Wednesday, 4 August 2021
Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Revelation 21:1
With the great white throne judgment recorded at the closing of the previous chapter, Chapter 21 now opens with the words, “Now I saw.” This is John’s normal way of introducing a new subject. It is as if his eyes have been watching a screen display the future and a new vision is presented on it. And what he beholds is “a new heaven and a new earth.”
The idea of a new heavens and a new earth was presented by Isaiah millennia ago –
“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth;
And the former shall not be remembered or come to mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create;
For behold, I create Jerusalem as a rejoicing,
And her people a joy.
19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
And joy in My people;
The voice of weeping shall no longer be heard in her,
Nor the voice of crying.” Isaiah 65:17-19
Peter speaks of this as well –
“But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. 11 Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? 13 Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” 2 Peter 3:10-13
The main question that consistently arises with these words is whether this means a literal new creation, or something that has a newness of appearance. Charles Ellicott notes –
“There are two words which are translated new in our English version: one of these (neos) relates to time; the other (kainos) relates to quality. The one would be applied to what had recently come into existence; the other to what showed fresh features. … Now, it is this latter word which is used throughout this chapter, and, indeed, throughout the book of Revelation. The newness which is pictured is the newness of freshness: the old, decaying, enfeebling, and corrupting elements are swept away.”
The same word, kainos, is used by Peter in his words cited above. As this is so, it would then tend to refer to the same creation that has been made over in newness. This would correspond to the word “regeneration” used by Jesus about this matter –
“So Jesus said to them, ‘Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.’” Matthew 19:28
This would also correspond to the words of Paul in Romans 8 where he speaks of the creation being delivered from bondage. The idea, then, of a new heavens and new earth leans toward the thought of a renewal. Despite this, being dogmatic about what lies ahead is futile. Whatever the Lord has planned will be revealed in due time. For now, John continues with the words, “for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.”
These words do not provide any further clarity concerning the matter of a regeneration or a completely new heavens and earth. John simply notes that what exists right now will no longer be what is. If a renewal is being referred to, there will be such a marked change in what is seen that it will be completely new to the beholder. In this great change, John notes explicitly as the first major difference, “Also there was no more sea.”
Of this, the Greek more literally reads, “And the sea is no more.” This again brings in a great deal of dispute about the nature of John’s words. In Scripture, there is the literal sea. However, there is also that which the sea represents – chaos, the nations of the world, and so on. As the land is fixed and firm, the sea is fluid and changing – just like the fluidity of the nations of the world as opposed to God’s government which is fixed and firm.
With this in mind, the argument is, “Is this referring to the literal sea, or is it referring to the chaotic and changing form of nations and government?” Two different views can be considered –
“Some explain the sea as the ungodly world. I cannot help thinking this interpretation forced. According to this explanation, the passage is in the highest degree tautological.” Vincent’s Word Studies.
“Among the more detailed features of the new earth, this obliteration of the sea stands first. It is strange that so many commentators should vacillate between literal and figurative interpretations of the chapter; the ornaments and decorations of the new Jerusalem (Revelation 21:10-21) are treated as symbolical; the annihilation of the sea is considered as literal. It is wiser to leave the literal meaning to the future, and to grasp the spiritual teachings, which are of infinite and present interest.” Charles Ellicott
Vincent leans to the literal meaning in order to avoid an obvious tautology. Ellicott doesn’t deny a literal meaning, but does note that the spiritual meaning is more likely what John would be referring to at present.
Ellicott’s analysis displays a particular wisdom in regard to the nature of Revelation. When John sees God “sitting on a throne,” he is not actually seeing God sitting on a throne. Rather, he is seeing a meaning that is being conveyed for us to understand a truth. When John sees a new heavens and a new earth that has no more sea, he is being presented with a truth about what lies ahead.
Whether there will be actual seas or not is not the point of what is being conveyed. The truth that God’s government is the only government that will exist is the presentation we are to consider. There will be nothing vacillating or changing about this eternal rule. It is in this chapter that the New Jerusalem will be described. That is the seat of government, and it is the focus of what the nations will be guided by. Hence, what John is seeing may have a literal aspect to it, but it is the truth behind the words he states that should be considered first and foremost.
What was lost in Eden – a state of perfection and of communion between God and man, with God as the rightful Head – will again be realized.
A point to consider is that there was a literal sea in Genesis 1, and it was declared “good” by God. As such, then there is no reason to think that a literal sea couldn’t be found in what God will be doing in the new heavens and the new earth. If there is, then “sea” is only referring to the chaos that the nations of the people generate. Again, this is all speculation. In due time, the redeemed of the Lord will know and appreciate exactly what the Lord is conveying to John in his vision.
Life application: As time has not yet reached the point where the debate concerning the events of Revelation fully come to pass, it would be presumptuous to be adamant about something we really cannot know. Different verses in both testaments can be used to come to different conclusions. Ecclesiastes, along with other books of the Bible, says the earth will abide forever. Isaiah 65:17 speaks of a “new heaven and a new earth,” but then it goes on to say in verse 20 that people will die when that comes about. Therefore, what Isaiah is speaking of is a new economy existing in the old creation.
Psalm 102:25, 26 (which is quoted in Hebrews 1) speaks of the heavens and the earth being changed like a garment; one wearing out and being replaced by another. This seems to indicate a complete change with nothing of the old left.
Hence, different verses lead to different conclusions, and we simply cannot be adamant either way. God is God and He will accomplish everything in His word exactly as it should be, whether we fully understand it now or not.
In the end, whatever the fulfillment is, it will be glorious. As we move through the final two chapters of Revelation, we will see the wonderful majesty of what God will be doing for His people in this new heaven and new earth. Stay tuned, marvelous things lie ahead because of what God has done for us through His Son, our Lord JESUS!
Lord God, though we can only look ahead and speculate about many things Your word reveals, whatever the outcome is, we know that it will be wonderful. There will be a place for Your redeemed that will be without any corruption, any defilement, or anything wicked or impure. How wonderful that will be and how we long for that glorious time! Thank You for the promises Your word holds for us. Amen.