St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches

Enter The Pearly Gates

Sermon on Revelation 21 verses 21-27

Text: The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of gold, as pure as transparent glass.
22 I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. 25 On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. 26 The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. 27 Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

As you read through the book of Revelation, it is filled with many fantastic images. Some of them can be very frightening, as you read about the various beasts the John sees. Remember that that vision was given to John to share with church of his day and for all believers to come. Those portions of the revelation highlight the fact that the devil will continue to marshal his forces against God’s people. These visions are there to remind God’s people that, despite all appearances, God isn’t surprised at their happening, nor have things gotten out of control. Then, as you get to the end of the book, the tone of the vision changes. It goes from one of struggle and turmoil to one of peace, as God shows John a vision of heaven. Earlier in chapter 21, John sees heaven, which is called the new Jerusalem. The first verse of our text describes the beauty of heaven in this way: “The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of gold, as pure as transparent glass.” (Verse 21) This is where we get the familiar phrase “The pearly gates.” We know that, because of what our Savior has done for us we will one day ENTER THE PEARLY GATES. There we will 1. Rejoice In God’s Presence, 2. Bask In Divine Light and 3. Live Forever In Security.

The first thing that John notes is this: “I did not see a temple in the city.” (Verse 21) No doubt as John looked around Jerusalem, he would have been looking for a temple. The temple was the focal point of their worship. The Jews had been coming to the temple, and before that the tabernacle, to offer their sacrifices for centuries. Early in the book of Acts, we read that the early church would meet at the temple. By this time, the temple that John knew had been destroyed by the Romans, when Jerusalem fell in 70 AD. John thought that when he saw this new Jerusalem that there would be temple.

John explains why there was no temple: “I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.” (Verse 21) God’s presence was mediated through the temple. This was the place where the Holy of Holies was located. It had held the ark of the covenant. The people did not see God directly. Rather, his presence among them was shown through the temple. This is similar to the way that God’s presence in shown in the church today. We don’t see God directly. Rather, he comes to us through the Means of Grace. We don’t hear God speaking directly to us. Rather, he speaks to us through his holy Word. The Holy Spirit works through the washing of baptism to create faith. Jesus comes to us through Holy Communion. There, as we receive the bread and wine, we know that we are also receiving his very body and blood. Through this sacrament our sins are forgiven, and our faith is strengthened. God’s presence among us is through these means. Jesus said, “Where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20) He is speaking about people who gather to worship him. He is there, though we cannot see him with our physical eyes.

However, when we get to heaven, these means will no longer be necessary. No earthly buildings are necessary to mark God’s presence and offer his grace. We will be in God’s presence. Heaven is so filled with the glorious presence of God that everyone always will be with him face to face. We will be in perfect communion with God. Heaven is the perfect fulfillment of earthly worship, as we will be with the Lord forever.

As John continues his description of heaven, another thing is conspicuous by its absence: “The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.” (Verse 23) There is no need for any of these external lights sources, because the glory of God will fill heaven with its light. There were other times when God showed his glory to people. We might think of the glory of the Lord as the people Israel were led through the wilderness. God’s glory filled the temple as Solomon dedicated the building. The glory of the Lord surrounded the shepherds as the angel announced the birth of the Savior. However, all those instances were limited. Now, the glory of God will be seen by all for all eternity. Unlike the sun and moon, which change constantly, the glory of God will shine on the inhabitants of heaven eternally.

We, also, note that “The Lamb is its lamp.” This reminds of us Jesus’ words when he told the people, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12) Here we see the fulfillment of Jesus’ words. Jesus is the light that has shined in the darkness and brought salvation to all believers. We see the results of Jesus’ light-giving presence in verse 24, “The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it.” We have people from around the world, throughout the ages, who are now in the Lord’s presence forever. They were led by the light throughout their lives and now enjoy the light of the Lamb. “The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it.” (Verse 26) This refers to giving the best for our God. While we are here on the earth, all our best service to him is tainted by sin. No matter how hard we try, we can never serve him perfectly. Finally, when we reach heaven, we will be able to give our God our best. We will be able to serve him as he deserves to be served. We will dp this as we bask in God’s divine light.

The next thing that John notes is the fact that: “On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there.” (Verse 25) Normally, the gates of the city would close at sunset and open again in the morning. This was to ensure that the people inside the city were safe. They didn’t have to worry about invaders or someone coming in and taking their possessions. There is no evil lurking in the darkness. This is because the Lamb of God has defeated all enemies. All of those frightening visions that were seen earlier in the book of Revelation have all vanished. Judgment Day has come. Satan can no longer tempt and cause trouble for God’s people. Salvation is complete as God has brought his own into heaven. The new Jerusalem offers full and eternal security.

John speaks further of our eternal security in verse 27, “Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful.” John uses the Old Testament concept of impure to describe what is outside the walls of the new Jerusalem. There were certain foods that the people were not allowed to eat. There were certain things that they were not allowed to do. If they did so, they became impure or outside of the fellowship of God. When it says, “anyone who does what is detestable,” the Greek here has the idea of making something detestable or an idol. Obviously, this would be a breaking of the First Commandment. You won’t find anyone in heaven who does these sorts of things.

As we honestly look at our lives, we must admit that we have been guilty of these things. We have been impure in our thoughts, words, and actions. There have been lustful thoughts. There are words that we have spoken out of anger that hurt others. We have been idolaters. I don’t believe that any of us has ever constructed or bowed down to an image made of wood, stone, or metal. However, are there times in our lives that the things of this world have become more important to us than our relationship with God? We don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, so we don’t speak up when they are doing something wrong. We find other things to do rather than spending time with God in his Word. We’re willing to bend or break a few rules to get something that we really want. Maybe we haven’t actually bowed down to an idol, but there have been many times when God gets, at best, second place in our lives. Because of these things, we deserve to be outside of the city walls of the new Jerusalem.

Yet, look at those who are in heaven: “Only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” (Verse 27) This is a reminder of the grace of God. It is true that no one deserves to be in heaven. However, those who are there are there because of the Lamb, Jesus Christ. He came to this earth to purify the impure. His perfect life was lived for all of us. He perfectly followed all of his Father’s will. He then took that perfect life and sacrificed it on the cross. John tells us what happened on the cross, “The blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7) We, who were impure, have become pure through the death of the Lamb of God. Jesus’ resurrection assures us that his Father has accepted his payment for our sins. Through the working of the Holy Spirit, faith has been created and now we have heaven to look forward to.

God’s grace is also on full display as we are reminded that our names have been written in the Lamb’s book of life. When was your name written there? We read in Ephesians 1:4, “He chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” Before the world was created, before you or I could do anything, God chose us to be his own. At that time, your name was written in the Lamb’s book of life. When we get to heaven, we will reach the fulfillment of God’s plan of salvation. We will rest in peace and security for all eternity.

There’s something about going home, isn’t there? How many children, who are feeling afraid, haven’t said, “I want to go home.” Maybe you’ve had a bad day at work or at school or in the field. You can’t wait for the day to be over, so you can go home. It was supposed to be a dream vacation, but everything that could go wrong, did. You can’t wait to pull into the driveway, open the door of the house and go inside. You’re home. Life is an awful like that, isn’t it? There are many things in life that make us afraid. We have bad days, weeks, months. The best times in our lives can be tinged with sadness. The happiest moments come to an end. How we long to go home, to heaven. There we will be in God’s presence with all the joy and peace that goes with it. We will be constantly warmed by the light of God’s glory. We will be eternally secure in our loving God’s arms. May God be with us until we hear God’s invitation and enter those pearly gates. Amen.