Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea…I saw no temple in the city, because the Lord God the almighty is its temple, together with the Lamb. ~REVELATION 21:1 & 22
This has got to be one of the most beautiful chapters in all of Scripture. John is attempting to describe the indescribable new heaven and new earth. When witnessing something of this magnitude and glory, it is sometimes easier to communicate what it is not, more than what it actually is, since it is something quite beyond imagination, beyond human language. What will not be there? John writes that God will wipe away every tear from our eyes and that there will be no more death, mourning, weeping, pain, or suffering in the renewed earth.
There are two additional components missing from the new earth and new Jerusalem that are most intriguing.
There’s no more sea, and there’s no temple.
To keep this Ripple under a thousand words, we’re just gonna drill down on one of these elements–the sea. BUT! let’s just say quickly that the reason there is no temple is one of the most beautiful facets of this chapter. It is because our Lord God will be dwelling with us Himself like never before, so manifestly present that Yahweh and Yeshua themselves will be our temple; it will be like a sacred temple every square foot of this new place because God will be so noticeably and wonderfully infused in the fabric of it all, that there will be nowhere you can go where you won’t feel the permeating overflowing euphoric love of Christ! I am so excited thinking of this right now!!!
OK, settle down, on to the sea.
We know that Revelation is full of rich symbolism, and the idea of “the sea” is pregnant with all sorts of possible meaning. One of the many characteristics of Revelation I am enjoying (and really all of Scripture) is the multi-angled dimensions of meaning it presents to us for the mining. A work such as this must be the inspiration of the Holy Spirit because we humans just cannot come up with anything this profound, abstruse, and recondite on our own!
The sea was a very traditional symbol in the ancient Near east for the forces of chaos and evil, “a chaotic source of defiance to God’s sovereignty” as Brian Blount so pithily puts it. J. Richard Middleton says in his book A New Heaven and a New Earth that “the disappearance of the sea in Revelation 21:1 is not making the point that no one goes swimming in the new creation…The point is that the forces of evil and chaos will be eradicated.” I for one will be very happy to see chaos go bye-bye. With the combination of the internet and politics, could it get any more chaotic and confusing?? You know the evil one is having a grand old time with controlled narratives, propaganda, misinformation, and disinformation to keep us guessing and doubting what is really going on at any given moment. All of that garbage will be gone in the new earth, thank you Lord..!
The sea also represented the main arena where the world’s idolatrous trade took place. The Roman Empire expanded her brutal domination and exploitation of others through sea trade. From Craig Koester’s commentary, “The absence of the sea underscores the difference between Babylon’s brutal dominion, which relied on seaborne commerce, and the new order in God’s city. Just as Babylon fell and was not found anymore, the sea it relied on for its economy does not exist anymore.” No more sea is a way of showing that the exploitative sea trade of the Roman Empire will end forever. This is why the shipmasters, seafarers, and sailors were mourning and weeping back in chapter 18. To quote J. Richard Middleton again: “It is therefore good news that in the eschaton the sea (which facilitated the economic expansion of the Roman Empire) will be no more.”
One more aspect of the sea we can look at is a personal one which I found rather interesting from commentator M. Eugene Boring. “There may be a personal, existential element here. It was in fact the sea that separated John and his beloved communities of anxious Christians. But for the sea, he would be there personally to speak his word of encouragement he must now communicate in writing, and be with them during the great ordeal they must endure. The new world coming will mean the removal of all present barriers to human relationships.”
These are but a few highlights of the many layers of meaning that “the sea” in this passage brings. G.K. Beale sums up nicely, “The evil nuance of the sea metaphorically represents the entire range of afflictions which formerly threatened God’s people in the old world.”
In the new world there will be no more actual or possible threat to God’s creation.