Updated: Apr 14
From Geocentric models to Heliocentric and from Steady State cosmology to the Big Bang theory, man has proposed many ideas of what the universe looks like. Of course all of them have problems. In fact the current popular model, the Big Bang Theory, has so many problems that its credibility has been in question for quite some time. But not only does scripture paint a very different picture of what our world and the universe around us looks like, but also how they formed, and how they operate. If we can set aside the dubious modern models, theories, and preconceived notions for a moment and look at scripture with fresh eyes and an open mind, what we find is both shocking and awe-inspiring.
The current popular cosmological model posits that while all matter and energy originated from a single point, the universe itself has no center. The Big Bang understanding of the expanding universe sounds rather counterintuitive as every explosion has an epicenter, but scientists hypothesize that the space/time continuum actually curves back on itself (think of the surface of a balloon) and therefore no point can be called the center, while all points appear to be center from their frame of reference. This is an interesting 2D hypothesis but it was mainly designed to explain away a very unsettling 3D observation—namely that all points of light in the universe appear to be moving away from the Earth. The Doppler effect, or the "redshift" that we see all around us would seem to indicate that our planet is at, or near, the center of the observable universe. Indeed the man who discovered this redshift, Edwin Hubble, admitted as much in his book ironically titled The Observational Approach to Cosmology saying, "Such a condition would imply that we occupy a unique position in the universe, analogous, in a sense, to the ancient conception of a central earth. The hypothesis cannot be disproved but it is unwelcome... Regarding the possibility that the observer [is] in a unique position [this] unwelcome supposition of a favoured location must be avoided at all costs."
As Hubble noted, most ancient civilizations who kept meticulous record of the movements of the heavens, such as the Mayans, concluded much the same—that Earth was at the center of the universe. The ancient Greeks (Ptolemy) and Israelites held that belief as well. Jewish cosmology actually held that the universe consisted of three heavens of concentric circles, with Earth at the center. This ancient cosmological model has since been replaced by the Copernican Principle—the idea that the earth does not inhabit any special place in the universe. While the ancient models may sound rather simplistic to the modern reader, there is actually scientific evidence which aligns with this understanding. After Hubble discovered the redshift phenomenon, our calculations became more refined and precise and an even more unsettling pattern emerged—quantized redshift.
Quantized redshift is the observation that objects in space are not moving away from us at random intervals, but that there is actually a very defined pattern. Galaxies surrounding ours are "quantized" or clustered into groups of set distances. In other words, rather than random placement, which is what one would expect using a Big Bang haphazard explosion model, galaxies are placed in "bands" surrounding us in concentric circles (spheres) millions of light years apart. With the observable universe estimated at being 46.5 billion light years in radius, that would mean that there are hundreds of concentric spheres of galaxy clusters, of 1-2 trillion galaxies in total radiating outward from our location. This observation cannot be explained away by the traditional expanding universe model as geometry does not permit concentric circles to appear at any point of reference—only at or near the center of the radius. Think of the construct of the universe as a Russian nesting doll of hundreds of dolls with galaxies painted on each one's surface and the innermost nesting doll being a single galaxy—ours.
Another recent discovery has also challenged the Copernican Principle. High resolution CMB maps (cosmic microwave background radiation) of the universe show that the entire universe aligns with the Earth's axis and plane in space. It suggests that not only is the Earth at or near the center of the universe, but it is also the North Star of the universe—the cosmos is oriented to our poles and plane. Our equator is the equator of the universe. Our Northern Hemisphere is the universe's Northern Hemisphere. Our axis of tilt and our ecliptic plane in relation to the Sun are all mirrored by the universe on the macro scale. This discovery was so unwelcome and unsettling it was dubbed "the axis of evil" by cosmologists. When physicist Dr. Max Tegmark studied this phenomena, it radically challenged his view of the Earth's place in the universe, changing his perspective from humanity being insignificant in the cosmos, to believing humanity is spectacularly significant. Ironically, and a bit tragically, the shift from geocentric cosmology to heliocentric, to Newtonian, and eventually to Big Bang/Expanding Universe was all rather philosophical rather than scientific in nature. As Albert Einstein noted, "The struggle, so violent in the early days of science, between the views of Ptolemy and Copernicus would then be quite meaningless. Either CS [Coordinate System] could be used with equal justification. The two sentences, ‘the sun is at rest and the earth moves’ or ‘the sun moves and the earth is at rest,’ would simply mean two different conventions concerning two different CS." Scientific American interviewed George Ellis (co-author with Stephen Hawking) and quoted him saying, “People need to be aware that there is a range of models that could explain the observations... For instance, I can construct you a spherically symmetrical universe with Earth at its center, and you cannot disprove it based on observations... You can only exclude it on philosophical grounds... What I want to bring into the open is the fact that we are using philosophical criteria in choosing our models. A lot of cosmology tries to hide that.”
Now, while an ancient geocentric model may indeed be credible, tens or hundreds of concentric circles is much more than the three described in scripture. But actually all of those concentric spheres of galaxies would be contained in just one of the three heavens described in scripture—the second heaven. But let's back up and reconstruct the biblical cosmological model starting with Genesis.
A Biblical Reconstruction
Genesis 1:1 states that in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Notice heavens are plural in most translations while earth is singular. The Hebrew word for "heavens" used here is shamayim, a plural word meaning sky, heaven, firmament, or abode. While shamayim can in some cases be translated as singular depending on the context, here it certainly is meant to be plural as Genesis goes on to describe the layers of these heavens. The "heaven"—which is often translated as singular—created on the second day which separates the waters below from the waters above should actually be plural.
And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day. -Gen 1:6-8 (KJV)
The waters below are those found on Earth—rivers, lakes and seas as well as subterranean water which we'll cover later. The "firmament" which divided the waters is raqiya in Hebrew—often rendered as "expanse." This raqiya is a "heaven" but again should be read in the plural as Genesis goes on to break this heaven down into two distinct layers. In verse 14 the "firmament" of heaven is said to contain all celestial bodies—the sun, moon, and stars. So in modern vernacular, this "heaven" we would call outer space or the cosmos. The firmament consists of two parts however as verse 20 distinguishes the "open expanse" of the firmament as the place that birds fly. The Hebrew phrase used here is paniym raqiya , or the "face of the expanse." The paniyim raqiya is the first heaven that we would call sky. So Genesis defines and describes two "circles" of heaven, the paniym raqiya and the raqiya— the first heaven which is the atmosphere, and the second heaven which is the cosmosphere.
It is this distinction between the first and second heaven which is often overlooked and produces a distorted view of Jewish cosmology that claims it teaches the sun, moon, and stars all reside in earth's atmosphere. But even in modern English we use the word "sky" to describe everything above the earth. Both sparrows and stars can be said to be in the sky without a single eyebrow raised. Even modern science struggles to define where atmosphere ends and cosmosphere begins, so scripture's use of raqiya and paniym raqiya is not peculiar or arcane as it communicates a continuity of essence while still making a clear distinction.
I appreciate the KJV translation here creating an English word to try to capture the Hebrew meaning of raqiya. "Expanse" is a perfectly acceptable translation as it definitely communicates the vastness of the universe and the "stretching out" (expanding) of the heavens described in scripture. But the KJV's creation of the word "firmament" captures another aspect of raqiya worthy of investigation. The English root word used here is "firm," which communicates the heavens have a solid, malleable property to them.
While we commonly refer to the cosmos as space, due to it being seen as an empty vacuum, Einstein did popularize the idea of the space/time continuum being like a fabric holding the universe and all the celestial bodies in place as all matter creates gravitational fields which exert a force on this fabric. So the biblical connotation of something firm and solid holding all celestial bodies in their position is very interesting and thought provoking. It's an enigma which has perplexed scientists throughout the ages.
The third heaven, what I'll call the theosphere, is alluded to in the creation account, but isn't explicitly described. Simply called shamayim in the Old Testament, it is however the easiest to deduce and the one we most commonly associate with the word "heaven"—the abode of God. It is identified in Jewish cosmology quite explicitly in a New Testament passage however.
I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. -2Co 12:2-4 (ESV, emphasis added)
We see this hinted at in Genesis 1:2 where the Spirit of God is "moving upon the face of the waters." These waters are later separated by the raqiya into the waters below (terrestrial and subterranean water) and the waters above. Above what? The raqiya, or the second heaven. In other words, there is a layer of water which separates the first and second heaven from the third heaven. Put more simply, what is described is a barrier separating the creator from His creation—a great sea marking the boundary between the physical heavens and the spiritual heaven.
This sounds shocking and speculative, so allow me to quote a few other passages which also reference this great body of water above the two physical heavens, starting with a very straight-forward statement by David.
Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens! -Psa 148:4 (NASB)
Note that the waters are above the heavens—plural. The following passages are a bit more spectacular in their descriptive language as they are from visions as obviously no man has physically seen these waters. The first vision appears to be from an earth-bound perspective looking up, while the others appear to be from a third heaven point of view, looking down.
When those went, these went; and when those stood, these stood; and when those rose from the earth, the wheels rose along with them, for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. Over the heads of the living creatures there was the likeness of an expanse, shining like awe-inspiring crystal, spread out above their heads. -Eze 1:21-22 (NASB)
The word for "crystal" in the Hebrew here is qerach, which means ice, or condensed frozen water that forms ice crystals. There are other phrases which describe these waters as precious gem-like crystal, but this one is explicit that it is water.
and they saw the God of Israel; and under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself. -Exo 24:10 (NASB)
and before the throne there was something like a sea of glass, like crystal; and in the center and around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind. -Rev 4:6 (NASB)
And I saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, holding harps of God. -Rev 15:2 (NASB)
In these visions of the heavenlies, we see that the floor of God's abode—the third heaven—is paved with an awe-inspiring crystal which is likened to sapphire (blue in color), but also described as clear, glass, and "mixed with fire" (red in color). These contrasting descriptions can be reconciled with the idea of a prism—a crystal which refracts light into different colors while being clear itself. Like in the Ezekiel passage, the Revelation passages both refer to this material as water. The Greek word krustallos, rendered as "crystal" in Rev 4:6 again means ice crystal and in both of the Revelation passages this is corroborated by the usage of the phrase "sea of glass." The Greek word for sea used here is thalassa which of course refers to water. The floor of God's heaven and the ceiling of our heavens is described as a great sea of ice crystal.
Structure of the Earth
As we're discussing the biblical descriptions of the construct of the cosmos, it is worthwhile to mention how it describes the structure of the earth as well as it is equally intriguing. Modern Big Bang cosmology asserts that the universe was born from fire—an event where nothing exploded and created everything. As such, stars and planets are said to have formed through intense heat. However scripture states the universe, and the earth itself, was created through water. We see that creation starts with water in the first few verses of Genesis.
And the earth was a formless and desolate emptiness, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. -Gen 1:2 (NASB)
For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water... -2 Pe 3:5 (NASB)
Here we see the earth was created before the sun, moon, stars, or even space itself. But the earth didn't yet have earth—it was only water. Note also that as neither the first nor second heavens had been created yet, these waters were not separated from the third heaven. The spirit of God hovered over the waters because they were the first element of creation, coming into existence in the very presence of God in His eternal existence. Then, God divides the waters, creating the entire first and second heavens between them, stretching that expanse out incalculable and unfathomable distances in an instant creating all of space and time between the waters below, and the waters above. Job recounts this awe-inducing moment as he pondered the power of God.
Who alone stretches out the heavens, and tramples down the waves of the sea; who makes the Bear, Orion, and the Pleiades, and the constellations of the south. It is He who does great things, the unfathomable, and wondrous works without number. -Job 9:8-10 (NASB)
Once the waters were separated with the heavens, space, and time created, God then turned His attention back to the (now much smaller) body of water which earth as we know it would be formed from. Here yet again, waters would be moved and separated in the process which land was formed.
Then God said, “Let the waters below the heavens be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear”; and it was so. -Gen 1:9 (NASB)
To Him who spread out the earth above the waters, for His faithfulness is everlasting... -Psa 136:6 (NASB)
Often when we read the creation account of the waters being gathered to one place, we think of the waters subsiding revealing dry ground. That is certainly the case later in Genesis after Noah's flood, but not in Genesis chapter one. There was no land under the waters of creation, there was only the deep. Psalms clarifies this process of creation by stating earth (dirt, or dry land) was spread out above the waters. So what does "gathered them in one place" mean in the creation account if not "pooling" the waters?
That is an important part of biblical cosmology as those primordial waters which were brought into existence in the third heaven, in God's presence, were gathered below the surface of the earth, forming the fountains of the deep, which were partially released during the catastrophic judgement event of the flood. This deep subterranean water is also key in understanding the Jewish concept of Sheol, the watery realm of the dead which is discussed at length in the article Understanding the Underworld. Simply put, the Jewish association of water with death, the grave, and the underworld cannot be overstated and has significant spiritual and theological implications. This association is even symbolized in the act of baptism as death and burial are portrayed as you are submerged in the waters and the promise of resurrection and eternal life portrayed as you emerge from them.
Due to water being the first element created and it coming into existence in the third heaven prior even to space and time, it takes on a spiritual connection and a mysterious quality. It is essential for life, but also embodies death with the flood viewed as the mouth of Sheol being opened and swallowing the wicked, returning the earth to its original "formless and desolate" state early in the creation sequence. This great reset therefore is seen as both a physical and spiritual event of judgement which Peter goes on to say.
For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the world at that time was destroyed by being flooded with water. But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly people. -2 Pe 3:5-7
But this layer of water under the crust of the earth is not a geological feature in the traditional Big Bang cosmological framework. That theory posits that planets formed through hot and fiery accretions and collisions in space, creating hellscapes of scorched earth, seismic and volcanic activity, and molten rock. In such an environment, liquid water couldn't even exist, let alone be the primary element of creation. Deep subterranean water doesn't make any sense in this model as any rock which formed after the planet was cool enough for oceans of liquid water to accumulate would displace the water, not cover over it. Indeed, the idea of a vast subterranean ocean under the crust of the earth seems fantastical to the modern mind.
However, that did not discourage a physicist back in 1980 who read the Genesis account to posit that such enormous volumes of water were indeed beneath the earth's crust. Dr. Walt Brown named his hypothesis "Hydroplate Theory" and wrote a whole textbook on the subject titled, In the Beginning (an amazing book and now available online for free). For his trouble, Dr. Brown was ridiculed despite his work being meticulous and actually solving many problems with standard plate tectonic mechanics and explanations. But then, a discovery was made in 2014 that astonished scientists and indicated that a vast reservoir of water existed deep beneath the crust of the earth—possibly more water than all of the world's oceans combined.
Before we move on from the descriptions of the inner working of our world in scripture, we should note a few other important passages due to some old and new arguments. Skeptics attacking scripture is a time honored tradition which has often gone far beyond the Socratic method of genuine questioning in the search for truth and has veered decidedly into the bad faith category. One example of this is the accusation that Christians believed the earth to be flat in the medieval period in stark contrast to more progressive, scientific, and enlightened minds who believed the world to be round. This is a proven ahistorical myth which was actually concocted in the 19th century to disparage Christianity.
The reality is, the shape and even size of the earth had been calculated to a great degree of accuracy centuries (possibly even millennia) before Christ, but as man lacked the technological tools at the time to prove the math and physics correct, there remained some debate on the subject in the 1st through 6th centuries AD. That largely philosophical debate did spill into the early church with the vast majority of the church arguing the earth was spherical while a single school—the Antiochians—taught a box-shaped, flat earth cosmology. The last defense of the unpopular Antiochian cosmology was written in the 6th century however, with Alexandrian spherical cosmology prevailing in the church ever since. It is therefore quite ironic that a recent resurgence of flat earth theory has arisen and has found a small but vocal audience in the church.
While there are of course phrases such as "the four corners of the earth" in scripture, these are not found in passages which appear to describe the structure of the cosmos, but rather in passages which appear to use a figure of speech alluding to cardinal directions and cartography in the context of a historical event being described. There are ancient Hebrew passages which explicitly and clearly speak of the earth's shape, position, and orientation however, so let's examine those.
Ancient near Eastern, Asian, European, and even Native American cultures believed the world to be supported by a god-like creature such a turtle, elephants, or a serpent. The Greeks and Romans believed the earth rested on the shoulders of the Titan, Atlas. The oldest book of the Bible however, makes a bold declaration of the position of the earth which stands in stark contrast to these ancient beliefs.
He stretches out the north over empty space and hangs the earth on nothing. -Job 26:7 (NASB)
Scripture also describes and alludes to the shape of the earth in a few revealing passages.
It is He who sits above the circle of the earth...Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain and spreads them out like a tent to live in. -Isa 40:22 (NASB)
As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our wrongdoings from us. -Psa 103:12 (NASB)
He has inscribed a circle on the surface of the waters at the boundary of light and darkness. -Job 26:10 (NASB)
The Hebrew word translated as circle in Isaiah is khoog, which is used three times in the Old Testament and can mean either circle or sphere depending on context (Hebrew is a dense language where words often have multiple meanings). In case one is tempted to think Isaiah is using the flat 2D meaning of the word in describing the shape of the earth, rendering the world a flat disc, we need only to realize Job and Psalms were written first and that Isaiah was building on that understanding.
Job's text is the oldest and perhaps the most peculiar at first glance. He claims that God inscribed upon the waters of creation a khoog, a circle, which separated light from darkness. How does a circle serve as the boundary between light and darkness on a flat earth? If light shines over a flat object, the entire object facing the light source is lit. However, three-dimensional objects cast shadows over their surface in relation to directional light and a sphere has a single shadow which covers exactly half of its surface. With a sphere, directional light creates two hemispheres—one in light and the other in shadow or darkness. The boundary between light and darkness on a sphere is indeed a circle, which circumscribes the sphere.
The Psalms passage was written next and appears rather insignificant in terms of cosmology, but the cosmological implications must actually first be understood in order to extract the theological statement being made here. How far has God removed our transgressions from us? We know from other passages the correct answer is infinitely, but it might be lost upon us that the Psalmist is using cosmology to make that point in this passage. If the author believed the earth were flat, East and West would be a set distance apart. A great distance from the perspective of man perhaps, but a rather insignificant distance from the perspective of the subject of the statement—the God who removed the transgression. Likewise if the Psalmist believed the earth to be a sphere with no axis or poles... But by using East and West rather than North and South, the author builds upon Job's statement, not only understanding the earth is a sphere with a circle acting as the boundary between light and dark, but understanding that light moves in relation to the spherical earth along a rotational axis. North and South are a finite distance, but East and West are infinite.
The third use of khoog is also in relation to creation and the shape of the earth, and also predates the Isaiah passage. It was written by King Solomon who echoed Job.
When he established the heavens, I was there; when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him... -Pro 8:27-30 (ESV)
While Big Bang cosmology remains popular, there is growing discontent among scientists with its shortcomings and failures. It necessitates fudge factors like dark matter and dark energy, which despite considerable effort, we have yet to prove their existence. They were invented from necessity, not borne out by actual scientific observation. Many scientists would love to replace the Big Bang with a model which better reflects our observations, and one was proposed back in the late '90's by the most famous and revered theoretical physicist of the modern era—Dr. Moshe Carmeli. Called Cosmological Relativity, it added a fifth dimension (velocity) to classical physics to account for the observable redshift in the universe (the four established dimensions are the three physical dimensions, plus the dimension of time). Astoundingly this model fit all the observed data beautifully without the need for unobserved dark matter or energy. However it was rejected by most scientists as it came to some rather uncomfortable conclusions—namely a very young, and very unique planet earth. Cosmological Relativity, unlike Big Bang, begins with the assumption that the universe has a defined and unique center with Earth at or near it. It then posits that the universe is spherically symmetrical and expanding and accelerating outward from that unique center. While this may not sound vastly different from the Big Bang model, the implications are quite shocking. With a unique center and spherical symmetry, that would mean the universe also has a gravitational center which the Earth is at or near. This is important as gravity effects both light and time—the closer to the gravitational center one gets, the faster time moves. This model therefore posits that the Earth, being at or near that gravitation center, is relatively young while the universe around us appears quite old. This is because the further from the gravitational center of the universe you get, the slower time moves relative to that of the center reference point.
This phenomenon, known as time dilation, is not theoretical—we have observed the gravitational effects on time. Experiments using synchronized atomic clocks placed at the base and top of skyscrapers have shown those clocks to de-sync as the one at the top moves slightly slower due to being further away from the earth's gravitational center (higher altitude). The movie Interstellar plays on this phenomena quite heavily during a sequence when one member of the team is chosen to stay on board the ship while the rest disembark on an alien planet near an enormous gravity well. Due to their proximity to that gravitational center, hours pass for them, but when they return to the ship, their team member has aged several decades.
The Cosmological Relativity model posits that while the entire universe originated from the same moment in time, time itself stretches and slows down the further from that point of origin you get. This means that according to the time clock of Earth, the universe is quite young—only thousands of years old. At the same time, starlight is able to travel the millions of light years necessary for us to view it because while the speed of light may remain constant (that's an assumption currently being challenged), the amount of time it has to travel increases as the distance from Earth increases. This also could explain why our nearest star, the sun, appears quite robust and healthy while we witness distant stars die and explode in a supernova, or collapse in on themselves forming white dwarf stars, neutron stars, or black holes. As our sun would be near the gravitational center of the universe, it would be much younger than distant stars which due to time dilation, are nearing the end of their lifespan.
To many this may all sound incredibly academic and unimportant to practical Christianity, and I'd agree to an extent. For me, one of the main reasons I like to ponder these things is because all too often in our modern society, we think we already know everything which can be known and we tend to view scripture as a dusty old book which contains no earth-shattering revelations or insights. However, the truth is that the Bible contains a great number of teachings which should challenge our thinking and keep us in a constant state of awe and wonder—a view which was deeply held by the fathers of modern science. But there are also some intriguing theological parallels and implications of Jewish cosmology which are borne out in both the Old and New Testaments.
The key parallel we observe is found in the Old Testament structures of the Tabernacle and the Temple. Remember the tabernacle's design was dictated by God to Moses to teach the Jewish nation (and the nations surrounding them) of the ways of God. Each of the instruments and furnishings of those structures were given by God to Moses and specifically crafted to reflect a heavenly pattern, including the layout of the floor plan itself (Exo 25:9, 40). In the New Testament, it is again reiterated that those structures were actually earthly copies of heavenly realities.
Now if He were on earth, He would not be a priest at all, since there are those who offer the gifts according to the Law; who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle; for, "SEE," He says, "THAT YOU MAKE all things ACCORDING TO THE PATTERN WHICH WAS SHOWN YOU ON THE MOUNTAIN." -Heb 8:4-5 (NASB, emphasis added)
And in the same way he sprinkled both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry with the blood. And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. Therefore it was necessary for the copies of the things in the heavens to be cleansed with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us... -Heb 9:21-24 (NASB, emphasis added)
And the temple of God which is in heaven was opened; and the ark of His covenant appeared in His temple, and there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder and an earthquake and a great hailstorm. -Rev 11:19 (NASB)
Now remember that the construction of the tabernacle (which the design of the temple was later loosely based on by King David and King Solomon) consisted of three courts or layers between man and God—the outer court, the inner court, and the holy of holies. Remember also that while many had access to the two open courts, only the high priest once a year had access to the holy of holies—the abode of God. Remember also that God's abode was physically separated from the two open courts by a thick barrier (Early Jewish tradition stated that the Temple veil was as thick as a man’s hand, although scripture gives no measurement)—a single piece of woven linen called the veil of covering. Intriguingly, the colors attributed to this veil in Exodus 26:31 are blue, purple, and scarlet—which are near identical to the colors described from visions of the great crystal floor of heaven (sapphire and fire). In fact, the description the Jewish historian Josephus gives of the veil is even more spectacular:
"Before these doors there was a veil of equal largeness with the doors. It was a Babylonian curtain, embroidered with blue, and fine linen, and scarlet, and purple, and of a contexture that was truly wonderful. Nor was this mixture of colors without its mystical interpretation, but was a kind of image of the universe; for by the scarlet there seemed to be enigmatically signified fire, by the fine flax the earth, by the blue the air, and by the purple the sea; two of them having their colors the foundation of this resemblance; but the fine flax and the purple have their own origin for that foundation, the earth producing the one, and the sea the other. This curtain had also embroidered upon it all that was mystical in the heavens, excepting that of the [twelve] signs, representing living creatures." -Wars 5.5.4
So it is not difficult to argue that the construction of the tabernacle was meant to reflect the pattern of the heavens—three layers with two connected and one separated by a beautiful and imposing barrier. What is equally intriguing is that though most of our modern interpretations and reconstructions of the tabernacle are quite modest and simple rectangular designs, a close examination of the biblical texts and actual physical experimentation by engineers would suggest that the tabernacle was actually a dome—concentrically circular in shape.
Now when Christ died, we know that this massive veil was torn—from top to bottom—but that detail may have more significance than we think: it may also be prophetic. That veil separated the presence of God on earth, from man, but there is another event at the end of the age which this seems to be a foreshadowing of... The removal of the heavenly veil—the sea of glass— which separates God from His creation.
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. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them. -Rev 21:1-3 (NASB, emphasis added)
Again, the word for "sea" used here is the Greek thalassa, though I admit this passage could have another possible interpretation. The immediate context of this passage is the descending of the heavenly tabernacle onto the new earth, permanently changing the location of God's abode for the first time in history. This is the consummation of the ages, the fulfillment of the biblical promises, prophecies, and foreshadowings—including that of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Therefore I lean toward interpreting this "sea" in that context—the sea of glass—meaning that the heavenly veil is destroyed from the top down as God descends to live among men. However, there may be another meaning, either in addition to, or instead of this one. In verse 4 it talks about there no longer being any death, and the sea is also symbolic of Sheol in the Bible. Specifically, Revelation 20:13 talks about "the sea giving up her dead" on judgement day, so the destruction of the "sea" may also be referring to the destruction of Sheol and death itself in the new Jerusalem. I think both are true as the imagery is loaded.
Regardless of how you interpret the sea in Revelation 21:1, it is clear that the progression in scripture is that man is separated from God, Jesus' finished work on the cross removes the spiritual separation, and then at the end of the age God removes the final physical separation. The fact that this overarching narrative appears to tie in with Jewish cosmology is fascinating at the very least, but also illuminating of some curious biblical passages. The fact that the most preeminent theoretical physicist of the modern age spent over a decade formulating a cosmological model which happens to neatly align with the biblical descriptions is astounding. Pondering these things helps keep me humble and in awe of both God and His timeless word and reminds me that despite how many times I've read it, there is yet more unfathomable truth to be discovered—and hotly debated. Because for now, we see through that glass dimly...
*For more information on the current state of cosmology and the implications that Earth is at or near the center of the universe, watch the science documentaries, The Principle and Journey to the Center of the Universe.