I probably don't need to tell you that the book of Revelation contains a lot dense and (at times) peculiar imagery. It's frankly a book that a lot of us tend to avoid. We try to chalk it up as an incomprehensible book, words that are impossible to know the meaning of. We may balk at John's apparent inability to just say something plain, but then we remember the incomparable images he was granted to see, visions of the glorious Christ, God on His throne, with the multitudes worshipping Him completely. How could John describe these images in anything less that dense, poetic lines?
Nevertheless, Revelation is difficult to understand. So much so that scholars, pastors, and laypeople have been scuffling over it's meaning and intent for centuries. Some say it can be used as a road map for the end times, others say it can't. Some say it's highly metaphorical while others assert that every drop of it is literal. There are a lot of disagreements, but there is something that is profoundly, intrinsically, unmistakably beautiful about the enraptured visions John has, and that is the new creation that believers will one day inhabit as coheirs alongside Christ for eternity.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. Revelation 21:1
This is one of my favorite verses in all of Scripture. It's a call for enduring hope, a bright silhouette on the darkest days. But there's something in it that appears to stick out like a sore thumb: and the sea was no more. That's an odd thing for John to say, isn't it? I mean, I am sure a lot of us enjoy the beach, cruises, or fishing–all of which are necessarily sea-adjacent activities. But John's message, if we look through the rest of the book, is something far more stunning than a picaresque beach day or a 7 day cruise through the Bahamas.
If you pay close attention as you read through the Old and New Testaments you'll find a theme about the sea. You find that the sea is used to illustrate chaos and unknown. It's a place where shipwrecks happen, the Leviathan lives, where people leave and never come back from. It's riddled with storms and its largely unknown. The tumultuous sea becomes synonymous with evil and death in Scripture's storytelling. The sea is place that will happily eat you alive, a place from which you're unlikely to return. When Jonah goes in the opposite direction of the Lord's calling, he finds himself in the stormy sea, tossed overboard and his unlikely savior is the shelter of a large fish's belly. The sea is dangerous.
In Revelation chapter 13, we read about a beast. It's a monster with seven heads and ten horns, and crown atop them all. Its vile and blasphemous yet seduces many to worship it. This beast's home is the sea, lurking in the chaotic depths. As John builds this character throughout the book of Revelation and continues to write down all the visions that God reveals to him, a story unfolds. It isn't a timeline or a formula for eschatology, though it certainly gives us glimpses as what lies ahead. It's John telling the story of God's plan to make a dwelling place for His people that is eternally secure. It's the story that God will right every wrong, judging all who have rejected Him. It's the story of God making all things new and perfect.
When John says that the sea will be no more in the new creation, he's not simply saying that there's a geographic change; he isn't necessarily asserting a topographical map. He's saying that evil has no place in the coming perfect, newness. The sea and her monsters will be abolished, barred from ever billowing out chaos and evil again. Justice will be enacted, final judgment will take place. And the sea, with the torment, chaos, and monsters within her, will be no more.
This is what we hang out hope on. We live in a world that is injured by sin, maimed by evil. We each are pursued by the schemes of the devil; we have a target on our back that invites cosmic war. We don't have to look far to see the effects of the symbolic sea in our lives. Sickness. Death. Deception. Disunity. Malignment. I could go on, but I'm sure you've seen the reaches of this broken world leech into your life.
But we are not without hope. We know that God has written, and continues to tell, a story of redemption for those who love Him. Despite the waywardness of man, God has made a way for us to be reconciled to Him through the blood of Jesus Christ. As if our communion with the Lord were not enough, we now see John's visions wherein God makes all things new. He abolishes the old. He judges evil, avenging His people. He casts the sea and all her monsters into an abyss. When the things of this life pass away, when the earth crumbles, only to be replaced by something gloriously new, there will not be a sea to haunt us. In the New Creation, there will be no room for the chaotic waters of the sea, only the peaceful streams that flow from Jesus Christ.
Sarah Morrison is a staff writer for The Daily Grace Co.