Ever since I was a very small child, I have grown up with the image in my mind of Heaven having streets paved with gold. I was taught this idea at a very young age in Sunday School, and I continued to believe it clear into adulthood. I also grew up with the image of Heaven's entrance being this massive gate made up of or encrusted with huge pearls (with Saint Peter standing somewhere in the vicinity of it).
The idea of the "Pearly Gates" and the golden streets of Heaven comes from just one verse in the New Testament. In Revelation 21:21, it 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 transparent glass." This verse comes from the chapter in which the author of Revelation is describing what many believers refer to as the "New Jerusalem".
As I grew older and studied the Scriptures more and more, I began to realize that many of the things that I had fervently believed since I was a child were not exactly as I had believed them to be for so long. From this one verse alone, in the book of Revelation, I saw that there was not just one gate, there were twelve of them. And these gates are not just "pearly". This verse in Revelation infers that each gate is made out of one single enormous pearl!!
As for the streets of gold, Revelation doesn't just say that the streets are gold, verse 18 of the same chapter states that the WHOLE CITY is made out of gold. However, a closer reading of this verse reveals that the substance that the writer of Revelation described as gold, may not have actually been gold at all. In the verse, the writer says, "as it were transparent glass." Those three words "as it were" are very important in understanding the meaning of this verse.
What the writer is saying is the streets and the city itself are golden in color, but also have a quality that resembles transparent glass. If anybody has ever seen real gold, they will immediately realize that it does not resemble "transparent glass." Even more importantly, the author of the book of Revelation is describing a city that he calls "Jerusalem", coming down out of the sky. He never states or even implies that he is giving his readers a description of Heaven.
Back in verse one of chapter 21, the writer says he saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old ones had passed away. But this "heaven" is not the Heaven where God resides, it is a reference to the sky or the atmosphere around the earth. In verse 10, the writer describes the descending city as "sparkling like a precious stone---like jasper as clear as crystal." But jasper itself is not clear as crystal, it is a reddish-orange color.
In verse 19, the author of Revelation describes 12 precious stones that are inlaid into the foundation stones of the city. Something that I find very interesting is that these precious stones are the exact same precious stones that make up the twelve birthstones of the zodiac. The only difference is, the order in which the author names these stones off in Revelation is different than the order they appear in the 12 months of the year. This has puzzled me for years and I still haven't figured it out yet.
But my main point is the "pearly gates" in Revelation are not the gates of Heaven and the streets of gold are not the traffic routes of Heaven either. Not unless one wishes to infer that the "New Jerusalem" mentioned in verses one and ten is actually the Heaven where God lives, coming down out of the sky like a gigantic meteor. And, if this "New Jerusalem" is not actually Heaven, then it turns out that the book of Revelation does not tell us as much about what Heaven looks like as we thought.
On the other hand, if this golden city coming down out of the sky actually is Heaven, then that means we still need to re-think our personal perceptions and notions about Heaven. Because, if Heaven is coming to us, then we are not going to it. At least not in the way most of us have visualized or imagined.
So, what is Heaven then?? Is it a etheral, cloud-like place on the other side of the universe, or is it a physical place that will one day literally enter our solar system and replace the planet that we call earth?? Will we go to it or will it come to us?? Is God actually going to transport all the vastness of Heaven and confine it to our immediate galaxy, or is the reference in Revelation merely symbolic of something else??
Are the streets of Heaven really paved with gold and the gates made from 12 extremely large pearls, or do we need to more deeply analyze what we believe about Heaven and, more importantly, why we believe it??