In ancient literature, the sea is at times an image used to depict chaos and evil. The ancients, in common with their predecessors, had a hard time justifying and understanding the dark that seemed to exist inappropriately in their world. The Sea was a powerful and mysterious thing, completely out of human control. The great armies of the most powerful rulers on earth were powerless and themselves at the mercy of the sea. It was thought that monsters lived there and great storms could come out of nowhere, seemingly under the command of the gods, and swallow the largest and best equipped of ships, or entire fleets. Every great people tells of their difficulties with the sea. From the mighty Egyptians of ancient times to our own Gulf Coast in recent years, it is known that the sea is powerful to destroy any who are too close or too comfortable. It is vast and even with modern technology and incredible amount of focus on it, the sea is still as much a mystery and out of human control as it was tens of thousands of years ago. Mankind is no match for the sea.
The Christian story is one full of this imagery. In the opening scene of Genesis there is nothing but the sea and the Spirit of God “moving over the waters”, Genesis 1:2. God’s power is displayed when he, with just a word, places the mighty sea within its boundaries therefore creating land. This is a reoccurring praise of God’s power and authority in Scripture as seen in Job 38:10, Proverbs 8:29 and Psalm 104:9. God is Lord of the sea. He alone has established its limits and he alone has authority over it.
The Exodus narrative acknowledges this with powerful and dramatic displays. The first plague in Egypt is one such example, Exodus 7. The mighty and life-giving Nile was the domain of Hapi, a favored god of the Egyptians. He was responsible for the waters flowing and bring the soil enriching silt every year. The annual flooding was known as the “arrival of Hapi”. He was, at a time in Egypt’s history known as the creator of all things. The Nile was turned to blood by the God of Israel as a direct overthrowing of Hapi from his place of authority. Even the god of the Nile, the loved and worshiped, Hapi, was not able to control the sea. This plague demonstrates that Yahweh alone is Lord. Indeed all the plagues of Exodus were direct challenges to and victories over the major deities of Egyptian culture.
The Red Sea would be a dead-end, resulting in death and misery, for any who found themselves between it and a vengeful and pursuing Egyptian army. The Israelites themselves saw their own death sentence as they stood before the waves of the sea, “they became very frightened”, Exodus 14:10, and they cried out to Moses, “Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?” vs. 11. God was victorious over Hapi, he had demonstrated his authority over the Nile. What now of this enormous sea that expanded out before them? We know the story and indeed it is repeated and re-imagined all throughout the rest of Scripture. God has Moses raise his staff and the waters part before the people allowing them to cross unharmed. The Egyptians do not have the same experience, they are swallowed up by the deep as God brings the waters down upon them. It was believed by the Egyptians that Pharaoh was a god, yet he was not able to safely pass through, nor deliver his mighty army. He was no match for the sea, vs. 28.
There is a story about Jesus and the sea. His disciples are fishing and a storm breaks out over them suddenly. The storm was causing water to fill the boat and fear grips the disciples. They seem to be angry with Jesus who is sleeping, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”, Matthew 4:38. Jesus tells the storm to ““Hush, be still”. And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm.”, vs. 39. The disciples were afraid of the storm, and who could blame them? What is interesting is that they were more afraid once all was calm. For it is then they realized that they had with them in their boat one who could command and control the sea, “Who is this?”. But the story of Jesus and the sea does not end there.
Elsewhere in the New Testament the mission of Jesus is described as an Exodus. Paul teaches this idea in Ephesian, Romans, I Corinthians, Titus, his letters to Timothy and even in Philemon. The author of Hebrews as well conveys that Jesus is a better Moses, Hebrews 3. Jesus delivers all Peoples, not just those of Israel. The Gentiles were in need of exodus from the bondage of their idolatry, and the Jews were in need of liberation from their worship of the Law as that which could make them God’s possession. Paul argues this in his letter to the Romans, chapter 3. Jesus would do more than deliver from political oppression and slavery, he would make all the nations free from sin and death. If death itself were to be defeated, then so also would all the lesser evil powers of the world. If he were to defeat death, then what would follow would be the obedience of the nations, Romans 1:1-5.
Jesus himself would enter the sea. He played this out with his own baptism and his time in the wilderness. As Israel went through the sea and then spent forty years wandering, so Jesus went through the waters of his baptism and into temptation, Matthew 3. It is on the cross that Jesus faced the great sea, evil itself. All of its fury and terror, injustice, betrayal, misery and death would come against Jesus as a great wave, smashing and breaking him. It did not hold back, it did its worse. The broken and bloody body of a would be King, washed lifeless upon the shore as so many before him. It seemed as though the sea would always be a scourge to humanity and a chaos to insult and denounce God’s authority and justice.
In his Gospel, John tells the story of Jesus and his ministry in a series of sections. These sections are to be seen as “days” of a week to make a point that Jesus is the means through which a new creation is coming. God’s new age of salvation has finally appeared. According to John, Jesus is laid in the tomb, he rest on the Sabbath. The week is over, ending in the tragic death of the one who would be both a new Adam and the Creator of a new world. John 20 is one of the most exciting texts in all of literature, for here John reveals that though one week has ended, a new one has begun. On the “first day of the week”, vs.1, it is discovered that the body of Jesus is not in the tomb. When the disciples are told this they run to the empty grave site to be met by an Angel who tells them that Jesus has risen. Jesus later on appears before them. Every one of the Gospels tell of Jesus eating and feeding, teaching and praying, appearing to a few on the road or even to a group of over 500 at once, I Corinthians 15:6. The phrase in John 20, “the first day of the week”, is to point us forward. The new world has come. Each of the Gospel writers invites regardless of where (or when) one may be, to join them in the new age, a world that has come as a result of the apocalyptic event(s) known as the ministry, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. Jesus has come and since he has risen nothing has ever been the same. The world, as it was known before him, has ended.
This brings us back to the sea. In John’s Revelation he tells of a new heavens and a new earth, ch. 21. The prophet Isaiah also tells of this, Isaiah 65:17. Like Isaiah, John’s vision of the new world is of a world very different from the old. Isaiah says that there will be no more weeping or infant death. There will be long life for most people. A world of justice and plenty, without calamity or famine. All will be as God originally intended for his world. In accord with Isaiah, John simply says,
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea.” Revelation 21:1
No longer any sea. Other translations say, “the sea was no more”. When one observes how the image of the sea is used in the biblical narrative, what John is saying here is extraordinary. It has been demonstrated that in John 20 Jesus is the one through whom a new creation week has begun and that week has not ended. He is currently active in his mission, which is directly stated in Revelation 21:5, “Behold, I am making all things new”! The New heavens and New earth are being created now as Jesus is reigning from the throne of God. This new creation will be a place where, upon its completion, there will be no sea, evil will be evaporated from God’s good creation once and for all. The sea with all its chaos, terror and monsters, the sea that drowned the Son, has itself been swallowed up in his victorious resurrection. It is being evaporated from the earth through the activity of Jesus as King.
The sea is no more. What does this mean for his Spirit filled people? They too have come through the waters of baptism and now find themselves in the wilderness of a broken world. The Gospel is about the justice and power of God through the reign of Christ over the nations, Romans 1:5, 16&17. How does the power and the justice of God, revealed within the Gospel, go forth and do its work? It works through his obedient people. The Church has been given the very presence of God. The Shekinah that led the former slaves of Egypt through their wilderness now inhabits the Israel of God as they are sent into theirs, see John 17:22. Since the victory of Jesus, evil and death have no authority here. Fear and lack of faith must be cast away, since the saints are set apart as ones sent to complete the work of the King. An evaporating and diminishing sea seems to convey that Christ is working through his people to subject all authorities and powers, both earthly and spiritual, to himself (see I Corinthians 15:24-28). When the sea rages and floods communities and even a society, the faithful are called and equipped to stem the tide. They are the ones who are called to stand between an oppressive authority and defenseless people. They are the ones who are called to feed the hungry and poor, clothing them with all they have. They are the ones who must stand and demonstrate the liberty and beauty of God’s Law as the standard for all human societies for the civil government, Church, family and the individual. There exists a power and a liberation in the truth of the Gospel of King Jesus, the good news that his Kingdom has come. It is a Kingdom that is everlasting and will never be defeated, Daniel 7:14. In his Kingdom the sea is no more.