Revelation 21 clearly says that there will be no tears in the New Jerusalem, so the pressing question on everybody’s mind is “if the book of Revelation has been fulfilled, why did the Rolling Stones write ‘Start Me Up?’” To answer this, we need to go back to the Old Testament to see what the prophets meant when they talked about tears because the New Testament authors were raised reading the Hebrew Scriptures. Those at Berea were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica because they examined the thirty-nine books of the Hebrew Scriptures; they didn’t have access to leather bound New Testaments.
In their streets they have girded themselves with sackcloth; On their housetops and in their squares Everyone is wailing, dissolved in tears. Heshbon and Elealeh also cry out, Their voice is heard all the way to Jahaz; Therefore the armed men of Moab cry aloud; His soul trembles within him.Isaiah 15:3–4
This excerpt from Isaiah 15 gives us insight into what Isaiah means when he says that God would wipe away tears. Tears in the prophets aren’t a reference to crying in the regular sense, but refers specifically to national crying in the face of great calamity, destruction, exile, and captivity. Just to make my point, here are a few more from Jeremiah:
Then I will make to cease from the cities of Judah and from the streets of Jerusalem the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride; for the land will become a ruin.Jeremiah 7:34
Oh that my head were waters And my eyes a fountain of tears, That I might weep day and night For the slain of the daughter of my people!Jeremiah 9:1
For a voice of wailing is heard from Zion, ‘How are we ruined! We are put to great shame, For we have left the land, Because they have cast down our dwellings.’Jeremiah 9:19
For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: “Behold, I am going to eliminate from this place, before your eyes and in your time, the voice of rejoicing and the voice of gladness, the voice of the groom and the voice of the bride.”Jeremiah 16:9
Moreover, I will take from them the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the sound of the millstones and the light of the lamp. This whole land will be a desolation and a horror, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years.Jeremiah 25:10–11
So, when God promises to wipe away tears throughout the book of Isaiah, it is in reference to a return from exile and release from captivity. Specifically in Isaiah, it is about a time when God would have a trumpet blown and restore Israel to her former glory through the Messiah (Isaiah 27:12-13; cf. Matthew 24:29-31).
He promises that several times within the book, but here is a sample:
He will swallow up death for all time, And the Lord GOD will wipe tears away from all faces, And He will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth; For the LORD has spoken.Isaiah 25:8
O people in Zion, inhabitant in Jerusalem, you will weep no longer. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry; when He hears it, He will answer you.Isaiah 30:19
And the ransomed of the LORD will return And come with joyful shouting to Zion, With everlasting joy upon their heads. They will find gladness and joy, And sorrow and sighing will flee away.Isaiah 35:10, 51:11
Your sun will no longer set, Nor will your moon wane; For you will have the LORD for an everlasting light, And the days of your mourning will be over.Isaiah 60:20
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, Because the LORD has anointed me To bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to captives And freedom to prisoners; To proclaim the favorable year of the LORD And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn,Isaiah 61:1–2
I will also rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in My people; And there will no longer be heard in her The voice of weeping and the sound of crying.Isaiah 65:19
The theme of crying out in the Bible is rooted in the Exodus:
Now it came about in the course of those many days that the king of Egypt died. And the sons of Israel sighed because of the bondage, and they cried out; and their cry for help because of their bondage rose up to God.Exodus 2:23
So, for God to remove their tears would be to restore the kingdom to Israel. This is pictured in Isaiah as a second exodus (Isaiah 11:11). When Jesus begins His ministry, He quotes from one of the “no tears” passages to establish the context of who He was and what He came to do (Luke 4:18; cf. Isaiah 61:1-2). Then, in the sermon on the Mount, He says several telling things:
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the [land].Matthew 5:4–5
In the NASB, the translation of γῆ (gē) is earth, but in the LXX, it is used to talk about the promised land in an overwhelming amount of times. For example, in Jeremiah 16:13 the Bible says, “And I will cast you off from this land…” When Jesus says that the mourners would be comforted and the gentle would inherit the land, He is claiming to be the One who would restore Israel.
In the book of Revelation, John uses this imagery from the prophets:
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, 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.”Revelation 21:3–4
John is referencing several passages in this chapter. Most notably, he has in mind Ezekiel 37:27, Isaiah 65:19, and Isaiah 25:8. Besides these, there are a plethora of passages that use the refrain “I will be their God, and they will be my people” to refer to a return from exile.
When confronted with the many time statements in Revelation 1 and Revelation 22 which say that the things within the book would soon be fulfilled, one of the first responses is, “Well why do we still cry?” The answer is, “We don’t.” Jesus has set us free from bondage to sin, and we have eternal comfort in Christ. We, as Paul says in Philippians 4 and 1 Thessalonians 5, have eternal joy. When you read these quotations, keep in mind that the audiences of these letters were being persecuted in ways that we can never imagine.
Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. “The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.John 8:34–36
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word.2 Thessalonians 2:16–17
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!Philippians 4:4
Rejoice always;1 Thessalonians 5:16
Thank God that we’ve been set free. Thank God that we have eternal comfort. Thank God we have eternal joy. And thank God for wiping away all our tears!
Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.Matthew 11:28–30