Pearls - The Gem of All Gems (Article 18-12)
Scripture makes many references to pearls. For example, in Matthew 13:45-46, Christ presents a parable that reads 45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it." As I often reflect on this parable, I see that it has many dimensions to it; however, before we discuss these dimensions, let’s first discuss the parable’s vernacular meaning.
This parable describes a merchant who spends much of his life looking for elegant pearls. In ancient Roman times, pearls were highly treasured due them being so rare. In fact, pearls were valued higher than gold and even gems such as emeralds, diamonds, and rubies. The larger the pearl and the more luminous its colors, the higher the value of the pearl. The parable concludes by pointing out that the Merchant found a pearl of great value and when he did, he sold everything he had to possess it. In short, the pearl was so valuable to him, he committed himself to poverty own to it. Wow, not that must have been some pearl!
Understanding What A Pearl Is. Pearls are often considered a gemstone, although it is not a mineral. In pearl oysters and freshwater pearl mussels, nacre (nā-kər) (more commonly known as “Mother of Pearl”) forms the inner lining of the shell. When a foreign object, such as a grain of sand penetrates the oyster or pearl mussel’s outer shell and comes in contact with the inside of its soft tissue, nacre surrounds and hardens into an iridescent (luminous colorized) pearl. The size of the object the nacre surrounds can determine the size of the pearl. In short, the nacre is a defense mechanism the oyster uses to contain the object and prevent it from causing further harm and damage to its soft tissue. An important thing to note too is that the foreign object entering inside the oyster (or pearl mussel) wounds it. Once the nacre comes in contact with the invading foreign object, it takes three (3) or more years for a pearl to grow large enough for marketing.
Understanding Pearls From a Biblical Perspective. Pearls are referenced in many places in the Bible. For example, Matthew 7:6 states “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces”. 1 Timothy 2:9 also makes reference to pearls “…in like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing,…” The book of Revelations makes four (4) references to pearls (Revelation 17:4, 18:12, 18:16 and 21:21) of which one of the most commonly remembered is Revelation 21:21 which describes the twelve pearly gates of heaven. Understanding the physical characteristics of pearls also has biblical significance. It is my view that the white color represents purity and holiness. It’s luminous colors, which change depending on the angle you view it from, represents God’s eternal glory and splendor. The long time it takes for the pearl to form represents the fruit of the spirit such as patience, long suffering and wisdom. The pearl’s round shape, which reduces the amount of friction to move and stay in motion, represents a light yoke to pull, peace and rest. It’s soft and feminine appearance represents compassion, acceptance and love. Another very important thing to consider in correlating its representation is that pearls are representative of the oyster being wounded.
Different Perspectives on What the Pearl Represents. I began this article by pointing out that I see this parable having several dimensions to understand. An obvious way to interpret this parable is that pearl represents the Kingdom of Heaven, for that is exactly what the parable states to us. From this perspective, our call, above all things, is to seek The Kingdom of Heaven out and when found (by way of knowing Christ is the truth and the way), claim it and own it no matter the cost. This parable calls us to see that to inherent the Kingdom of Heaven surpasses anything of intrinsic value, even our lives.
A Second Perspective of the Pearl's Meaning. A second perspective is seeing us as the pearl, of which by way of our faith and being born anew, have our wounds healed by the Christ and His works of the Cross. Wounds received from personal rejection, physical and emotional abuse, betrayal, and personal loss are also healed. From this perspective we understand that the wounds to our soul cannot be tended to or healed by us or by any worldly medical or psychological treatment. The wounds to our soul can only be healed by Christ. With the healing of these wounds, we emerge from a state of wretchedness and despair into a beautiful pearl and all that it represents biblically.
A Third Perspective of the Pearl's Meaning. Finally, a third perspective is seeing Christ as the pearl. From this view point, we see Christ’s love for us to be so immense that He gave up His inheritance for us and parted from everything He had to have us. We see Christ enduring incredible sufferance for us and paying the highest possible ransom to have us – His own life. We see Christ completely emptying Himself to redeem (claim) us as His own. It is by way of our knowledge and understanding of His truth and way and by way of God’s Grace (favor for us), that we value and desire to possess (abide in) Christ above all things. With Christ representing the pearl, we show that our love for Him is so immense that we want to be like and one with Him – we want to suffer for His righteousness – to be totally absorbed in His care, compassion, and love for us, for Christ is our “the all-in-all”.
What About the Gates of Pearls? The Book of Revelation (Revelation 21:12-13; 21; 25) tells us that, with an Angel guarding each gate, there are a total of 12 gates made of pearls, of which each gate is one solid pearl (measuring 216 feet high). Three (3) of the 12 gates are on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west (21:12-13). On each gate is inscribed the name of one of the twelves tribes of Israel. Now, imagine these twelve 216-foot-high gates of iridescent colors (hues of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet) being stuck by God’s light with the Lamb of God in the midst of the city - visible for thousands of miles – the colors morphing from one color to the next as your point of view changes? My goodness, what a sight to see!
Now, I know of no scripture reference to adequately explain what the gates of pearls represent; however, I do have an opinion of what they represent. Given all the descriptions I have used to explain its meaning, the one common denominator that binds together the different representations of the pearl's meaning, is that the pearl represents the conflict between righteousness and unrighteousness. When considering the righteous and unrighteous, we see irritations, conflict and strife. In Scripture for example, we see the strife between Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, David and Saul, Sampson and the Philistines, John the Baptist and Herod, and of course Christ’s conflict with the Jewish Scribes and Pharisees. In all cases, we see the representation of the Pearl’s righteousness (light) overcome the unrighteous (darkness) according to the Father’s will and glory. When looking at it from this perspective, is it illogical to conclude that, with Heavens walls as the backdrop, the most prevalent thing one would see as one approaches the Gates of Heaven are the brilliant, spectacular and ever changing hues of God’s righteousness!? What a sight and how precious the pearl is in the eyes of Christ and loving Heavenly Father. How precious the pearl should be in our own eyes. No doubt, the pearl is the gem of all gems.