We are all familiar with the pearly gates, an informal name for the gateway to Heaven according to many Christian denominations. The depiction is drawn from Revelation 21:21 which says, “And the twelve gates were twelve pearls: every several gate was of one pearl: and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were there transparent glass.” We also see in popular culture images of a set of large gold or white wrought-iron gates in the clouds, guarded by Saint Peter, recognized as the keeper of the keys of the Kingdom. Are these popular depictions accurate? Are there sufficient Bible verses to tell us who will be waiting for us at the gates of heaven? Can we know for sure who will see or recognize in heaven?
We know from Scripture that heaven is a real place. The only things we can know for certain about heaven are things revealed in the Bible. Everything else is speculation. We also know from Scripture that there is only one way for us to see heaven and Jesus is Christ is only way to access to it. There is no other way possible to go to heaven but by the Son of God. While the Bible tells us everything we need to know about heaven, there are a number of things that many believers don’t know.
Scripture tells us that when we die we will not be alone. Angels accompany us on our journey to heaven if that is where we are called. In one of Jesus’ parables, He talked about a poor man who suffered a great deal during his time on earth. When he died, Jesus said, “the angels carried him to Abraham’s side” (Luke 16:22).
When it comes to concept of keys belonging to Peter based primarily on Matthew 16:18-19, it’s not farfetched to think that Peter would be the gatekeeper of heaven, who allows entrance to some but not all. Matthew 16:18-19 says, “And I tell you Peter, and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 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.” This is the most detail we get from the Bible on the gatekeeper question. The concept of Peter standing at the gates of heaven is actually a later interpretation of Scripture. Some interpret this as Peter being the Saint who is physically holding the keys at the entrance of Heaven but others interpret it to mean Peter was entrusted to bring the Gospel to the lost. Looking at this interpretation, Peter has the authority to open the gates by sharing the Gospel.
One common question that believers ask about heaven concerns our loved ones. Many wonder if they will be able to recognize friends and loved ones when they get to heaven. The notion that we will be able to see and recognize our loved ones again gives many a sense of comfort related to death and the loss of loved ones. To answer this question, we need to turn to the Bible for insight.
While there is no specific biblical reference that explicitly states that our loved ones will be waiting for us at the gates of heaven, the Bible shows us that we will know each other more fully than we do now. The Apostle Paul declared, “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). We also know from Scripture that our appearance will change. When we pass away, God gives us new bodies. These bodies will be nothing like our earthly bodies. They will not age or experience pain and suffering. First Corinthians 15:52 says, “For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.” This is an incredible assurance.
The Jews looked forward to being with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and all the prophets. When Jesus met Martha after the death of her brother Lazarus, Martha voiced her hope of seeing her brother again in the resurrection, but Jesus said, “I am the resurrection,” telling her that she could see her brother again immediately if He wanted (John 11:21-27).
Despite our appearance changing, we will still know each other. When Jesus transfigured on the mount in front of some of His disciples, “His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light” (Matthew 17:2). While Jesus was transfigured, His disciples were still able to recognize Him, as well as Elijah and Moses who came from Heaven to speak with Him.
It’s important to remember that what we experience in this world will be very different than what we experience in our life to come. In the twinkling of an eye, we’ll have a new body and the old will pass away. While the old will be replaced with the new, we are still connected with our past as we will continue to live on into eternity.
In Scripture, God is said to enjoy, love, laughter, take delight and rejoice, as well as be angry, happy, jealous and glad. To be like God means to have and express emotions. Therefore, we should expect that in heaven emotions will exist for God’s glory and our good. We know that people in heaven have lots of feelings – all good ones. We’re told of banquets, feasts and singing. People will laugh there (Luke 6:21).
The Bible says, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying or pain” (Revelation 21:4). These are the tears of suffering over sin and death, the tears of oppressed people, the cries of the poor, the widow, the orphaned, the unborn and the persecuted. There will be crying no more, though we might shed tears of joy. Imagine the joy flooding from your eyes as you meet Christ and as you’re reunited with loved ones.
We also know that when we get to heaven, the struggle of sin will finally be over. We all struggle with sin every day. We know that in the kingdom of heaven “nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Revelation 21:27). This is only possible because of Jesus. We have no fear of being judged for our sin because it was already judged and taken away at the cross by Christ. We will have heavenly bodies, free from sin. We will no longer face the challenges and limitations we face one earth. We will also not be concerned with issues that we dealt with in our old lives. Heaven is endlessly wonderful and we will be able to enjoy the dwelling place of God.
Knowing each other in heaven is one of the great blessings we have to look forward to. This was a big part of Paul’s discussion of sorrowing for those who have died in Christ in Second Thessalonians 4:13-18. In this passage, Paul speaks of being reunited with those who sleep in Jesus. Therefore, we do not need to mourn as others who do not have faith or assurance. When we enter heaven, we will continually encounter new sights. God’s throne is there, His angels are there and the Lord Jesus Christ is there. We know from Scripture that we can expect all three when we enter the gates of heaven. What a wonderful day it will be when we are able to experience this.