I read the chapter and thought that maybe the Lord wanted to draw out some lesson about how we should submit to governmental authority, when all of the sudden a verse caught my attention:
For this is what the LORD Almighty says about the pillars, the Sea, the movable stands and the other furnishings that are left in this city, (Jeremiah 27:19, NIV)Wait a minute... the "Sea"? There was a "Sea" in the temple?? What in the world could this be referring to? I asked God about it, and He said "Google it". So I searched for the meaning of "sea" in Jeremiah 27:19, and a cross reference to Jeremiah 52:17 came up. In this verse, the sea is called a "bronze sea". I looked up this term and discovered a webpage stating that it referred to a big bowl for the priests to wash in before performing their priestly duties in Solomon's temple.
As I reflected upon this, an idea sparked in me. What if there is a connection between this "Sea" and the "sea" that is apparently missing in the new heaven and new earth (see Revelation 21)?
Before you write this off as a completely crazy idea with no merit, consider the context of the passage. John's vision (recorded in Revelation) contains symbols throughout. The symbols contain layers of depth and complexity about figures and events that must be uncovered by God's Spirit, sort of like in Jesus's parables. Thus, it should not be surprising if we were to discover that some element in John's vision actually contained a symbolic meaning beyond our natural interpretation. For example, we are told that the dragon is not actually referring to a dinosaur-like creature but to satan himself (in Revelation 12:9). In light of the highly symbolic nature of the content of the book of Revelation, it is not too unlikely that the "sea" in Revelation 21 could actually be symbolic of a deeper reality.
That said, look at the verses surrounding the description of the new heaven and new earth without any sea:
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. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He 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.”
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:1-5, NIV)
This message would have sounded bizarre to Jews of John's day. Jews living under the Law would have likely considered God's presence--like in the Ark or in the Most Holy Place--as a "high risk of death" zone! The High Priest would have bells on his robe and a rope around his ankle when he entered into the Most Holy Place so that if he were struck dead in God's presence, the other priests could pull the body out! Notice also that if the priests attempted to bring sacrifices before the Lord without properly washing themselves, they would die!
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a bronze basin, with its bronze stand, for washing. Place it between the Tent of Meeting and the altar, and put water in it. Aaron and his sons are to wash their hands and feet with water from it. Whenever they enter the Tent of Meeting, they shall wash with water so that they will not die. Also, when they approach the altar to minister by presenting an offering made to the Lord by fire, they shall wash their hands and feet so that they will not die. This is to be a lasting ordinance for Aaron and his descendants for the generations to come.” (Exodus 30:17-21, NIV)The fact that God Himself would reside with His people is amazing, but how is it possible? No impurity can stand before the Most Holy God. That is why the priests would die if they ministered unto the Lord without first washing in the "bronze sea". Thankfully, we now have access to God through Jesus without the fear of being struck dead! But God hasn't set up His throne here, yet. Why not?
The answer is simple: sin and death haven't been eradicated, yet! Wherever God sets up His throne, heaven invades that place. Sin and death are not present in the kingdom of heaven. Right now, heaven and earth are separated, and we are left to faithfully pray the prayer that Jesus gave us, "May Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven." Whether you like the implications of this or not, Jesus taught us to pray that God's will would be done on earth! (The major implication is that God's will isn't always carried out on earth. Stop and think about it.) We know that one day, when God sets up His throne on earth, God's will will be done on earth. In other words, earth will be heaven-like! The description in Revelation 21 goes on to include other attributes of God's rule on earth that sound very much like our concept of what heaven is like. We can imagine that after sin and death are finally defeated, perhaps at the culmination of Jesus's millennial reign, God ushers in a "new heaven and new earth" in which the old order of things has passed away and in which God dwells among His people (see 1 Corinthians 15:25-26 and Revelation 21:4).
But what about the "sea"? What does that mean in the context of John's description of his vision of the new heaven and new earth? Let me suggest that the "sea" could be a symbolic reference to the "bronze sea" in Solomon's temple. Thus, the "sea" would pack in the idea of priests washing themselves before offering sacrifices, or even perhaps of Jesus washing the Church with the water of the word (Ephesians 5:26). According to this hypothesis, the "first heaven and first earth" would likely be a symbolic reference to the "old order of things" (see verse 4). The old order--which consists of mankind living separated from God (in one degree or other)--passes away (see verse 1). The "sea"--that is, the need for washing and cleansing before entering into God's presence--also passes away. Then we see the glorious arrival of God the Father to usher in a new order of things (or, symbolically, the "new heaven and new earth"), which includes His permanent residence among the people of earth.
Whoa--did you get that? If it turns out that a hypothesis similar to the one just stated is actually right, then that means that some future generations of people on earth will no longer have a need to be cleansed before God! They will be sinless, just like Adam was when he was created! Maybe that's why Paul says that Jesus will "[hand] over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority, and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet" (1 Corinthians 15:14-15, NIV). After Jesus has completely destroyed sin and death, He won't need to reign anymore! God will be free to simply dwell among His people and enjoy perfect fellowship and unity with us. It may be hard to imagine this ever being the case, but we can rest in the hope of this joy that is set before us! Amazing!