“And the ruling-seat of God and of the Lamb will be in her, and His slaves will perform service for Him” (v. 3b)
In the first part of this section (vv. 1-3a, cf. the previous note), the imagery from the Genesis Creation narratives (chaps. 2-3) was applied to the “new Jerusalem” as a way of capturing the specific idea of a new Creation (21:1). The old order of Creation, bound as it was under a ‘curse’ by God (Gen 3:16-19), is no more, and, as a result, the curse has been removed (v. 3a). The remainder of the section (vv. 3b-5) summarizes the new situation for humankind (believers) in the holy city. It is possible to view verse 3 as a chiasm, reflecting this change (from old to new):
- There will no longer be anything of the curse (on humankind)
- The Divine Presence: The throne of God and the Lamb is in the city
- Humankind (believers) will serve God, ruling alongside Him
- There will no longer be anything of the curse (on humankind)
Moreover, there is a formal contrast indicated by the Greek, speaking to how the manner of existence has changed:
- The curse will not be [ou)k e)stin] any longer
- The throne of God and the Lamb will be [e)stin] in her
The curse of the old Creation was marked the removal of human beings from God’s Presence (Gen 3:22-24), but in the new Creation they have returned and have direct access to God (vv. 4-5, below). The rendering of dou=loi as “slaves” can be misleading, due to the associations of the word “slave” in English with oppression and suffering. Many translators prefer “servant”, especially when used in the context of believers (who certainly are not being oppressed by God); however, “slave” is the more accurate translation of dou=lo$. Here, the idea is that of one who performs (obligatory or hired) service for a superior, using the verb latreu/w. When God is the object (of the service), this verb can refer to priests performing their required duties. The only other occurrence of the verb in the book of Revelation is in the vision of chapter 7 (v. 15), of the multitude of believers gathered around the throne of God in heaven; the meaning (and context) here is the same. The noun dou=lo$ is used repeatedly of believers in the book of Revelation (1:1; 7:3; 19:2, etc), even as it occurs similarly throughout the New Testament; sometimes it refers specifically to Christians as ministers—missionaries and preachers, etc—who are performing special service for God.
“…and they will look with (open) eyes at His face, and His name (is) upon the (space) between their eyes.” (v. 4)
To see God directly, with our eyes, is the supreme goal for humankind, and it is only realized (for believers) in the New Age. The impossibility of such a visionary experience in the old Creation, the current Age, is noted at many points, in the Old Testament, Jewish tradition, and in the New Testament—cf. Exod 33:20-23; John 1:18; 6:46, etc. Indeed, to see the face of God meant death to the person, and the “face of God” was frequently used as an idiom for the manifestation of divine Judgment (e.g., Rev 6:16). At the same time, it could reflect the positive aspect of experiencing blessings from God, as in the traditional priestly benediction (Num 6:25-26). The hope of a blessed afterlife, dwelling with God in heaven, gave to the idiom a distinctive eschatological emphasis (Psalm 17:15; Matt 5:8; Heb 12:14; 2/4 Esdras 7:98, etc). In the New Testament, the clearest references to the eschatological hope of a direct vision of God, seeing Him face-to-face, are in 1 Cor 13:12 and 1 John 3:2. Here, the hope is depicted as being fulfilled for believers in the “new Jerusalem”.
Believers are able to see God because they/we belong to Him, and this is indicated specifically by the motif of God’s name being written on the forehead (lit. space “between the eyes”). It is almost as though our vision is enabled by this mark between our eyes. The motif has been used repeatedly in the book of Revelation. Believers have the name of God (and of Christ, the Lamb) written or stamped on their forehead (7:3; 9:4; 14:1); by contrast, the wicked (non-believers) bear the name/mark of the evil Sea-creature (servant of the Dragon/Satan), 13:16; 14:9; 20:4; cf. also 17:5. The name on the forehead corresponds to the names that are written down on the citizen-roll of the “new Jerusalem”, i.e. the “scroll of Life” (13:8; 17:8; 21:27). Thus, believers truly belong to the holy city where God Himself dwells.
“And there will not be night any longer, and they hold no business with [i.e. have no need for] (the) light of a lamp and (the) light of (the) sun, (in) that [i.e. because] the Lord God (Himself) will give light upon them, and they will rule as king(s) into the Ages of Ages.”
The statement in verse 5b essentially repeats that of 21:23-25, in the description of the “new Jerusalem” (the city proper, cf. the earlier note). Here, the focus has shifted from the city to the people (believers); instead of the divine Light of God illuminating the city, here it shines on God’s people. This merely demonstrates the nature and meaning of the symbolism itself—the “new Jerusalem” is not a city per se, but represents the people of God. The reference to both a “lamp” (lu/xno$) and the sun is an allusion to 21:23, where God is the ultimate source of light (i.e. the sun), and Jesus Christ (the Lamb) is the ‘lamp’ that illuminates/radiates this same light. For a similar idea, expressed more in Christological terms, cf. Hebrews 1:3; Col 1:15; 2 Cor 4:6.
While believers are called “slaves” who serve God, they/we are also said to “rule as king(s)” (vb basileu/w), together with God and Christ. This reflects the earlier visionary scene of 20:4-6 (cf. the earlier note, and my separate study on the “Thousand Years”). Elsewhere in the book, the verb is used of the exalted Jesus (the Lamb), or of God Himself. The same wording occurs in 11:15:
“The kingdoms of the world came to be of [i.e. belonging to] our Lord and His Anointed, and He will rule as king into the Ages of Ages.”
As the exalted Jesus rules alongside God the Father, so believers now rule alongside them both together. This image (and that in 20:4-6) may be influenced by (Daniel 7:18), with the (eschatological) promise that God’s people—the “holy ones of the Most High” —will receive the Kingdom and possess it forever.