PMT 2014-086 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.No more sea 2

In my last article (PMT 2014-085) I opened the question regarding the meaning of John’s statement in Rev 21:1: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea.” Why is there “no longer any sea?” In the previous article I discounted the literal interpretation as well as the chaos approach. But now, what does it mean?

I believe the idea of the sea here pictures a barrier separating man from God. Let me explain. You have read this far, why not?

In that the vision of the heaven and earth passing away signifies God’s removing the old covenant order (as is appropriate given Rev’s theme, 1:7), probably the “sea” here continues that symbolism. Mealy (After the Thousand Years, 194–98; cp. Brighton, Revelation 594) presents a compelling argument that the absent sea in Rev 21:1 refers back to the first use of “sea” in Rev — the “sea of glass” before God’s heavenly throne (Rev 4:6; cp. 4:2–5, 9–5:1, 6–7). That sea appeared in a context emphasizing creation (Rev 4:11; 5:13), which further links the sea imagery in 21:1. It also appears in a context emphasizing God’s throne (Rev 21:3, 5; cp. 22:1, 3), while dealing with the removal of the old creation. But what is this sea’s significance requiring its removal in the new creation?

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In Rev 4:6 the “sea of glass [thalassa . . . krustallō]” appears beneath the throne, apparently serving as a barrier to any who would enter into heaven. John had to have a door opened before he could enter heaven (Rev 4:1). In Rev 15:2 we see martyrs standing on this glass sea, having passed to it from the earth below. In Eze 1:22 the prophet sees a “firmament” [sterōma] that gleamed like “crystal [krustallou],” which separated the heavenly beings below from God’s throne above (Eze 1:26; cp. 10:1). This is why God’s coming down to earth to judge nations can require his “breaking through the apparently solid dome of the heavens” (Oswalt, Isaiah 2:620; cf. Ps 18:9; 144:5; Isa 64:1; cf. Isa 51:6). In Rev 6:14 the “sky was split apart” when God judged Israel. Dark thunder clouds pierced by lightning serve as an image of God’s judgment coming down from heaven to strike the earth (Ex 19:16; 20:18–19; Dt 33:2; Psa 18:12–14; 77:17–18; 97:2–4; Jer 51:16).

Thus, immediately after mentioning the absence of the sea (sea of glass?) John witnesses the new Jerusalem “coming down out of heaven” (Rev 21:2). In John’s drama the collapse of the Jewish temple in AD 70 opens direct access to God (Rev 11:2, 19; cp. 19:1–2, 9; 22:14). If God descends with his New Jerusalem people “then the barrier of the glassy sea, which in the present age separates his dwelling from the earth, will have to have been done away with” (Mealy, 195). This is precisely what we see in Rev 21:3–5.

This new covenant principle of open access to God appears elsewhere in the NT. For example, we see this when Jesus promises that soon people will no longer need to worship in Jerusalem but can call upon God from anywhere (Jn 4:21, 23; cp. Mal 1:11). This begins to occur when the temple veil is torn and creation is darkened and shaken (Mt 27:45//, 51b; cp. Rev 21:1), for after that event Christians are urged to “draw near with confidence to the throne of grace” (Heb 4:16; cp. 7:19) because of the removal of the old covenant (Heb 8:13; 12:22–28) which blocked access to the holy place (Heb 9:8). This removal of the old covenant is dramatically exhibited and finalized in AD70.

In that the Exodus motif appears frequently in Rev, the removal of the sea may also reflect the drying of the Red Sea so that Israel could enter the Land (Ex 14:21–22; Ps 18:15; 106:9; Isa 44:27; 50:2; 51:10; 63:11–12; Jer 51:36; Nah 1:4). But even here we may note the separation from God involved, for the sea separated Israel from God’s promised inheritance, requiring that God overcome this impediment. Hence, the image of the Exodus / Red Sea underscores the symbol of open access to God.

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I do believe the absence of the sea in Rev 21:1 portrays just this sort of image. The new covenant access to God is a major consequence of the removal of the old covenant and rituals portraying the hiddenness of God. As Christianity takes the place of Israel at AD 70, God’s people can come boldly before the throne of grace in a way they could not have in the OT.


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2 thoughts on “NO MORE SEA? (2)

  1. Guy Cooksey July 26, 2014 at 7:09 pm

    Ken :what about the “Sea” being the OT laver that is now obsolete in ritually purifying the worshiper in his service to God? Since the blood of Christ cleanses us in a continual way (1John 1:7)it seems John may be using this metaphor to make his point that God’s NT people now have access to God without the further OT rituals that were done away with in Christ. What say you?

  2. Kenneth Gentry July 27, 2014 at 8:24 am

    Actually that is also involved, as I will make clear in my commentary which deals with this in much more detail. The water barrier represented in the laver of the Temple has also been removed by Christ’s completed work and the final removal of the temple.

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