Many people are frightened by what they imagine is over the horizon. The future is unknown, and they prefer the confusion of an uncertain present to thinking about the world that is to come. Yet God in his love and mercy sent to John a message about the future that was conveyed to him by his Saviour, Jesus. It is beneficial to imagine how joyful Jesus would have been as he revealed to his servant some of the things that would shortly come to pass.
John now sees a new universe. The sea has passed away, along with the first earth. Clearly, the absence of the sea is significant, because its absence is highlighted by John. The sea was regarded at that time as a place of danger and of separation, and as far as John and his fellow exiles were concerned it ensured their confinement in exile. Moreover, the horrid beast who had instigated the persecution of the church had arisen from the sea. All those reasons would have caused John to rejoice that the sea would be no more.
Maybe there is an allusion here to Genesis 1, where when God started his work of creation, it was all sea, yet with the progression of days the space allotted to the waters was reduced. The sea at the beginning was not a suitable place for humans to dwell, so land had to be formed. But now there is a new world about to begin and the sea has gone, with all its negative influences.
Yet at this stage the new earth has nothing on it. The first event that John sees with regard to the new earth is that the people of God come to inhabit it. They are described as the holy city and we are told that they are dressed for a wedding, which is a reminder how she was attired for the marriage supper of the Lamb that is described in chapter 19. This wedding occasion is going to be endless. The heaven that she comes from is not the sky, but rather the heaven where God dwells.
There may be another contrast here with what happened at the beginning. In Genesis 1, the man and the woman were created last and they did not see God’s previous works of creation. However, in this passage, before anything is formed, the King and his bride are brought together, meaning that they will observe whatever is made subsequently by God.
The picture of a city reminds us that the people of God are a community that is organised. Calling it a city has been common throughout the Bible. Abraham looked ahead to it, a psalmist sang about it Psalm 87, and Ezekiel prophesied about its coming and reminded his listeners that its significant reality would be that the Lord is there. Of course, the first city was erected by Cain to celebrate the triumph of man, but at the end it will have no celebrations. The final city, however, will celebrate the grace and abilities of God.