Almost every churchgoer has heard of heaven's "pearly gates." The basis for this belief comes from the book of Revelation: “And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; each one of the gates was a single pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass” (Rev 21:21 NASB). It’s true that, in John’s vision, the street is made of gold, and the gates are made of pearl. However, Revelation does not describe heaven; instead, the pearly gates enclose a new Jerusalem that descends from heaven to the earth.
In his final visions, John sees “the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God… and names were written on the gates, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel. There were three gates on the east, three gates on the north, three gates on the south, and three gates on the west” (Revelation 21:10-13). John beholds twelve pearly gates that correspond to the twelve tribes of Israel. While it’s certainly true that Revelation foresees people of all nations worshiping together (e.g., Rev 7:9), it’s also clear that the vision presupposes the ongoing existence and significance of each tribe of Israel. Since everyone who enters the eschatological city will have to walk through at least one of these glimmering gates, every incoming inhabitant of New Jerusalem will be reminded of Israel’s election under God.
Throughout ancient history, Jerusalem’s gates had names tied to their purpose or activity. For example, there was a Fish Gate, Refuse Gate, Sheep Gate, Old Gate, Water Gate, Fountain Gate, Horse Gate, East Gate, and an Inspection Gate (see Nehemiah 2-3). It is curious, but in antiquity, the only gate named after a tribe of Israel was “Ephraim’s gate.” Along with a city of pearls, gems, and gold, Revelation also refers to the names of the twelve Jewish apostles written on the foundation stones of this heavenly Jerusalem (Rev 12:14).
Like Revelation, the later Rabbinic tradition also discusses a restored Jerusalem whose gates are made from pearls. For instance, with reference to a verse from Isaiah, the Talmud states, “‘And your gates [will be made] of precious stones’ [Isa 54:12]…. Yoḥanan sat and taught, ‘In the future, the Holy One, Blessed be He, will bring precious stones and pearls... and set them in the gates of Jerusalem’” (Babylonian Talmud, b. Bava Batra 75a).
As both Revelation and rabbinic tradition agree, the “pearly gates” do not describe the entrance to “heaven,” but rather the future Jerusalem when God’s kingdom comes to earth. John’s visions are still inextricably connected to the twelve tribes of Israel. Too often, Christians forget that the return of Messiah means the restoration of the kingdom of Israel (Acts 1:6). The good news of the gospel is that people from all nations will join Israel in that kingdom to worship the one true God.For more - Click here now