Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Pearly Gates

Of which precious jewel are the gates of the Holy City made? Each gate of a single pearl (Revelation 21:21)

Near the conclusion of the Book of Revelation, the New Jerusalem descends out of heaven from God (Revelation 21:10). Included in the city’s description are twelve gates, three on each of the squared city’s walls, inscribed with the name of one of Israel’s twelve tribes (Revelation 21:12). Each gate was made from a single pearl (Revelation 21:21). In response to this fact, author J. Stephen Lang quipped, “Imagine the size of those oysters.”1

It is from Revelation 21:21 that we get the term “pearly gates”, in use since 1708.

Why were the gates to the New Jerusalem constructed of pearl as opposed to gold, platinum, etc.? Why a material so exorbitant?

Revelation 21 goes into great detail describing the opulence of the Holy City. Pearls are rare in Scripture. They do not appear in the Old Testament and are referenced only eight times in the New Testament (Matthew 7:6, 13:45, 46; I Timothy 2:9; Revelation 14:4, 18:12, 16, 21:21). The city’s description serves as a reminder that the Christian’s eternal home will be lavish. It is a comfort perhaps not felt as much in a wealthy country like the United States as it was to the book’s original audience.

The pervading image of the pearly gates is of Peter guarding the gate to a city in the clouds. As noted, the New Jerusalem rests on earth as opposed to an ethereal locale. Peter’s connection to the gates is presumably due to his having been given the keys to the kingdom (Matthew 16:18-19). Peter, however, does not appear in Revelation as the gates are defended instead by angels (Revelation 21:12). Do you prefer the popular image or the Biblical account? Why?

Gates were used to fortify a city. At the time of New Jerusalem’s descent, the devil had already been vanquished to the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:10). Who are the pearly gates designed to keep out? Are the gates merely aesthetic?

Why is the New Jerusalem a gated community?

1J. Stephen Lang, What the Good Book Didn’t Say: Popular Myths and Misconceptions about the Bible. (New York: Citadel Press, 2003) 185.

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