Why did Jesus walk on water? Why is there no sea in the new earth according to Revelation 21:1? What does water symbolize in baptism?
All of these questions are related and can be answered when we have a biblical understanding of what bodies of water often symbolize in the Bible. I say “often” because like with most symbols and analogies, you can certainly find instances where an object is used for a different purpose or to explain a different point.
With that said, there is a consistent pattern in the Bible that shows bodies of water often represent death, chaos, or evil.
The Bible Often Use Bodies of Water as Symbols for Evil, Death, and Chaos
Throughout the Bible bodies of water are often a barrier to blessings. God had to split the Red Sea to set the Israelites free from slavery (Exodus 14:21-22). God had to stop the flow of the Jordan during flood stages so his people could enter the promise land (Joshua 3:15-16). In other parts of the Bible, bodies of water are symbols for evil, death, and chaos:
But the wicked are like the tossing sea; for it cannot be quiet, and its waters toss up mire and dirt.” (Isaiah 57:20)
“You divided the sea by your might; you broke the heads of the sea monsters on the waters. You crushed the heads of Leviathan.” (Psalm 74:13-14)
“O LORD God of hosts, who is mighty as you are, O LORD, with your faithfulness all around you? You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them. You crushed Rahab like a carcass; you scattered your enemies with your mighty arm.” (Psalm 89:8-10)
“Was it not you who dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep, who made the depths of the sea a way for the redeemed to pass over?” (Isaiah 51:10)
Why Is There No Sea in the New Earth?
Revelations 21:1-4 states:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. . . . 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
As R.C. Sproul explains regarding there being no sea in the new earth,
A hint of the quality of the new heaven and new earth is found in the somewhat cryptic words, “Also there was no more sea” (Rev. 21:1). For people who have a love for the seashore and all that it represents in terms of beauty and recreation, it may seem strange to contemplate a new earth without any sea. But to the ancient Jew, it was a different matter. In Jewish literature, the sea was often used as a symbol for that which was ominous, sinister, and threatening. Earlier in the Revelation of John, we see the Beast emerging from the sea (Rev. 13). Likewise, in ancient Semitic mythology, there is frequent reference to the primordial sea monster that represents the shadowy chaos. The Babylonian goddess Tiamat is a case in point.”
In Revelations 21:1-4, we know two things: 1. There will be no sea (Revelations 21:1) and 2. There will be no more need for tears and death shall be no more. It seems these two points are connected. It makes symbolic sense that if chaos and death are going to be eradicated that the sea, which often times represents chaos and death, would no longer be present.
Baptism and Jesus Walking on Water Also Show Us What Bodies of Water Often Symbolize in the Bible
When Jesus walked on water as recorded in numerous places in the New Testament, there are many inferences we can make. Certainly it shows his divinity and his ability to rule even the natural elements of his creation.
But it also makes symbolic sense for Jesus to have physically walked on water when you put the symbolic trends we see throughout the Bible regarding bodies of water into perspective. If bodies of water symbolize death, evil, chaos, and all the other things which are not natural to God’s original creation, then for Jesus to walk on the stormy waters seems to symbolically reveal the reality that Jesus conquers death, evil, and brings the order creation groans for (Romans 8:22).
Water baptism is a command to be followed and represents what happens to us when we put our faith in Jesus and we are born again. Full immersion water baptism symbolizes the death and resurrection we experience through Jesus Christ. When we go under the water, we are symbolically showing our union with the death of Christ as he was buried. And then when we come out of the water we symbolically identify with Jesus’ resurrection out of death. In water baptism the water symbolizes death. When we emerge out of the water we are showing how we have been raised to new life (Romans 6:4).
What Do Bodies of Water Symbolize in the Bible?
For these reasons it seems clear that bodies of water mentioned in the Bible often symbolize death, chaos, evil, destruction, and other such things which God sent Jesus to conquer on our behalf.
When we understand the symbolic meaning of bodies of water often used in the Bible, water baptism, the absence of a sea in the new earth, and other passages of Scripture become much more enlightening and bring us even more clarity on the hope we have in Christ.