Many funeral homes are decorated to look like a living room in a home, probably a remnant of the days when those who died were laid out at home. The typical modern coffin resembles a bed with cushions and a pillow. The result gives onlookers the impression that the deceased is merely sleeping. Sleep is also the euphemism that the Bible frequently uses to refer to death (see 1 Cor. 11:30; 15:6, 18, 20; 1 Thess. 4:13–14; 5:6, 10).
Sleep is an apt metaphor for death for someone who has trusted in Christ. For those who die in Christ, death is a gateway to eternal rest (v. 13). New Testament scholar John Walvoord notes that this chapter is pivotal in the book of Revelation: it is the culmination of the two preceding chapters and sets the stage for the climax in chapter 15. It provides us with a series of statements about the future and the ultimate triumph of Jesus Christ. Among these statements is the promise that those who die in the Lord “rest from their labor” (v. 13).
The Bible’s language of “sleep” and “rest” to describe the experience of those who die does not mean that the dead are unconscious. Elsewhere in the book of Revelation the dead in Christ are portrayed as conscious and able to speak (cf. Rev. 6:9–11). John pictures those believers who die during the Great Tribulation as worshiping before God’s throne (Rev. 7:13–14).
The closing image in this book depicts a new heaven and a new earth where God dwells with humanity. This also points to a new purpose for those who are in Christ. Like their Father who is always at rest and always at His work, believers who enjoy final rest will also have new eternal purpose (Rev. 21:3–4).