Nothing to Fear

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If there’s such a thing as the Most Disappointing Verse in the Bible, Revelation 21:1 just might be the one.

John the evangelist reports a breathtaking glimpse of heaven in chapter 21 of the Bible’s last book.

Verse four gets a lot of press, and deservedly so:  “[God] will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  It’s safe to say there is a universal human longing for the Johnson Baby Shampoo version of heaven – the one in which there will be no more tears.

But verse one of the same chapter includes something of a head-scratcher:  “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.”

Wait.  You mean to say there won’t be any oceanfront views in the next world?

Since so many of us consider “beach time” to be like heaven on earth, how can there be no beaches in heaven?

This verse is not really a divine thumbs-down on surfing, swimming, and ocean sunsets that take your breath away.

It’s actually a tender message to the original readers of the book of Revelation, who were predominantly Jewish.

Throughout the history of Israel, the sea had been a scary place.  Noah’s Flood had been an epic act of divine judgment.  For Moses and the Israelites who had escaped slavery in Egypt, the Red Sea seemed like an impassable barrier between them and freedom.  Both prophets and poets in the Old Testament described threatening beasts that thrashed about in the primordial waters.

Israel had never had a navy.  Nobody ever went sailing for fun.  There was no famous Boardwalk where people sampled ice cream flavors and soaked in some rays during spring break.

Instead the sea was a place where one would find uncontrollable waves, huge storms, and strange creatures.  On top of all that, some of the enemies of Israel had recently attacked them from across the Mediterranean. 

Over many centuries, in other words, the sea had come to represent death and evil.

In Revelation 21 God is essentially saying to his people, “There will be nothing to be afraid of in heaven – no enemies, no uncertainties, and no chaos.  You will never hear Breaking News that something horrible has happened that will steal your peace of mind.  Tectonic plates won’t suddenly shift and send massive waves crashing into unsuspecting villages.  You will never get an MRI that keeps you awake at night, or receive a message that breaks your heart.”

And there was no longer any sea was a symbolic way of saying to its original readers that heaven was going to be an entirely safe place.

It’s fascinating that Scripture features so few descriptions of the next world.

But most Bible scholars believe they are safe ground in proposing that because two-thirds of the present Earth is covered with water – and because so many of the world’s people groups have reveled in the seas and/or made their living from them – that the New Heaven and New Earth will feature plenty of rolling breakers. 

That’s good news if you’ve always experienced the matchless wonder and creative power of God alongside beautiful stretches of water.

Not to mention the expectation of ice cream flavors that none of us has yet had the chance to sample.