Recently reading a well-known text, I burst into a sob; it lasted no longer than a sneeze, but a sob it was, nonetheless. “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Rev. 21:4).
However slippery (at times) the chronology of Revelation, the chronos of this verse appears clear. The lost have been destroyed in the lake of fire, “the second death” (Rev. 20:14); and there is now “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first ones have “passed away” (Rev. 21:1). Prepared “as a bride adorned for her husband” (verse 2), the new Jerusalem has descended, and “the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God” (verse 3).
It’s over. Sin, evil, sickness, death, war, suffering—over, the consummation of the salvation promised “before the world began” (Titus 1:2). And yet, what is the first detail that Revelation 21:4 reveals? “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.” Tears? In the new heaven, the new earth, the new Jerusalem? How could it be? No, how could it not be?
However merciful, however just, the punishment is, still, God’s “strange act” (Isa. 28:21).
What has just happened? Everyone “not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:15). How many millions, including loved ones (parents, children, siblings, grandparents, friends), are destroyed before the eyes of the saved? Gone, forever, as if they had never been. However merciful, however just, the punishment is, still, God’s “strange act” (Isa. 28:21).
We’ve had 1,000 years, a millennium, to reign with Christ as priests (Rev. 20:6), as judges (verse 4), even of angels (1 Cor. 6:3). We will “know” even as we are “known,” and no longer looking “through a glass, darkly; but then face to face” (1 Cor. 13:12), we will see that the Lord did all that He could to save the lost, and when He has revealed to us “the counsels of the hearts” (1 Cor. 4:5), we will be satisfied. “Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are thy judgments” (Rev. 16:7).
But still, knowing our own unworthiness, and the amazing grace that spared us from this same end, how could we not weep, deeply in the gut, at the demise of so many who were offered the same grace that saved us? Especially when we will have, in ways that we can’t imagine now, such greater knowledge of what Jesus had done so that, ideally, none needed to have been there to begin with. Remember, the fires of hell were “prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41), not for humans and their offspring. No one born on this earth should have to die in those fires because no one was ever supposed to have been in those fires, and so we will shed tears for those who are—the tears that God will wipe away from our eyes. Afterward, only afterward, “there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain, for the former things are passed away.”
So yes, even in the new heaven, the new earth, the New Jerusalem, there will be tears. Surely these will be unlike anything dribbling out now by sinful mortals, but by sinless beings who will have already lived the first 1,000 years of an eternity without any of the things that incite so many sobs now. Like the one I uttered upon reading the words “and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.”
No longer than a sneeze but a sob, nonetheless.
*Bible texts are from the King James Version.