Saturdays in Scripture: Tears in Heaven

August 25, 2012

Saturdays in Scripture: Tears in Heaven

5755252117_3d98ee0706As a pastor, I have to always have a sermon in my pocket. I have only needed to pull it out 2 or 3 times in my ministry, but it helps to have a few passages of scripture you are always thinking about and can easily share with other folks through a sermon.

My favorite passage for this is Revelation 7:9-17. Over the years I have found it to be a rich passage for prayer and meditation as well as serving as a great place for a sermon.

Revelation 7:9-17

New Living Translation (NLT)

9 After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. 10 And they were shouting with a great roar,

“Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne
and from the Lamb!”

11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living beings. And they fell before the throne with their faces to the ground and worshiped God. 12 They sang,

“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom
and thanksgiving and honor
and power and strength belong to our God
forever and ever! Amen.”

13 Then one of the twenty-four elders asked me, “Who are these who are clothed in white? Where did they come from?”

14 And I said to him, “Sir, you are the one who knows.”

Then he said to me, “These are the ones who died in the great tribulation. They have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and made them white.

15 “That is why they stand in front of God’s throne
and serve him day and night in his Temple.
And he who sits on the throne
will give them shelter.
16 They will never again be hungry or thirsty;
they will never be scorched by the heat of the sun.
17 For the Lamb on the throne
will be their Shepherd.
He will lead them to springs of life-giving water.
And God will wipe every tear from their eyes.”

In multiple places in the scriptures we find the image of God wiping tears away. It pops up in Revelation in a few places, one of them being 7:17 "...And God will wipe every tear from their eyes."

The more I dig into Revelation, the more I find myself reading the Old Testament and sharpening up my Hebrew skills. The image bank of 1st century Judaism, especially in a post Temple context, provides many primary sources for some of the odder images in Revelation.

What I found was this; two specific words used for "crying" in the OT (there are minor terms as well). Both are terms we use now, and the first has crept its way into Christian language.

Weeping is a word and emotion that is often used now to describe deep spiritual expression. Weeping in the OT comes from ‏בְּכִית, and is usually used as an expression of lament, sorrow, and grief. There are a few places where it is used to describe joy as well. This is probably because one of the elements that separates weeping is the physical expression of grief. "Wailing" could also be used to translate the word. It is also connected to ideas of pleading and distress. Weeping is normally a negative emotion.

Tears however, are a different emotion.‏דִּמְעָה occurs far less often (usually in either the Psalms or Jeremiah). Many times it is associated with prayer. and at others as an expression of a lament of inside of thanksgiving in apocryphal texts. In a few places, tears show a finality of suffering.

The Greek text of the NT doesn't have the rich theological sense the Hebrew does, but it still helps us refine our sense of "tears" when it comes to eternity.

Rev. 7:17 because the Lamb in the middle of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Rev. 21:4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death will not exist any more—or mourning, or crying, or pain, for the former things have ceased to exist.” (NET)

The interesting piece is that the italicized phrase in 7:17 is an allusion to Isaiah 25:8

He will swallow up death permanently. The sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from every face, and remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. Indeed, the LORD has announced it!

In both our passages in Revelation, we see a theme of re-building not just the created order, but putting the earthly social structure back together in an imaginative way. It is something fulfilling enough to not just be an individual state of bliss, but a view of heaven as an all encompassing reality in which all that is evil is broken apart and goodness is the order of eternity. You can read Isaiah 25 for the full picture of the OT narrative.

In the full scope of the eschaton (the wonderful rebuilding and fulfilling of all of God's promises), with the whole world wrapped up, Christ is still concerned with me and you. He is still concerned with our recognition of how we might have participated in a world that needed remaking, but when we visibily recognize our contributions, all pain and suffering is taken away.