Few things in life are more wonderful than a warm day at the beach with the family. I love it. It’s a little paradise on earth. Except I always leave the beach tortured by one thought. The new earth—that perfect eternal home built for God’s redeemed children—will be sea-less. And that’s what I read at the end of the Bible in Revelation 21:1—“and the sea was no more.” Now, I’m not too decisive on my favorite passage of scripture, but I am clear on my least favorite.
I know this all sounds vain. You’re thinking, doesn’t he know the presence of our Savior and the Triune God and the angels and all the redeemed singing praise to our Savior will be an overwhelming joy that will make us forget all about pain and loss and beach vacations? Yes, of course I do. I anticipate the new creation for all these glorious reasons. But this doesn’t answer my lingering question: Why no seas?
So you can imagine my delight when I recently read one sentence written by G. K. Beale, an expert on the book of Revelation. He wrote: “the presence of a literal sea in the new creation would not be inconsistent with the figurative exclusion of the sea in 21:1.” In other words, the passage does not rule out the possibility of a heavenly shoreline. While Beale’s words hardly say, “pack a beach towel,” I am more hopeful that my glorified eyes (now 10/80) will gaze upon a perfect beach for eternity.
But enough silly business. Revelation 21:1 contains layers of serious figurative meaning, says Beale:
Usage elsewhere in the Apocalypse suggests various identifications [of “sea”]: (1) the origin of cosmic evil (especially in the light of OT background: so Rev. 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). There will be a “lake” of fiery punishment (20:10, 14-15), but it will be located enigmatically outside the perimeters of the new heavens and earth (21:27: 22:15). Just as there must be an eternally consummated form of the new creation in which God’s people dwell, so must there be an eternally consummated form of a realm of punishment in another dimension, where unbelievers will dwell.
… the evil nuance of the sea metaphorically represents the entire range of afflictions that formerly threatened God’s people in the old world. Uppermost in John’s mind would have been tribulations resulting from oppression by the ungodly world. There will be no trial over which to weep in the final order of things. … Therefore, the presence of a literal sea in the new creation would not be inconsistent with the figurative exclusion of the sea in 21:1. [The Book of Revelation, NIGTC (Eerdmans, 1999), pp. 1042-1043]
Good thoughts to let loose in your mind when you’re driving your sunburned, sand-covered family home after a delightful weekend at the beach.