No More Sea? (Rev. 21:1a)

In Revelation 21 John is given a vision of the future: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and earth had ceased to exist, and the sea existed no more” (NET). This is one image we’re given in Scripture to describe the place where God’s people will live in peace and happiness forever with the Lord. John sees and describes it in more detail later in Revelation 21-22 (building on Isaiah 65-66). One question we might have is this: “What does it mean when John says ‘the sea’ no longer existed?” I appreciate how G. K. Beale explains this in his commentary – and this reality makes the Christian say, “Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly!”

The passing away of the old world is also described in the statement that “the sea will not be any longer.” Why is the sea among those parts of creation singled out as no longer existing? Crucial to answering this question is the correct identification of the sea. Usage elsewhere in the Apocalypse suggests various identifications: (1) the origin of cosmic evil (especially in the light of OT background; so 4:6; 12:18; 13:1; 15:2), (2) the unbelieving, rebellious nations who cause tribulation for God’s people (12:18; 13:1; Isa. 57:20; cf. Rev. 17:2, 6), (3) the place of the dead (20:13), (4) the primary location of the world’s idolatrous trade activity (18:10–19), (5) a literal body of water, sometimes mentioned together with “the earth,” used as a synecdoche in which the sea as a part of the old creation represents the totality of it (5:13; 7:1–3; 8:8–9; 10:2, 5–6, 8; 14:7; 16:3 [?]).

The use here probably summarizes how all these various nuances of “sea” throughout the book relate to the new creation. Therefore, it encompasses all five meanings. That is, when the new creation comes there will no longer be any threat from Satan because he will have been permanently judged and excluded from the new creation. Nor will there be any threat from rebellious nations, since they will have suffered the same fate as Satan. Neither will there be death ever again in the new world, so that there is no room for the sea as the place of the dead. There also will be no more idolatrous trade practice using the sea as its main avenue. Even the perception of the literal sea as a murky, unruly part of God’s creation is no longer appropriate in the new cosmos, since the new creation is to be characterized by peace. Literal seas separate nation from nation, and they separated John from his beloved churches, but in the new creation such a separation can be no more, since all are in close fellowship with one another and with God (e.g., 21:22–26).

 G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 1042.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015