(4) He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
This is the second time in the book that the image of wiping tears away is seen (see comments on 7:16-17). The first time was unmistakably about those brethren on the earth who made it through all the tears of the great tribulation in the first century. The use of the figure here is not much different, except that it is not limited to just the great tribulation but all that occurred during the fall of the old covenant people. The brethren had been through much during those dark years, there was pain, weeping, and mourning; but now we see a beautiful picture of God dwelling with man under the new covenant and wiping away every tear. God comforts and restores his holy ones. Peter spoke of the end of the old covenant era as the “times of refreshing” (Acts 3:20).
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” This does not say “no tears,” but that God will “wipe away every tear.” The point is that they have had many tears during those troubling days, but by Christ’s actions and judgments against those who afflicted the brethren, their enemies were defeated before their eye. In this manner God wiped away their tears. This statement remains strict to the context of this chapter which is purposed to show the fulfillment of Isaiah 65 in the first century. In Isaiah 65, immediately following the promise of the new heavens and earth, and the new Jerusalem, God says,
“I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress.” (Isaiah 65:19).
There is no longer the “sound of weeping and the cry of distress” for Christ has conquered their troubles and comforted his people. Isaiah and Revelation are only expressing a spiritual idea, not a physical concept that there would be no more tears and no physical death. Those who view this chapter to be about a future time, enjoy taking these points literally within a signified book (1:1); but this is not consistent nor honorable to the context.
This prophecy is a part of a fuller context in Isaiah 65:17-25, which employs many metaphorical thoughts to paint a very pleasant picture of the new covenant people. These pictures were originally given to the exiled people who were enduring much pain and loss from the Babylonians. In those days Jerusalem was a wasted and miserable abode for wild jackals; but the promise of God is a new Jerusalem that would “be a joy, and her people to be a gladness” (65:18). The text continues by vividly describing how joyous the city would be. No tears or cries of distress anymore (65:19); no longer would infants be born only to be slain after a few days, or men never able to live to a full old age, but they would all be able to joyfully live a long full life (65:20). They will build houses and inhabit them or plant food and eat from the harvest, unlike the days that the enemy took their homes and food away (65:21-22). They will be blessed (65:23) and be near to their God, and he will readily respond to their call (65:24). There would be no more violence but lovely peace (65:25). The last detail of the chapter is very important; these things are a picture of what would be “in all my holy mountain, says the LORD.” (65:25). This is not a picture of the ungodly world, but the holy mount; “Mount Zion, and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” (Hebrews 12.22). Isaiah was talking about the life of the church; none of it was literal but conveyed the spiritual idea of pure joy and blessedness in the Lord.
“Death shall be no more.” For those who have come to the new Jerusalem, the holy mount of God, they are alive in Jesus. This is not literal; this is a signified book! There will still be physical death and plenty of it (Hebrews 9:27), but for those in Christ, spiritual death is defeated and God dwells among them.
“Neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore.” See comments on the first part of this verse.
“For the former things have passed away.” This is consistent still with the prophecy in Isaiah 65, which stated, “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.” (65:17). Notice that the verse began with a conjunction, connecting this clause with the previous one in context, which was “the former troubles are forgotten and are hidden from my eyes.” (65:16). The troubles of sin, the troubles under the old covenant, the troubles from the house of Israel; all of these things had passed away within the first century, and there was no need to revisit the pain of those things; it was now hidden from their eyes.