v.1 And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth,….
This vision relates to a glorious state of the church, not in the times of the apostles, or first dispensation of the Gospel; when the old Jewish church state, with its ordinances, rites, and ceremonies, passed away, and a new church state, a new dispensation, new ordinances, and a new people, took place; and when saints came not to Mount Sinai, but to Mount Sion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem; and when God tabernacled and dwelt with men in particular churches and congregations; and the curse of the law and the sting of death were taken away by Christ, and there was no condemnation to them that were in him; which is the sense of some: but death did not then cease, it has reigned over men in common ever since, in a natural way, and immediately upon that dispensation arose persecution unto death, both by Jews and Gentiles.
And for the first three hundred years, instead death being no more, and sorrow and sighing fleeing away, there was scarce anything else: nor can it be said that there was no temple, or places of pubic worship, or that the church had no need of the sun and moon of the Gospel and Gospel ordinances then, since these have continued ever since, and will to the end of the world; nor did the kings of the earth bring their honour and glory into that church state in any sense, but set themselves against it, and endeavoured to destroy it; nor were the churches even of that age so pure as here described, Revelation 21:27 many persons both of bad principles and bad practices crept into them; there were tares among the wheat, goats among the sheep, and foolish virgins with the wise: nor does this vision refer to the times of Constantine.
When the old Pagan idolatry was removed out of the empire, and the Christian religion was revived, and came to be in a flourishing condition, and a new face of things appeared, and Christianity was embraced and honoured by the emperor, and the great men of the earth; there was not that purity as in this state; the Christian doctrine and worship were soon corrupted, being mixed with Judaism and Paganism; a flood of errors was brought in by Arius, Eutychius, Nestorius, Macedonius, and Pelagius, and others; yea, doctrines of devils, and which at length issued in a general apostasy, and in the revelation of the man of sin; nor was there that peace and comfort, and freedom from evils, as from death, pain, and sorrow; witness the Arian persecution, the incursions of the Goths and Vandals into the empire, and the inhuman butcheries and numerous massacres and murders of the Popish party since.
Nor has this vision anything to do with the conversion and restoration of the Jews, when they will become a new people, quit their old principles and modes of worship, and there will be no more among them the sea of corrupt doctrine, respecting the Messiah, the works of the law, &c. for this will be over before this vision takes place, as appears from the 19th chapter: nor does it belong to the spiritual reign of Christ, which will be in the present earth, whereas this glorious state of the church will be in the new heavens and new earth; that will be at the sounding of the seventh trumpet, and in the Philadelphian church state, this will not be till prophetic time and antichristian times will be no more, when the mystery of God will be finished, and after the Laodicean state is at an end; in that there will be public worship, the ministry of the word, and administration of ordinances, but not in this; and though there will be then great spirituality and holiness, yet not in perfection, nor will the churches be clear of hypocrites and nominal professors, and will at last sink into a Laodicean state.
Nor is this vision to be interpreted of the church triumphant in heaven, or of the ultimate glory of the saints there; since the new Jerusalem here described descends from heaven, that is, to earth, where the saints will reign with Christ; and since the church is represented as a bride, prepared and adorned for her husband, but not as yet at the entrance of this state, delivered up to him; and since the tabernacle of God is said to be with men, that is, on earth; and this dwelling of God with them is as in a tabernacle, which is movable, and seems to be distinct from the fixed state of the saints in the ultimate glory; to which may be added, that in this state, Christ, as King of saints, will be peculiarly and distinctly glorified, whereas in the ultimate one, when the kingdom is delivered to the Father, God will be all in all: this therefore is to be understood of the glorious state of the church during the thousand years of Satan’s binding, and the saints’ living and reigning with Christ; the holy city, and new Jerusalem, is the same with the beloved city in Revelation 20:9 what is there briefly hinted, is here largely described and insisted on; this will be the time and state when the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven, will first meet together, and be brought to Christ, and be presented by him to himself a glorious church, without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing, and Christ will reign gloriously among them.
The seat of this church state will be the “new heaven” and “new earth” which John saw, and which are the same that Peter speaks of, in which dwelleth righteousness, or in which righteous persons only dwell, 2 Peter 3:13 for as the first heaven and earth both here and there are to be understood literally, so in like manner the new heaven and new earth; which will be new, not with respect to the substance, but their qualities; they will be renewed, or purged from everything that is disagreeable, and is the effect of the sin of man; the first heaven and earth were made chiefly for men, but, on account of the sin of man, the earth was cursed, and brought forth thorns and thistles, and both the earth and air, or the heaven, were attended with noxious vapours, &c. and the whole creation was made subject to vanity and corruption; from all which they will be cleared at the general conflagration, and a new earth and heaven will appear, fit for the habitation of the second Adam, and his posterity, for the space of a thousand years. So the Jews speak of new heavens, as “renewed” ones, which are the secrets of sublime wisdom[o] Zohar in Gen. fol. 5. 2. vid. Kimchi in lsa. lvi. 6.: and they say[p] T. Bab. Sanhedrin, fol. 92. 2. & Gloss. in ib. Zohar in Gen. fol. 69. 1. Tzeror Hammor, fol. 150. 2., that the holy blessed God will renew his world a thousand years, and that in the seventh millennium there will be new heavens and a new earth.[q] Zohar in Gen. fol. 35. 3.
For the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; not those in Revelation 20:11 but the heaven and the earth which were first made, which passed away, as Peter also says, adding, with a great noise; meaning not as to their substance, but as to their form, fashion, and qualities: and there was no more sea; which may be understood either as to the being of it; it was “exhausted”, as the Ethiopic version renders it, being dried up by the conflagration; see Amos 7:4 and if Mr. Burnet’s hypothesis can be supported, that the paradisiacal earth, or the earth fore the flood, was without a sea, that being made, with the mountains and hills, by the falling of the surface of the earth into the waters under it, there is a surprising agreement between that earth and this new one; but the Alexandrian copy reads, “and I saw the sea no more”; it might be in being, though John saw it not and since, at the end of the thousand years, the sea will give up the dead which are in it, it must be in being, unless it can be interpreted of the place where the sea was: wherefore it seems best to understand it with respect to its use and qualities; and that as the heaven and earth will pass away, not as to their substance, but quality, so in like manner the sea will be no more used for navigation, nor may it be a tumultuous and raging one, or have its flux and reflux, or its waters be salt, as now; the schoolmen say it will no more be a fluid, but will be consolidated into the globe as the sphere; and, in a mystical sense, there will be no more wicked men; tumultuous and turbulent men are like the troubled sea, that cannot rest, Isaiah 57:20 for in the new heavens and earth only righteous persons will dwell, 2 Peter 3:13.
Original Source: Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible http://sacred-texts.com/bib/cmt/gill/rev021.htm