellowship with Him. The imperfect, sin-hindered fellowship that believers have with God in this life (1 John 1:3) will become full, complete, and unlimited. In his classic book on heaven entitled The Saints’ Everlasting Rest, seventeenth-century Puritan Richard Baxter describes the intimate communion with God that believers will enjoy in heaven:
Doubtless as God advanceth our senses, and enlargeth our capacity, so will he advance the happiness of those senses and fill up with himself all that capacity.… We shall then have light without a candle, and perpetual day without the sun.… We shall then have enlightened understandings without Scripture, and be governed without a written law; for the Lord will perfect his law in our hearts, and we shall be all perfectly taught of God. We shall have joy, which we drew not from the promises, nor fetched home by faith or hope. We shall have communion without sacraments, without this fruit of the vine, when Christ shall drink it new with us in his Father’s kingdom and refresh us with the comforting wine of immediate enjoyment. To have necessities, but no supply, is the case of them in hell. To have necessity supplied by means of the creatures, is the case of us on earth. To have necessity supplied immediately from God, is the case of the saints in heaven. To have no necessity at all, is the prerogative of God himself. (The Practical Works of Richard Baxter [reprint; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981], 7, 16)
Second, believers will see God as He is. In 1 John 3:2 the apostle John writes, “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.” Such an unveiled view of God is impossible for mortal men. No living person has ever seen God in the fullness of His glory (John 1:18; 6:46; 1 John 4:12); He is invisible (Col. 1:15; 1 Tim. 1:17) and “dwells in unapproachable light” (1 Tim. 6:16; cf. Ps. 104:2), exposure to which would mean instant death for any living person (Ex. 33:20). But in heaven, “the pure in heart … shall see God” (Matt. 5:8), since they will be perfectly holy. They will be given an eternal and expanded vision of God manifest in His shining glory (21:11, 23; 22:5). Even the saints in heavenly glory will not be able to comprehend all the infinite majesty of God’s wondrous being. But they will see all that glorified beings are able to comprehend. Is it any wonder that Paul, thinking of the glory of heaven, had “the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better” (Phil. 1:23)?
In her marvelous but seldom sung hymn, “My Savior First of All,” Fanny Crosby echoed Paul’s sentiments:
When my life work is ended and I cross the swelling tide,
When the bright and glorious morning I shall see,
I shall know my Redeemer when I reach the other side,
And His smile will be the first to welcome me.
Thru the gates to the city, in a robe of spotless white,
He will lead me where no tears will ever fall,
In the glad song of ages I shall mingle with delight—
But I long to meet my Savior first of all.
Third, believers will worship God. Every glimpse of heaven in Revelation reveals the redeemed and the angels in worship (4:10; 5:14; 7:11; 11:1, 16; 19:4). That is not surprising, since Jesus said in John 4:23 that “true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.” In heaven, the glorified, perfected saints will offer God perfect worship.
Fourth, believers will serve God (22:3). It is said of the saints in heaven pictured in 7:15 that “they serve [God] day and night in His temple.” Believers’ capacity for heavenly service will reflect their faithfulness in this life. All believers will be rewarded with capacities for heavenly service, but those capacities will differ (1 Cor. 3:12–15; 4:5).
Finally, and most astounding of all, the Lord will serve believers. Jesus told a parable reflecting that truth in Luke 12:35–40:
Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps lit. Be like men who are waiting for their master when he returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the door to him when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master will find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that he will gird himself to serve, and have them recline at the table, and will come up and wait on them. Whether he comes in the second watch, or even in the third, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.
But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have allowed his house to be broken into. You too, be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour that you do not expect.
Jesus pictures Himself as a wealthy nobleman, who returns to His estate after a long trip. Finding that his servants ministered faithfully in His absence, He rewards them by taking the role of a servant and preparing a feast for them. So will it be for believers in heaven, forever to be served a heavenly feast of joy by their Lord.
3 A loud voice is heard from the throne, announcing the fulfillment of a basic theme that runs throughout the OT. It is clearly stated in the Holiness Code of Leviticus 26, “I will put my dwelling place among you, and I will … be your God, and you will be my people” (Lev 26:11–12; cf. Jer 31:33; Ezek 37:27; Zech 8:8). The voice from heaven declares that the dwelling place of God is with people, and that he will live with them. The Greek word for tabernacle (skēnē) is closely related to the Hebrew Shekinah, which was used to denote the presence and glory of God. In the wilderness wanderings the tabernacle or tent was a symbol of the abiding presence of God in the midst of his people. In the Fourth Gospel, John writes that the Word became flesh and tabernacled (eskēnōsen) among people so that they saw his glory, the glory of the One and Only (John 1:14). When the Seer writes that the tabernacle of God is with us, he is saying that God in his glorious presence has come to dwell with us. The metaphor does not suggest a temporary dwelling. From this point on God remains with his people throughout eternity.
It is interesting that most recent translations have the plural, peoples (e.g., NRSV, “they will be his peoples”), rather than the singular, people.17 Apparently, John modified the traditional concept (Jer 7:23; 30:22; Hos 2:23) and substituted a reference to the many peoples of redeemed humanity. Jesus had spoken of “other sheep that are not of this sheep pen” that must become part of the one flock (John 10:16). It is with the redeemed peoples of all races and nationalities that God will dwell in glory. God himself will be with them, and he will be their God. It is the presence of God, and the fellowship with him of all believers, that constitutes the principal characteristic of the coming age.
3. out of heaven—so Andreas. But A and Vulgate read, “out of the throne.”
the tabernacle—alluding to the tabernacle of God in the wilderness (wherein many signs of His presence were given): of which this is the antitype, having previously been in heaven: Rev 11:19–15:5, “the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven”; also Rev 13:6. Compare the contrast in Heb 9:23, 14, between “the patterns” and “the heavenly things themselves,” between “the figures” and “the true.” The earnest of the true and heavenly tabernacle was afforded in the Jerusalem temple described in Ez 40:1–42:20, as about to be, namely, during the millennium.
dwell with them—literally, “tabernacle with them”; the same Greek word as is used of the divine Son “tabernacling among us.” Then He was in the weakness of the flesh: but at the new creation of heaven and earth He shall tabernacle among us in the glory of His manifested Godhead (Rev 22:4).
they—in Greek emphatic, “they” (in particular).
his people—Greek, “His peoples”: “the nations of the saved” being all peculiarly His, as Israel was designed to be. So A reads. But B, Vulgate, Syriac, and Coptic read, “His people”: singular.
God himself … with them—realizing fully His name Immanuel.
Ver. 3.—And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying. Out of the throne is read in א, A, and others; out of heaven is the reading of B, P, etc. As usual, the voice is described as a great voice (cf. ch. 19:17, etc.). It is not stated from whom the voice proceeds, but comp. ch. 20:1. Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them; literally, he shall tabernacle with them. Still the seer is influenced by the language of Ezekiel: “And the heathen shall know that I the Lord do sanctify Israel, when my sanctuary shall be in the midst of them for evermore” (37:28). Thus God makes his abode in his glorified Church—the New Jerusalem, among his spiritual Israel (cf. ch. 7:15, where this vision has been already anticipated). And they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God; and they shall be his peoples, and himself shall be God with them, their God. The balance of authority is in favour of retaining the two last words, though they are omitted in א, B, and others. Evidently the same words as Ezek. 37:27. (see above), “My tabernacle also shall be with them: yea, I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” Cf. “God with them” with “Emmanuel” (Matt. 1:23; Isa. 7:14). Now, the promise is redeemed in all its fulness. The plural “peoples” seems to point to the catholic nature of the New Jerusalem, which embraces many nations (cf. ver. 24; also ch. 7:9).
FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD (1)
And I heard a great voice from heaven. ‘Behold,’ it said, ‘the dwelling place of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they will be his peoples, and God himself shall be with them; and he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, nor will there be any grief or crying, nor will there be any more pain, for the first things have gone.’
Here is the promise of fellowship with God and all its precious consequences. The voice is that of one of the angels of the presence.
God is to make his dwelling place with human beings. The word used for dwelling place is skēnē, literally a tent; but in religious use it had long since lost any idea of an impermanent residence. There are two main ideas here.
(1) Skēnē is the word used for the tabernacle. Originally, in the wilderness, the tabernacle was a tent—the skēnē supreme. This, then, means that God is to make his tabernacle with men and women forever, to give his presence to them forever. Here in this world and amid the things of time, our awareness of the presence of God comes and goes; but in heaven we will be permanently aware of that presence.
(2) There are two words totally different in meaning but similar in sound which in early Christian thought became closely connected. Skēnē is one, and the Hebrew shechinah, the glory of God, is the other. SKĒNĒ—SHECHINAH—the connection in sound brought it about that no one could hear the one without thinking of the other. As a result, to say that the skēnē of God is to be with mortals immediately brought the thought that the shechinah of God is to be with mortals. In the ancient times, the shechinah took the form of a luminous cloud which came and went. We read, for instance, of the cloud which filled the house at the dedication of Solomon’s Temple (1 Kings 8:10–11). In the new age, the glory of God is to be not a transitory thing but something which remains permanently with the people of God.
FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD (2)
Revelation 21:3–4 (contd)
God’s promise to make Israel his people and to be their God echoes throughout the Old Testament. ‘I will place my dwelling in your midst … And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and you shall be my people’ (Leviticus 26:11–12). In Jeremiah’s account of the new covenant, the promise of God is: ‘I will be their God, and they shall be my people’ (Jeremiah 31:33). The promise to Ezekiel is: ‘My dwelling-place shall be with them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people’ (Ezekiel 37:27). The highest promise of all is intimate fellowship with God, in which we can say: ‘I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine’ (Song of Solomon 6:3).
This fellowship with God in the golden age brings certain things. Tears and grief and crying and pain have gone. That, too, had been the dream of the prophets of past times. ‘They shall obtain joy and gladness,’ said Isaiah of the pilgrims of the heavenly way, ‘and sorrow and sighing shall flee away’ (Isaiah 35:10). ‘I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress’ (Isaiah 65:19). Death, too, shall be gone. That, too, had been the dream of the ancient prophets. ‘He will swallow up death for ever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces’ (Isaiah 25:8).
This is a promise for the future. But, even in this present world, those who mourn are blessed, for they will be comforted, and death is swallowed up in victory for those who know Christ and the fellowship of his sufferings and the power of his resurrection (Matthew 5:4; Philippians 3:10).
3. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look, the tabernacle of God is with people, and he will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.”
The expression a loud voice occurs frequently in Revelation and implies that everyone is able to hear the message coming from God’s throne (16:17 and 19:5). John fails to identify this voice, which may be that of God. If we assume that he tries to avoid the use of the divine name, we see further evidence in verse 5 where John circumscribes the name of God with the words “the one seated on the throne.” Even so, the emphasis is not on the speaker but on the joyful message. The voice calls attention to the unity of God and his people expressed in the image of the Old Testament tabernacle. John alludes to a well-known passage, in which God, speaking about an everlasting covenant with his people, says: “I will put my sanctuary among them forever. My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God and they will be my people” (Ezek. 37:26–27). This text is a golden thread woven into the fabric of Scripture from beginning to end (Gen. 17:7; Exod. 6:7; Lev. 26:12; Ezek. 11:20; Zech. 2:10–11; 2 Cor. 6:16; Rev. 21:3, 7).It is the thread of God’s abiding love toward his covenant people.
In an earlier passage (13:6), John had used the illustration of the scene of God dwelling in his heavenly tent (Greek skēnē) surrounded by his people. The tabernacle in the desert had the holy of Holies where God dwelled. The temple in Jerusalem likewise had the sacred place behind the curtain as God’s dwelling. But neither in the desert nor in Jerusalem did God and his people live under one roof. Now notice that when Jesus came, he dwelled among his people; literally, “he pitched his tent” among them (John 1:14). This is also the case in the new Jerusalem, where God and his people live together in perfect peace and harmony. The people will fully know him, love and serve him, and forever taste his goodness. The symbolic tent in which God and his people dwell is not a picture of their dwelling in a temporary shelter. The symbolism points to the privilege his people have in contrast to the Old Testament saints. From them only the high priest once a year might enter the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement. Now his people are always in his presence. The emphasis in this verse is on God, for he has made it possible for human beings to dwell with him, he is their God, and he is forever with them.
The literal translation of the Greek text is “and they will be his peoples,” but in most translations it is given in the singular as “people.” The text, however, intimates that they come from “every tribe, tongue, people, and nation.” All of them are accommodated as priests in the presence of God. “Therefore, this is the first hint that there is no literal temple in the new Jerusalem” (v. 22).
One last remark. The phrase and God himself will be with them is reminiscent of the name given to Jesus, Immanuel, which means, “God with us” (Matt. 1:23; Isa. 7:14).
21:3–4. For the third and final time John hears a loud voice from the throne (16:17; 19:5). The word for dwelling is traditionally translated “tabernacle” or “tent.” When the Israelites had lived in the wilderness after the exodus, God’s presence was evident through the tent (Exod. 40:34). Part of the reward for Israel’s obedience to God was, “I will put my dwelling place [tabernacle] among you, and I will not abhor you. I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people” (Lev. 26:11–12). Israel’s disobedience, of course, led finally to the destruction of the temple.
The permanent remedy began when God became enfleshed in Jesus: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). A form of the same verb translated “made his dwelling” in John 1:14 is now used by the heavenly voice: he will live with them. Here, then, is the final eternal fulfillment of Leviticus 26.
They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God is a divine promise often made, particularly in context of the new covenant (Jer. 31:33; 32:38; Ezek. 37:27; 2 Cor. 6:16). In eternity, it will find full completion in its most glorious sense. One striking note here is that the word translated “people,” while often singular in Revelation (for example, 18:4), here is plural, literally “peoples.” This points to the great ethnic diversity of those in heaven.
The great multitude who came out of the Great Tribulation received the pledge of many blessings including the final removal of any cause for tears (7:15–17). Now this promise extends to every citizen-saint of the New Jerusalem. The picture of God himself gently taking a handkerchief and wiping away all tears is overwhelming. It pictures the removal of four more enemies:
- death—destroyed and sent to the fiery lake (20:14; 1 Cor. 15:26)
- mourning—caused by death and sin, but also ironically the eternal experience of those who loved the prostitute (18:8)
- crying—one result of the prostitute’s cruelty to the saints (18:24)
- pain—the first penalty inflicted on mankind at the Fall is finally lifted at last (Gen. 3:16)
All these belonged to the old order of things where sin and death were present. The last thought could also be translated, “The former things are gone.” No greater statement of the end of one kind of existence and the beginning of a new one can be found in Scripture.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2000). Revelation 12–22 (pp. 266–268). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Mounce, R. H. (1997). The Book of Revelation (pp. 382–383). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
 Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 2, p. 601). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
 Spence-Jones, H. D. M. (Ed.). (1909). Revelation (p. 510). London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.
 Barclay, W. (2004). Revelation of John (Vol. 2, pp. 227–229). Louisville, KY; London: Westminster John Knox Press.
 Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Book of Revelation (Vol. 20, pp. 556–557). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
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