In a recent post, I wrote about the covenant formula in Revelation 21:3. As I indicated in that post, I became interested in the covenant formula due to my work in Revelation 21. This interest led me to read and summarize points from Rendtorff’s The Covenant Formula (see my four posts on the book). Rendtorff’s work helped me to see that the covenant formula provides an explicit reference to God’s covenant with his people that goes back to Genesis 17 and his covenant with Abraham.
I therefore found it to be noteworthy that Revelation 21:7 alludes to Genesis 17:7-8. From Genesis to Revelation, two central aspects of the people of God theme are relationship to Abraham and the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham (see Rom. 4:9-18).
The Covenant Formula in Revelation 21:7 and Genesis 17:7-8
Revelation 21:7: The one who conquers will inherit these things and I will be God to him and he will be a son to me.
Genesis 17:7: I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your seed after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your seed after you.
Genesis 17:8 ends by saying, “I will be God to them.”
Revelation 21:7 returns to the people of God theme that was introduced in Revelation 21:3. Revelation 21:7 also relates the people of God theme to God’s provision for his people. God provides an inheritance for his people, who are all his sons. The three clauses of Revelation 21:7 are closely related. The common thread that unites the verse is the covenant relationship between God and his people. This covenant relationship sets them apart as the special people of God. The covenant relationship is expressed most explicitly with the words “I will be God to him” (21:7). These words allude to a common Old Testament expression that points back to God’s promises to Abraham in Genesis 17:1-8 (see Exod. 6:7, Lev. 26:12, Ezek. 37:23, 27). In Genesis 17:7, God says, “I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your seed after you.” God then clarifies that his covenant is “an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your seed” (17:7). Genesis 17:8 also ends by saying, “I will be God to them.” God’s covenant with his people means that he is their God. It follows that they are his people. God’s words to Abraham are the point of origin for his covenant with Abraham and the people of God who spring from Abraham. It is therefore important to see that Revelation 21:7 is predicting a future for the people of God that will be a continuation of the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham. In short, “I will be God to him” means that God will be God to those who conquer, and they will be his covenant people (21:7; see Rendtorff, Covenant Formula, 14-15, 58).
When God establishes his covenant with Abraham, God associates certain blessings with it, including the land of Canaan (Gen. 17:8). God promises the land of Canaan as an inheritance for Abraham and his seed (that is, his descendants) (Gen. 15:4-8, 17:8). In Revelation 21:7, God’s words are consistent with the “everlasting covenant” that God made with Abraham and his offspring (Gen. 17:7). God says to each one of his people, the people of the covenant, “The one who conquers will inherit these things and I will be God to him and he will be a son to me” (Rev. 21:7). To inherit “these things” means to inherit the new creation, the New Jerusalem, and all that goes with them in Revelation 21:1-22:5. The inheritance promised to Abraham’s seed has grown in scope and magnificence far beyond Canaan. The ultimate inheritance for the people of God is the New Jerusalem. In a similar manner, Heb. 11:8-10 mentions Canaan as Abraham’s inheritance, but also says that Abraham was ultimately anticipating a greater inheritance, the New Jerusalem.
For the heirs of Revelation 21:7, God will be their God (“I will be God to him”) and they will all be his sons (“he will be my son”) (21:7). Given the context, the sonship language probably has to do with inheritance. God’s adopted sons are his heirs. Just as in Revelation 14:4, God’s people are all declared to be “virgins” (a term for chaste women), so here God’s people are all his adopted sons. The role of son is significant in the Bible, because it is a role associated with receiving an inheritance. In Revelation 21:7, God considers each one of his people to be worthy of adoption as his son. As a result, God promises each one of them a great inheritance, the New Jerusalem.