Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.
One of the peculiar features of Revelation 21:1 is the final phrase: “and there was no longer any sea.” If you like taking long walks on the beach, enjoying the crash of the waves and ocean breezes, you may be disappointed by the “sea-less” vision of John. And if you’re a surfer, I expect you are majorly bummed out.
But, before we start bemoaning our ocean-deprived future, we should exercise a bit of interpretive caution. For one thing, the Revelation of John is filled with imagery that is meant to be evocative. It’s not supposed to be taken literally. So, when John says that in his vision of the future “there was no longer any sea,” this does not necessarily mean there won’t actually be large bodies of salt water in the future, along which we might walk or in which we might surf. The point of “there was no longer any sea” lies elsewhere.
What is that point? If we read through all of Revelation, paying close attention to the meaning of the sea, we discover that it often has negative connotations. In Revelation 13:1, for example, the evil dragon “stood on the shore of the sea” when the horrific beast was “coming out of the sea.” Later, the sea is abode of the dead (20:13). This negative view of the sea is consistent with both the experience and the stories of the Ancient Near East, as well as with several passages in the Old Testament. In Nahum 1:4, for example, God “rebukes the sea and dries it up” as an expression of his judgment. Thus, when we read that “there was no longer any sea,” the point isn’t the absence of large bodies of salt water so much as the absence of the source of evil and the realm of death.
The new heaven and new earth isn’t merely an upgrade of the first heaven and earth. It isn’t simply Heaven and Earth 2.0. Rather, it is a radically new creation that is both brand new and also deeply consistent with God’s first creation. As Tom Wright explains in his commentary on Revelation, “What we have in Revelation 21 and 22… is the utter transformation of heaven and earth by means of God abolishing, from within both heaven and earth, everything that has to do both with the as-yet incomplete plan for creation and, more particularly, with the horrible, disgusting and tragic effects of human sin.”
Something to Think About:
When you think of what the world might be like without sin, what comes to mind for you?
What would work be like in a world without sin? What would collaboration be like? What would leadership look like?
Does it seem silly to you to think of the future in this way, to envision work in God’s new creation? If so, why? If not, why not?
Gracious God, thank you for the vision you gave to John and for how this vision continues to speak to us today. Though we may not feel about the sea as John did, we are encouraged by the thought of a world without sin. In many ways, Lord, it’s hard for us to envision such a world and what it would be like to live, yes, even to work in this world. Through your Word and by your Spirit, help us to glimpse your future and live in light of this vision. Amen.