Rev. 21:1 – Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea no longer existed. (HCSB)
The sea no longer existed
It’s curious that John notes there is no longer any sea (Rev. 21:1). Why is this?
John may be saying that just as the old heaven and earth have passed away, so has the old sea, which covers most of our planet. Many of God’s creatures reside in the sea or rely on it for life. So why wouldn’t Jesus renovate these huge bodies of water and their inhabitants? Some commentators take John’s words to mean the oceans are done away with, not fresh bodies of water.
Still others take this symbolically as representing the nations and peoples of the Gentiles. Only spiritual Israel – that is, true Israel consisting of Old and New Covenant saints – remains, while unbelievers are cast out, allowing the glory of the Lord to fill the earth: “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord’s glory, as the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14).
A.R. Fausset and D. Brown offer this perspective: “The sea is the type of perpetual unrest. Hence our Lord rebukes it as an unruly hostile troubler of His people. It symbolized the political tumults out of which ‘the beast’ arose, Rev 13:1. As the physical corresponds to the spiritual and moral world, so the absence of sea, after the metamorphosis of the earth by fire, answers to the unruffled state of solid peace which shall then prevail…. The sea was once the element of the world’s destruction, and is still the source of death to thousands, whence after the millennium, at the general judgment, it is specially said, ‘The sea gave up the dead … in it.’ Then it shall cease to destroy, or disturb, being removed altogether on account of its past destructions” (Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, Rev. 21:1, Logos Research Systems).
Rev. 8:8 – The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain ablaze with fire was hurled into the sea. So a third of the sea became blood, 9a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed (HCSB).
Hurled into the sea
The great blazing mountain is “hurled into the sea.” Depending on how commentators interpret the mountain, the sea can mean many things:
- Humanity (if Satan is the mountain).
- The church (if heretics are the mountain).
- The people of the Roman Empire (if the Goths and Vandals are the mountain).
- The Gentiles (if Israel is the mountain).
- The world’s restless people (if communism is the mountain).
- The waters of the seas (if there is a natural explanation for the mountain such as a meteorite or a volcano, or if the mountain is a nuclear warhead).
It’s probably best not to mix and match symbolic and literal interpretations when it comes to the imagery in passages like this. A consistent view – either symbolic or literal – may be wrong, but a mixing of both views is almost certainly in error. Also, it’s wise to try to understand symbolic language in the context of clear teaching in other scriptures.
The sea in scripture
Before moving on, let’s look at some of the ways scripture deals with the “sea.” In the Old Testament, the predominant use of the Hebrew word yam is to describe the Mediterranean Sea. The word yam also means west, westward, or seaward with respect to Israel. The Mediterranean is called the “Great Sea,” the “western sea” and the “sea of the Philistines” in some translations.
Other seas mentioned in the Old Testament are the Red Sea (literally the sea of reeds), the Dead Sea (literally the sea of salt), and the Sea of Galilee. The word yam also is used to describe broad rivers like the Nile and Euphrates. And it’s used with reference to the great basin in the temple court.
In the New Testament, the Greek word thalassa describes many of the same bodies of water we encounter in the Old Testament. The Jews exercised a fear of the sea, probably because of ancient Semitic beliefs that the deep personified the power that fought against God. Yet, God is the Creator of the sea. He controls it and commands it to provide for mankind’s good. The language of Isaiah and Jeremiah demonstrate that He is absolutely sovereign over the sea. Some of the greatest miracles in the Bible are set in the sea: the parting of the Red Sea; Jesus’ walk on the Sea of Galilee; and Jesus’ calming of the same sea. Whatever fears people have of the sea will be done away with when God removes the sea in the world to come (Rev. 21:1).
Used symbolically in the Old Testament, the sea perhaps means the nations around the Mediterranean (Isa. 60:5) or the tumultuous changes among the nations of the earth (Dan. 7:3; see also Rev. 13:1).
The New Topical Text Book lists the following symbolic uses of the sea in the Bible:
- Heavy afflictions (Isa. 43:2; La 2:13)
- Trouble of the wicked (Isa. 57:20)
- Roaring of hostile armies (Isa. 5:30; Jer. 6:23)
- Waves of righteousness (Isa. 48:18)
- Waves of devastating armies (Eze. 26:3-4)
- Waves of the unsteady (James 1:6)
- Covered with waters, speaking of the diffusion of spiritual knowledge over the earth in the latter days (Isa. 11:9; Hab 2:14)
- Smooth as glass, a reference to the peace of heaven (Rev. 4:6; 15:2) (R. Torrey, A Scriptural Text Book for the Use of Ministers, Teachers, and All Christian Workers, Logos Research Systems, Inc.)
Next: A preterist perspective (Rev. 8:8-9)