By Elizabeth Prata
I wrote about this in December 2009 and updated it in 2015. I’m taking on the topic once more here in 2021. It is a topic near and dear to me.
Now, I’m not a trained theologian. There are many people who have interpreted this verse in different ways, so I can’t be dogmatic. But I have a settled confidence.
Why? One particular verse. If God “placed the sand as a boundary for the sea, An eternal decree, so it cannot cross over it” then I need to understand that if there is no sea, what does ‘eternal’ mean? Plus I have several other reasons I believe interpreting the text to mean that there will indeed be an ocean, but not a sea.
Revelation 21:1 says-
“The New Heaven and Earth” – “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.“
This disappoints many people, including myself. I love the sea and I hope that Jesus is preparing a place for me near it. Many people can’t conceive of a world without the oceans and their tides, waves, ships, and magnificent animals. Someone recently asked me about this and I agreed that it was a disappointment that the scriptures seemed to say that after the old earth passes away and the new earth is made, that the oceans will be no more. Until…
I started thinking, and remembered that the sea is a biblical symbol for heaving, undulating, rippling discontented people. Scripture interprets scripture, here is one way that ‘sea’ defined for us:
Isaiah 57:20, “But the wicked are like the tossing sea, For it cannot be quiet, And its waters toss up refuse and mud.”
There is a support text in the bible that reinforces the notion that the wicked are like the sea:
Jude 1:11-13. In context, Jude is talking about false teachers, ungodly, unsaved grumblers, taking advantage of the brethren in order to gain an advantage. In other words, the wicked.
“These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.” [underline mine]
The word ‘sea’ is also used in Revelation 13:1. Pulpit Commentary explains the use of the word ‘sea’ in context to Revelation 13:1. The reference is to the beast that rises from the sea. Is the antichrist actually a beast, actually rising from the sea?
The sea, again, is the type of instability, confusion, and commotion, frequently signifying the ungovernable nations of the earth in opposition to the Church of God (cf. Revelation 17:15; Revelation 21:1)
I believe the reference to the sea in Revelation 21:1 is more likely a symbolic reference just as it was in the Revelation verses and Jude and in Isaiah.
An alternate interpretation besides the word ‘sea’ being an actual ocean, or standing symbolically for the wicked of the earth, could be that reference to the sea as the name for the bronze laver. Here, 1 Kings 7:23 has the verse:
“Then he made the sea of cast metal. It was round, ten cubits from brim to brim, and five cubits high, and a line of thirty cubits measured its circumference.”
Also the Sea is referenced in 2 Chronicles 4:2, Jeremiah 52:17, 2 Kings 16:17.
In Revelation 21, the reference being to ‘no more sea’ could mean that as in Isaiah’s symbolism, there are no more wicked (sea), they have all been judged and put into outer darkness. Or in 1st Kings, there is no need for a laver (sea) because there is no longer any need to sacrifice and clean up. There is no need to wash before sacrificing since Jesus washed us all, and there are no more wicked people. We are all clean by then.
A third reason I believe there will be a sea, is this. If God created a sea and its animals on the third day and declared it “good,” and also created the land and their animals and declared them good, then why would He abandon the sea at the renewal of the earth but not the land? Does that mean it is ‘not-good’ now? He keeps the monkeys but deletes the whales? God is not inconsistent. It doesn’t make sense.
One smaller piece of reasoning, in Revelation 10:4-6, we read of the Angel standing on the sea and on the land, and He swore by the sea and by the land that there would be no more delay in rendering judgment and that the mystery of God would be fulfilled. A promise from heaven made by the Angel swearing an oath on the sea and land…is serious. I highly doubt God would allow an oath to be made with the sea as the witness and then later delete the sea.
In still more reasons, Jesus said in Matthew 19:28
“I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
The word for renewal is paliggenesia from palig and genesis, used twice in the New Testament. It refers to the renewal of all creation. All creation…except the sea?
“And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”
I believe that this means what He created in the 6 days, the first beginning of “all things.”
Finally, The sea’s boundary is eternal.
‘Do you not fear Me?’ declares the LORD
‘Do you not tremble in My presence?
For I have placed the sand as a boundary for the sea,
An eternal decree, so it cannot cross over it.
Though the waves toss, yet they cannot prevail;
Though they roar, yet they cannot cross over it.
There exists a decree from the lips of the LORD who said it will stand for all eternity: that there is a sea-sand boundary over which the sea will never cross. For this decree to be in force eternally, there must always be sand and sea…
There are support texts in the bible that reinforces the notion that there is an eternal decree:
“Or who enclosed the sea with doors
When, bursting forth, it went out from the womb;
When I made a cloud its garment
And thick darkness its swaddling band,
And I placed boundaries on it
And set a bolt and doors,
And I said, ‘Thus far you shall come, but no farther;
And here shall your proud waves stop’?
You set a boundary that they may not pass over,
So that they will not return to cover the earth.
When He set for the sea its boundary
So that the water would not transgress His command,
When He marked out the foundations of the earth;
Finally, Matthew Henry’s commentary explains thus:
“The new heaven and the new earth will not be separate from each other; the earth of the saints, their glorified, bodies, will be heavenly. The old world, with all its troubles and tumults, will have passed away. There will be no sea; this aptly represents freedom from conflicting passions, temptations, troubles, changes, and alarms; from whatever can divide or interrupt the communion of saints.”
My conclusion, based on scripture, is that when John declares, “and there was no longer any sea” that if we substitute Isaiah’s definition for sea, OR the laver being the sea, rely on the promise of the renewal of all things, and know that there is an eternal decree for a sea-sand boundary, and that an oath was sworn on the land and the sea, that all things means ALL things, then we can propose that in the New Earth, there will likely be an ocean kind of sea. Hallelujah!