If the doctrine of a New Heaven and New Earth were not found anywhere except in Revelation, I would be inclined, as many are, to conflate the pre-Judgment Day Heaven with the descriptions of the New Heaven and Earth found in Revelation 21 and 22. As we have already seen, information about the New Earth is found in both the Old Testament and Epistles. The descriptions in Revelation 21 and 22 are not what we should expect in Heaven, but there are many parallels.
It starts like this:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth and the first heaven and first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.
The first thing that should be said is that “heaven” in this context is referring to the universe, not Heaven. The Bible uses the same word for both, perhaps because people had no concept of the actual structure of the universe or the possibility of a parallel universe or other dimensions. With that knowledge, I would conclude that Heaven is not necessarily a part of this universe at all. That conclusion doesn’t come with a lot of proof. It is based on the 1 Peter 3 description of the destruction of “the elements” and the absence of any mention of the destruction of the current Heaven.
The passage above does clearly say that this universe as we currently experience it will cease to exist. So the new heavens and earth will be a new creation, not a remodeling job.
Ocean lovers will find the end of this passage upsetting. No sea, no beach. Before you get too bummed out, keep in mind the method of reception of Revelation. It is a vision, and John simply describes what he sees and hears. Perhaps he just doesn’t see a sea.
This is perhaps a good place to discuss how literally we are to take this passage or any in Revelation. Revelation is an apocalyptic vision. Meaning that it is partially and intentionally veiled in its meaning, it does use figurative language, pictures and numbers, it is not necessarily linear in time; so in short, its a tough book to understand. To some extent, you can use other Scripture to interpret this part of Scripture. Being occasionally figurative doesn’t mean it is never literal. So what are the rules for choosing between figurative and literal? That is up to the Holy Spirit. A strictly academic dissection will not be adequate. To point, is “the sea” perhaps figurative for something like chaos? Maybe.
I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, come down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
In other parts of Scripture, God often speaks of a new Jerusalem and how pleasing it will be. Here it is. John sees it in a vision that is definitely the future for him and still for us. It is described as being “dressed like a bride” and later “the bride, the wife of the lamb”. This leads many to take this whole section figuratively as a description of the church (the set of all who are saved) which is described elsewhere as Christ’s bride. Unfortunately, God uses certain metaphors in more ways than one. So this connection is not conclusive. Weddings and brides were the pinnacle of beauty and rejoicing in many times and cultures. It is relatable, so it gets used. Because of the density of detail given of the new Jerusalem in the verses that will follow, I’m inclined to take it as a literal description of a city.
There is much more to come on this topic. Check back as we pick it up again in Revelation 21