1. Revelation 21:1 (ESV)
  2. Exposition

What does the phrase “had passed away” describe?

Revelation 21:1 (ESV)

1 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.

The term John uses appears numerous times throughout the New Testament to describe the notion of going, going away, departing (Luke 1:23, Luke 1:38; Luke 2:15; Luke 7:24, etc.). The picture of going, departing recalls what John described in Revelation 20:11: “From his presence earth and sky [lit., heaven] fled away.” Now that the way things were has disappeared, the opportunity opens up for the Lord to fashion a new heaven and new earth reflecting the blessed effects of Christ’s atoning work. Note: as this is the book of Revelation, we are not meant to take earth’s and heaven’s departing literally. We need to grasp that the way things were has vanished.