What Does Revelation 21:4 Mean?
The Book of Revelation is the most challenging book in the Bible. What begins as a letter to seven Christian communities in Asia Minor turns into apocalyptic prophecy, the meaning of which is open to multiple interpretations. Before we take a closer look at this particular verse, let’s consider who wrote Revelation 21:4.
Who wrote Revelation 21:4?
Traditionally, the Book of Revelation was credited to saint John the Apostle, ‘the beloved disciple of Jesus’. Scholars, however, agree that it was more likely written by ‘John the Elder’ on the island of Patmos around the year 96 AD.
What is the meaning of Revelation 21:4?
‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes,
There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain,
For the old order of things has passed away.’ NIV
The prophecies of the Book of Revelation are extremely complex and subject to much scholarly discussion, but this verse looks to a time after the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, when the New Jerusalem will be established in Heaven. These few words are an ecstatic articulation of a return to Eden and the banishment of Death. It is an affirmation of the Life Eternal, which all Christians strive to be worthy of. ‘Every tear’ will be wiped away, for not only will death cease to exist, but also all the associated suffering which it carries in its wake will disappear. ‘For the old order of things has passed away.’ This is a prophecy of things almost beyond our imagination; nothing will be as it was in this new heaven and earth.
Revelation 21:4 King James Version
‘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.’
The New International Version of the Bible sticks very closely to the language of its 400-year-old predecessor but there is one word, which is worthy of consideration. The NIV substitutes ‘mourning’ for the word ‘sorrow’, perhaps the change has been made because the word ‘mourning’ related more directly to death, but hasn’t something been lost by this substitution? Sorrow is a universal anguish; the inclusion of the word in the KJV broadens the meaning of the prophecy to encompass all forms of suffering, not just the suffering associated with death.
Revelation 21:4 New American Standard Bible
‘and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes;
and there will no longer be any death,
there will no longer be any mourning,
or crying, or pain:
the first things have passed away.’
The New American Standard Bible always remains close in meaning to the KJV and manages to modernize the language whilst retaining the majestic rhythms of the earlier version.
Revelation 21:4 The Message
‘He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death is gone for good – tears gone,
crying gone, pain gone –
all the first order of things gone.’
As always, this version of the Bible seeks to strip away archaic language and confusing word order to reveal ‘the message’ in complete clarity. Sometimes that can lead to an oversimplification and a loss of nuance and meaning, but it seems to me that in this verse nothing has been lost in the pursuit of clarity. The only phrase I’m a little unsure about is ‘gone for good’. In this context ‘good’ means forever, but given the importance of the word, in the Bible, as meaning the opposite of ‘evil’, wouldn’t it not have been better to simply use the word ‘ forever’? Or am I missing something? What do you think?
Revelation 21:4 in context
The final book in the Bible has long been a controversial inclusion because of the challenging nature of its content which envisages Christ’s return to earth, the defeat of those who war against him, the imprisonment of Satan, his release and a revolt final against God and ultimately the establishment of a New Jerusalem in Heaven. The Book of Revelation is full of allusions to the Old Testament, more so than any other book in the New Testament. Some scholars believe that its central message was a warning to contemporary Christians not to assimilate into Roman Imperial culture. The Book of Revelation is many different things, to many different people, spend time with it and make up your own mind.
Reflections on Revelation 21:4
Belief in the life eternal is at the core of the Christian faith. This verse gives us the opportunity to meditate on the Resurrection and the Life to Come.
Read next: What Does Exodus 14:14 Mean? “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” The Bible repeatedly talks about the Lord fighting for Israel, starting in Exodus 14:14. What is its meaning?