The Bible is a spiritual book. It’s also an ancient book written to ancient people as the first receivers. They lived in a specific part of the World and at a specific time. It’s good to remember this in interpretation.
Now I offer my interpretation of the heaven, the earth and the sea in this verse:
Revelation 21:1 Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea.
Some noteworthy verses:
Isaiah 27:1 In that day the Lord with His severe sword, great and strong, will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan that twisted serpent; and He will slay the reptile that is in the sea.
Isaiah 51:9 Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord! Awake as in the ancient days, In the generations of old. Are You not the arm that cut Rahab apart, And wounded the serpent?
Revelation 13:1 Then I stood on the sand of the sea. And I saw a beast rising up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and on his horns ten crowns, and on his heads a blasphemous name.
Revelation 20:13 The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works.
Revelation 17:1 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and talked with me, saying to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters,
Revelation 17:15 Then he said to me, “The waters which you saw, where the harlot sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues.
What is it that will:
a) disappear at the White throne judgment?
b) contains symbolic beasts and dead people?
c) which necessarily must be connected with “the many waters”, in which another beast, the whore of Babylon sits and which is “peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues”?
The conclusion seems pretty obvious; the sin World. There will be no more sin World.
A new heaven and a new earth
Some noteworthy verses:
Isaiah 51:15 But I am the Lord your God, Who divided the sea whose waves roared – The Lord of hosts is His name. 16 And I have put My words in your mouth; I have covered you with the shadow of My hand, That I may plant the heavens, Lay the foundations of the earth, And say to Zion, ‘You are My people.’” [same theme as verse 9 quoted above]
Zephaniah 3:8 “Therefore wait for Me,” says the Lord, “Until the day I rise up for plunder; My determination is to gather the nations To My assembly of kingdoms, To pour on them My indignation, All My fierce anger; All the earth shall be devoured With the fire of My jealousy. 9 “For then I will restore to the peoples a pure language, That they all may call on the name of the Lord, To serve Him with one accord.
Revelation 20:11 Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them.
What happened in the days of Pentacost:
Acts 2:14 But Peter, standing up with the eleven, raised his voice and said to them, “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and heed my words. 15 For these are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. 16 But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 17 ‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your young men shall see visions, Your old men shall dream dreams. 18 And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; And they shall prophesy. 19 I will show wonders in heaven above And signs in the earth beneath: Blood and fire and vapor of smoke. 20 The sun shall be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord. 21 And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the Lord Shall be saved.’
A literal heaven and earth can’t be in view. God will when salvation is fully established have “planted the heavens” and laid “the Foundations of the earth” and be the God of Zion. All the earth devoured in fire connected with (possibly universal – so Origen thought) salvation. Heaven and earth flees away from God in the judgment. A case can be established for the heavens being the religious systems and the earth the political powers. They will flee in vain when God conquers them and establishes a new heaven and a new earth.
Finally an example is shown in which the annointing at Pentacost according to Peter fullfilled an Old Testament prophecy that includes some radical apocalyptic language concerning the sun and the moon.
Many other verses could be quoted. Why this – to us today – strange symbolism? It is not spelled out anywhere to my knowledge. But there is a widespread scholary conclusion that the biblical perspective on the natural World and also when the natural World is used symbolically as here is phenomenological (knowledge based on observation). From a view that embraces inspiration of the Bible, there is no mentioning of Mars, neanderthals or dinosaurs in the creation record because Israel did not know these and could not relate to them. If a World system collapses, it would be a fitting use of symbolism to speak of heavens and earth collapsing. Or from the individual viewpoint:
Leviticus 26:19 I will break the pride of your power; I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like bronze. 20 And your strength shall be spent in vain; for your land shall not yield its produce, nor shall the trees of the land yield their fruit.
Heavens like iron and earth like bronze obviously ruins the harvest (or rather makes it impossible). Or as we say in modern language exaggeration promotes understanding.
Concerning the sea, this is possibly more obvious. There are several biblical references to people quite understandably being afraid of the pontential and unpredictable dangers of the sea:
Isaiah 57:20 But the wicked are like the troubled sea, When it cannot rest, Whose waters cast up mire and dirt.
Luke 21:25 “And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring;
So in conclusion, what Revelation 21:1 is saying in my opinion, is that a new system has appeared in this vision. It has replaced the old “heavens and earth”. The sin world is no more, the source of the beasts, powers hostile to God’s people and containing a great deal of mankind, has been emptied and is no more.
Additional October 26th 2014:
The end times are compared to Noah’s time.
Luke 17:26 And as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: 27 They ate, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. 28 Likewise as it was also in the days of Lot: They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; 29 but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. 30 Even so will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed.
2 Peter 3:5 For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, 6 by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. 7 But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.
There will be judgment of the old World/Heavens and earth and a new World/Heavens and earth made. Whether this is AD 70 – judgment upon God’s fallen Israel and in symbolic terms a cosmic event or future yet, is not clear and easy, but I favor AD 70.