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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

16 November 2006

Peter and the Pearly Gates

Q: Why do I always hear about Peter being at the pearly gates? Why would he be asking people why they deserve entry to heaven?

St. PeterA: The many references stem from a skewed understanding of Jesus’ comments after Peter confessed that He was the Christ (Matthew 16:13-20). After commending the response, Jesus said that He would build His Church upon its content. However, some took Jesus to mean that Peter, rather than Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah, was the foundation of the Christian Church.

To Peter, as spokesman for the Twelve, Jesus then said, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (v. 19)” In other words, Jesus commanded His disciples to absolve sins in His behalf. In John 20:23 He reinforced this charge: “If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.” I have written on this topic several times, most recently in Confession and Forgiveness by God through Man.

“Pearly gates” come from a description of the Church in eternal glory. John saw “the Bride, the wife of the Lamb (Revelation 21:9)” as a golden, bejewelled city (vv. 10-21). Verse 21 says, “The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, transparent as glass.” From these threads grew a caricature of Peter as heavenly doorman, finding out if people are worthy and, if so, then unlocking these “pearly gates.”

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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Blogger FM483 said...

My understanding of the symbolism of the "pearly" gates of heaven is as follows:

a pearl is formed by a grit of sand ludging inside an oyster. This in turn causes much pain and anguish and eventual demise of the oyster, producing a beautiful gem of a pearl. Similarly, only through the sufferings , death, and resurrection of Christ are men provided the avenue by which heaven is attainable.

Frank Marron

18 November, 2006 21:58  

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