Did you know that Heaven has gates?
You probably think that you did. Every cartoon you've ever seen of Heaven has St. Peter standing at the gates like a maitre d' at a fancy restaurant, checking his list of reservations for the names of those hoping to gain entrance into this exclusive club. If you're name's not on the list, well, sorry about your luck. Should have been a better human being.
Where this gets more than a little sticky is at the point that you realize that the Scriptures also talk about the gates of Hell, but you never see a cartoon with a line of sinners clambering to get in. You never see a demon with a clipboard checking a list of names, turning away the righteous. So it's hard to reconcile the image we have of the gates of Heaven with the image we have of the gates of Hell.
A gate is a gate, right?
To understand this, we have to understand how gates functioned for the people of God. Gates were built into the walls of fortified cities. During the day, when the people were moving about and living their lives with eyes wide open, aware and alert and not particularly vulnerable, the gates were opened. The gatekeepers of the city opened the gates every morning.
But they closed the gates at night. When the people had retreated to their homes, were sleeping, were less aware of what was going on around them, when dark settled in, and when life was vulnerable, the gates were closed to protect the people in their peace. No one could come in; no one could go out. The gatekeepers of the city closed the gates every evening.
Now, we know that Heaven is a fortified city. It has a wall (Revelation 21). God has built it up as a nest around His hatchlings to give them a safe, secure place in which to live in peace. It is the great city of God, the New Jerusalem. And the wall of Heaven has gates, but check out what Revelation actually says about the gates of this great, holy city:
They are never closed.
In Heaven, there is no night. In Heaven, there is no dark. There is peace, but it is not a fragile peace; life is no longer vulnerable there. Where eternity reigns, time does not, and there's nothing to threaten the people who live there. So the gates are never closed. The people are always free to travel into the fields, to journey into the redeemed earth, to wander in the vast expanses of the landscape around the great city. You aren't prisoners there. You don't have to check in and check out. You don't have to be home by sundown; there's no curfew. You are free to life, and life abundant, and life secure - in a city built for your refuge, but never shut for your security. You are so safe there that it doesn't have to be.
And that means there is no maitre d'. There is no St. Peter standing at the gate, waiting to see if your name is on the list. There is a home with your name on the mailbox. There is a street with your address written on it. There's a gate down by the corner, but it's always open. Always. Your redeemed self is free to come and go and live and love and thrive and rest without worry. With all the other redeemed selves who are going to be there.
This changes so much. Because we know that God loves all His people, and He doesn't want to have to pick and choose. He doesn't want to have to send some away. He doesn't want to make an eternal glory that doesn't have a single one of those created in His image in it. Heaven's gates are open wide, all the time, for all who would enter. The Scriptures say it - the gates of Heaven are never closed. You, child of God, are welcome here. Any time. And you are safe here. All the time.
So it makes a nice cartoon, maybe, but it's not the way God does things. It's not who He is. It's not what Heaven looks like. Heaven looks like glory, and glory has no gates.