I’ve only been to the ocean once in my life. And the particular beach that I went to isn’t one that is known for it’s beauty and grandeur. Yet, I was still taken aback. I’m not even a swimmer and I was captivated by this apparently only mediocre view of the ocean. I hope to see the ocean again. But if Revelation 21:1
is any indication I better do it now. One of the greatest elements of God’s creation is the sea, so why is he going to wipe it out? Has he got something against the ocean?
What Does the Sea/Ocean Symbolize?
It’s helpful, especially in a book like Revelation, to consider the importance of metaphor. All throughout the Scriptures the sea and the ocean is symbolic of chaos, danger, and evil. It’s not surprising, then, that the great beast will come out of the sea (Rev 13). This is the place where all that is unpredictable and chaotic comes from.
So it’s not surprising then that to a non-seafaring Israelite the sea would be happily eradicated. If God is going to create a new-heaven and new-earth where there isn’t going to be crying or death or mourning then it’s not surprising that he’d rid the earth of this nasty beast called the sea.
Philip Ryken’s words are helpful:
The sea represents everything that chafes and frets under the dominion of God; everything that is out of our control. But there is nothing like that in the new heaven and the new earth. Everything there is under the orderly blessing of God
But, Will It Be Literally Gone? Like, No Snorkeling In Heaven?
Some interpreters think the sea will be literally gone. John MacArthur actually goes further than any others I’ve read. He believes there won’t even be water but another substance in the river of life:
The sea is emblematic of the present water-based environment. All life on earth is dependent on water for its survival. . . . But believers’ glorified bodies will not require water, unlike present human bodies, whose blood is 90 percent water, and whose flesh is 65 percent water. Thus, the new heaven and the new earth will be based on a completely different life principle than the present universe. There will be a river in heaven, not of water, but of the “water of life” (22:1, 17).
While it’s certainly possible that there is literally no sea, it’s probably better, as R.D. Phillips so eloquently says, to take John’s statement here as “theological instead of topographical”.
Three Reasons I Don’t Believe It’s Literal
There are three reasons why I would lean towards viewing this as a non-literal removal of the sea.
First, consider what would happen if John had only said that we were getting a new heaven and a new earth? In a biblical worldview the cosmos is divided in three parts. The heavens (sky), the earth (land), and the sea. If God only redeems two of those three—and a great beast has already come out of sea to destroy the good—what would make us think this isn’t going to happen again? So it’s absolutely necessary that John has everything within his scope of redemption.
But what type of redemption is this? The second reason I would view this as not a literal removal of the sea has to do with the nature of the new heaven and the new earth. What God is doing is making all things new by means of renewal and restoration. So if the sea is no more, then the sea which is removed would be the old chaotic sea of the old order. Which leads to my third reason.
Consider the biblical storyline. Is there a literal sea in God’s good creation? Are ocean’s from after the Fall, or remnants of the flood? Consider Genesis 1:6. “God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.” If God is restoring humanity to an Edenic paradise doesn’t it make sense that the flowing waters of Eden, untainted by human sin, would not also be present in the new creation?
We cannot be dogmatic on this point because Scripture is not explicit. There is enough within the text of Scripture to push us towards a more metaphorical reading of Revelation 21:1, but not enough to be definitive. Maybe there will not be a sea.
But one thing we can be certain of. Christ, our King, has conquered and all evil and chaos has been defeated. There’s no more uncertainty or pain or any other oceanic turmoil. It’s peace. And it’s beautiful.
I can’t swim well enough to snorkel in this fallen world. The ocean still symbolizes death for me. It’s beautiful, but it’s fearsome. But perhaps some day when the “sea is no more” I’ll be able to snorkel and swim with a glorified shark.
This article originally appeared here.