BIBLE VERSES EXPLAINED
Revelation 21:1—“A New Heaven and a New Earth”
“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea is no more.”—Revelation 21:1, New World Translation.
“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.”—Revelation 21:1, New International Version.
Meaning of Revelation 21:1
This verse uses figurative language to declare that God’s heavenly Kingdom will replace all human governments. The Kingdom will remove the wicked and rule over a new society of people who willingly submit to its authority.
The book of Revelation is presented “in signs,” or symbols. (Revelation 1:1) So it is reasonable to conclude that the heaven and the earth that are mentioned in this verse are not literal but symbolic. Moreover, figurative “new heavens” and “new earth” are mentioned in other Bible verses as well. (Isaiah 65:17; 66:22; 2 Peter 3:13) Examining these and other Scriptural accounts provides clues as to their meaning.
“A new heaven.” The Bible sometimes uses the word “heaven” to represent rulership or governments. (Isaiah 14:12-14; Daniel 4:25, 26) Thus, one reference work states that in prophetic visions, “heaven signifies symbolically the ruling power or government.”a In Revelation 21:1, “new heaven” evidently refers to God’s Kingdom. This heavenly government, sometimes called “the Kingdom of the heavens,” is mentioned throughout Revelation and in other books of the Bible. (Matthew 4:17; Acts 19:8; 2 Timothy 4:18; Revelation 1:9; 5:10; 11:15; 12:10) God’s Kingdom, with Jesus as King, will eventually replace “the former heaven,” that is, all imperfect governments set up by humans.—Daniel 2:44; Luke 1:31-33; Revelation 19:11-18.
“A new earth.” The Bible states that the literal earth will never be destroyed or replaced. (Psalm 104:5; Ecclesiastes 1:4) What, then, is the symbolic earth? The Bible often uses the term “earth” to refer to humankind. (Genesis 11:1; 1 Chronicles 16:31; Psalm 66:4; 96:1) “A new earth,” therefore, must refer to a new society of people who willingly submit to God’s heavenly government. The “former earth,” or human society in opposition to God’s Kingdom, will pass away.
“The sea is no more.” In harmony with the rest of Revelation 21:1, “the sea” is also symbolic. Easily agitated and often stormy, the sea represents the turbulent masses of mankind alienated from God. (Isaiah 17:12, 13; 57:20; Revelation 17:1, 15) They too will be gone. Says Psalm 37:10: “Just a little while longer, and the wicked will be no more; you will look at where they were, and they will not be there.”
Context of Revelation 21:1
The book of Revelation foretells what happens during “the Lord’s day.” (Revelation 1:10) According to Bible prophecy, that day began in 1914 when Jesus started to rule as King of God’s Kingdom.b But he would not immediately take full control of the earth. In fact, other prophecies state that world conditions would deteriorate during the first part of “the Lord’s day.” That initial period of time is called “the last days.” (2 Timothy 3:1-5, 13; Matthew 24:3, 7; Revelation 6:1-8; 12:12) When those critical and trouble-filled days end, God’s Kingdom will remove the old symbolic heaven and earth and usher in a new era of peace and harmony. The subjects of the Kingdom—the “new earth”—will then enjoy ideal living conditions and perfect health.—Revelation 21:3, 4.
Watch this short video to see an overview of the book of Revelation.
a McClintock and Strong’s Cyclopedia (1891), Volume IV, page 122.
b See the article “What Does Bible Chronology Indicate About the Year 1914?”