The Parable of the Pearl of Great Value
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Matthew 13:45-46).
In the time when his text was written, pearls were the most valuable item of all. The most precious wasn’t gold, though gold was precious. Not diamonds, or other gems which are mentioned, (e.g. rubies, Prov 3:15 NIV) or silver, pearls where the most sought-after item. Thsi makes sense, being a desert region. The pearl oyster is found in the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea.
Pearls are mentioned often in the New Testament. Jesus said for believers not to throw their pearls before swine. This is a contrast of the hightest vs. lowest. Pearls, being the most expensive, are representative of God’s truth, His word. Pearls are not to be thrown before swine, the lowest of all animals. Swine in the metaphor is representative of the worst pagans who reject, mock, and dismiss Jesus and His word.
Temple prostitutes often braided pearls into their hair as a show and display. Paul was saying in both 1 Peter 3:3-4 and 1 Timothy 2:9-10 not to dress the same as the pagan women and especially not even close to looking like the temple prostitutes. Here in 1 Timothy 2:9-10 we read,
likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works.
That’s why Paul connected respectability and modesty in the verse with pearls and costly attire. Culturally, it was pagans and loose women who made a show of their wealth through the way they dressed, especially with the pearls, if they had them.
Pearls are also mentioned in Revelation 21:21. It is where we get the colloquial reference to “pearly gates”.
And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.
Since the walls are 1500 feet high and the gates in the walls would also have to be 1500 feet high, these pearls might be symbolic and not actual. Or they are real and made by Jesus and not by an oyster. Either way…Read this quote John MacArthur offers from his sermon on the verse, “The Capital City of Heaven“.
And then, we’ll close with this tonight, John describes the gates. And this is mind boggling. Now remember, these gates could well run the full height of the city. Verse 21, “And the twelve gates were twelve pearls.” That is some oyster. No, these have to be pearls of God’s own making. These pearls are like nothing ever produced by an oyster. Each one of the gates was a single pearl, a 15-mile-high pearl…1500-mile-high pearl. Why? Well maybe there’s some marvelous spiritual symbolism there.
John Phillips writes this, “How appropriate. All other precious gems are metals or stones, but a pearl is a gem formed within the oyster. It is the only one formed by living flesh. The humble oyster receives an irritation or a wound and around the offending article that has penetrated and hurt it, the oyster builds a pearl. The pearl, we might say, is the answer of the oyster to that which injured it. And the glory land is God’s answer in Christ to the wicked men who crucified heaven’s beloved and put Him to open shame. How like God it is to make the gates of the new Jerusalem pearls. The saints as they come and go will be forever reminded as they pass the gates of glory that access to God’s home is only because of Calvary.
“Think of the size of those gates. Think of the supernatural pearls from which they are made. What gigantic suffering is symbolized by those gates of pearl? Throughout the endless ages we shall be reminded by those pearly gates of the immensity of the sufferings of Christ Those pearls hung eternally, as it were, at the access routes to glory will remind us forever of One who hung upon a tree and whose answer to those who injured Him was to invite them to forever share His home,” end quote.
Beautifully said, isn’t it? Heaven is entered through suffering by a wounded Redeemer. And we’ll always be reminded of it as we pass the pearls.
Pearls are beautiful, but Jesus is the most beautiful of all. That was a little information on pearls in biblical times. The luster and polish of a gorgeous pearl will be nothing compared to the glory of Jesus we will see when we get there.