New Jerusalem: Home of the Pearly Gates
Ask anyone where the “Pearly Gates” lead to, and most likely they will tell you “Heaven.”
The only Biblical reference to the Pearly Gates is in Revelation 21:21, which describes the twelve gates of New Jerusalem: each gate is a single pearl (and therefore not just “pearly”).
The assumption here is that New Jerusalem is in fact the name given to Heaven. Perhaps, some say, it is the final, post-judgement “Heaven” to which the redeemed are sent after the resurrection day. For this to be true, it would have to follow that Heaven’s light is still able to guide the nations outside it. Further, Heaven, holding the tree of life, is able to heal these nations.
Revelation 21:23-27 And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. (24) The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. (25) In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed; (26) and they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it; (27) and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
Revelation 22:1-2 Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, (2) in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
Once the judgement has taken place, how can the nations be healed and therefore admitted into Heaven? These nations spoken of are not simply the Gentiles or races that have come to know Christ. They are outside of the New Jerusalem after New Jerusalem has come down from Heaven. They are in need of healing, and are able to be healed by the leaves of the tree of life.
Jesus made it clear that once the door or gate was shut, there would be no entering it.
Luke 13:24-25 “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. Once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock on the door, saying, ‘Lord, open up to us!’ then He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from.'”
So, New Jerusalem is not Heaven. And if it is not Heaven, then Heaven is not entered into via the Pearly Gates.
Pity, really. It was a nice image. But, like the legendary Three Wise Men, it is a concoction based on fantasy and misunderstanding, and not at all on Scripture.
New Jerusalem: More Real than Real, but not a Physical Place
I’ve seen many pictures of New Jerusalem, but guess what? They’re all artists’ impressions! They are based on the description in Revelation 21. Are there any other descriptions of this wonderful city?
Actually, no. In fact, the only other reference to a place called New Jerusalem is in Revelation 3:
Revelation 3:12 “He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; and I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name.”
Is this a reference to a physical place, coming down out of heaven? If it is, then we might look at the whole of the verse literally and physically. That means that he who overcomes are made to be physical pillars in the physical temple of God.
Temple of God? Well, according to the same book, there will be no physical temple of God.
Revelation 21:22 I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.
There are no other references to New Jerusalem, but there are two that refer to a Jerusalem that is not the (then) current physical city. Neither speaks of a physical place:
“Heavenly Jerusalem”: A Better Covenant
Hebrews 12:22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels’
The recipients of the writer to the Hebrews had come to the heavenly, or New Jerusalem, and yet it still had to come down from Heaven! Does this represent a physical place or something better?
The letter to the Hebrews was written to counter the poison of the Judaists who wanted to hold on to the Old Covenant practices and rituals. The writer compares the perfect work of Christ with the imperfect work of the priests and the sacrifices, and the imperfection of the Old Covenant with the perfection of the New Covenant. He quotes from Jeremiah (chapter 31, v31ff), saying that the Old Covenant was inadequate and would be replaced with something better.
Hebrews 8:7-13 For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second… When He said, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.
The Old was obsolete, and would disappear to make way for the new. However, until it did disappear, the New was only a promise. The entry into the Holy of Holies where Jesus had entered as our High Priest was barred to us, so long as the Old Covenant and its imperfection remained.
Hebrews 9 (8) The Holy Spirit is signifying this, that the way into the holy place has not yet been disclosed while the outer tabernacle is still standing, (9) which is a symbol for the present time…
The (then) present time was represented by a part of a physical temple. Incidentally, the word “outer” (NASB) is literally “first” – in other words, the first tabernacle is still standing. While the first tabernacle stands, the new (heavenly) one cannot.
This idea is oft-presented in the Bible: Physical reality being but a shadow of the Heavenly, spiritual super-reality.
The writer to the Hebrews goes on, concerning Abraham and those after him:
Hebrews 11:15-16 And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.
Therefore, God had been working through these people’s faith to prepare, not merely a physical land and city, but a better land and city; a heavenly one.
Hebrews 11:39-40 And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect.
Which brings us back to Hebrews 12:22. Christians, and even these Judaists, had not been brought to the mountain of the Law as had their revered ancestors, but to something better: the real Mount Zion, the real (New) Jerusalem.
Not the Law, but faith. Not the Old Covenant, but the New Covenant.
“Jerusalem from Above”: A Better Covenant
The only other reference to a Jerusalem other than the current physical one is in Paul’s letter to the Galatians. The Galatians as a church were also taken by the false teaching (Judaism) that the Old Covenant ceremonies and practices (notably circumcision) were still binding in the New Covenant. Paul refutes this and draws contrasts between the Old and New Covenants.
Galatians 4:22-31 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman. (23) But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise. (24) This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar. (25) Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. (26) But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother. (27) For it is written, “REJOICE, BARREN WOMAN WHO DOES NOT BEAR; BREAK FORTH AND SHOUT, YOU WHO ARE NOT IN LABOR; FOR MORE NUMEROUS ARE THE CHILDREN OF THE DESOLATE THAN OF THE ONE WHO HAS A HUSBAND.” (28) And you brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise. (29) But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also. (30) But what does the Scripture say? “CAST OUT THE BONDWOMAN AND HER SON, FOR THE SON OF THE BONDWOMAN SHALL NOT BE AN HEIR WITH THE SON OF THE FREE WOMAN.” (31) So then, brethren, we are not children of a bondwoman, but of the free woman.
The meaning here is clear, though clearly allegorical. There is a physical reality subordinate to a spiritual reality. The two women represented two covenants. Both children were children of Abraham, but one that led to slavery, and the other that led to freedom.
Hagar represents the covenant proceeding from Mount Sinai, the covenant which included the Law of Moses: the Old Covenant. Like Hagar, this covenant was in slavery. The Law could not free people, it could only enslave, convict and condemn them.
Romans 7:5-11 For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death. (6) But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter. (7) What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “YOU SHALL NOT COVET.” (8) But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead. (9) I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; (10) and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; (11) for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.
So the Law was indeed a covenant of slavery: It highlighted Man’s sins, and brought salvation only through strict adherence, which technically was an impossibility.
The new Covenant, however, brought Grace.
Romans 8:1-4 Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (2) For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. (3) For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, (4) so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
This New Covenant would replace the Old Covenant completely.
Hebrews 8:13 When He said, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.
However, according to Hebrews 9:8, the way into this Holy of Holies was not yet disclosed while the “outer” (“first”) tabernacle was still standing.
This tension between the Old and New Covenants is illustrated very well in Paul’s analogy of Galatians 4. Sarah and Hagar could not co-exist within the camp without enmity and persecution. One child came first, and was technically the heir, but was not the heir of God’s promise. That child and his mother were bound to slavery, and had to be cast out for the child of the promise to become heir.
Paul then equates these covenants and these women with the (then) current Jerusalem and the New Jerusalem.
Galatians 4:25-26 Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. (26) But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother.
Is there anywhere in Scripture that truly suggests New Jerusalem is a physical city that will come down from Heaven? Is there anywhere that suggests that New Jerusalem is Heaven?
On the other hand, there is plenty to show that New Jerusalem is the New Covenant, made by God and sealed in the blood of Jesus Christ.
That means it has come down from Heaven, with the abolition of the Old Covenant of slavery.
That means we are now full residents of that city. We may still be waiting to see it in its fullness, but not because it is not there in its fullness: only because we who are alive are awaiting our resurrected bodies that enable us to see it.
That also means that we have already entered through the Pearly Gates (Gates of Pearl). “Saint” Peter is not there to check off our names, but is one of the foundations of the city along with the other eleven.
I have already described how the promises pertaining to the New Jerusalem have been fulfilled, in another study ( All Things New). This present study was really just a fresh and critical look at the myths of New Jerusalem as (a) Heaven and (b) a physical city. I would also hope to encourage people who see themselves as battle-weary pilgrims struggling to attain citizenship in that “Celestial City”. Yes, there will be struggles, but no, we are already residing within that city, and nothing of this less-real, physical world can touch us, because we are more than real, more than physical even while we are on Earth.
This is why Paul can say that – even while physically we are in sin and in corruptible mortal flesh – God has “raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,” (Ephesians 2:6) a spiritual reality.
The Kingdom of God, the New Heavens and New Earth, the New Jerusalem: these are all where Jesus rules as King. The Jews mistakenly thought they were physical places or conditions yet to be attained, but Jesus on more than one occasion took pains to correct them:
Luke 17:20-21 – He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or, “There it is!” For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.”
John 18:36 – Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.”
Let us not make the same mistake, looking for merely physical where there is spiritual.