In the natural world, we enter into various places through doors or gates. Therefore, it should not surprise us to learn that the spiritual world also has gates to enter into various regions. There are gates that open into certain levels of Heaven and others that open into the levels of hell. But Swedenborg also discovered that we are only able to see and are only attracted by the gates that correspond to our ruling love.
When we die, we find ourselves in the world of spirits which is a temporary realm located between Heaven and hell. After we are purged of all superficiality, our true loves and beliefs emerge. We are then attracted and are only able to perceive certain gates that correspond to our dominant love.
Some people foolishly believe that they will still be able to choose to enter Heaven after they die because Heaven will seem so beautiful to their eyes. But these people are only deluding themselves because, after they die, they will only be attracted by the spiritual region that corresponds exactly to their dominant love. And, if their soul consists of self-love and falsities, they will not even be able to see the gates of Heaven while the gloomy gates of hell will seem very appealing to their sight. The earth is the only place where we choose what we love and believe from the freedom of our self. And the spiritual world is the realm where we eternally express and realize this dominant love. Therefore, in the spiritual world, we cannot change our heart and mind.
In order to perceive and enter the gates of the “New Jerusalem,” or the beautiful city of God, our soul must consist of unselfish Love and True beliefs. And the twelve gates of this Holy city are all the introductory Truths we obtain from the doctrines of the “New Jerusalem.”
The world of spirits looks like a valley surrounded by mountains and cliffs, with dips and rises here and there. The doors and gates to heavenly communities are visible only to people who are being readied for heaven. No one else finds them. There is one entrance to each community from the world of spirits with a single path beyond it; but as the path climbs, it divides into several.
The doors and gates to the hells are visible only to the people who are going to enter them. They open for them, and once they are opened you can see dark, sooty caves slanting downward into the depths, where there are still more gates. Rank, foul stenches breathe out from them, stenches that good spirits flee because they are repelled by them, while evil spirits are drawn toward them because they find them delightful. In fact, just as we find delight in our own evil in this world we find delight after death in the stench that corresponds to our evil. We might compare this with the delight of carrion birds and beasts like crows and wolves and pigs who fly or run toward rotting corpses as soon as they get wind of them. I heard one man who screamed aloud in utter torment at a breath of air from heaven, but was calm and happy when a breath from hell reached him.
With every man there are two gates, one that leads to hell and that is open to evils and their falsities; while the other leads to heaven and is open to goods and their truths. Those who are in evil and its falsity have the gate to hell opened to them, and only through chinks from above does something of light from heaven flow into them, and by that inflowing they are able to think, to reason, and to speak; but the gate to heaven is opened to those who are in good and its truth. For there are two ways that lead to the rational mind of man; a higher or internal way through which good and truth from the Lord enter, and a lower or external way through which evil and falsity enter below from hell. The rational mind itself is at the middle point to which the ways tend. Consequently, so far as light from heaven is admitted, man is rational; but so far as it is not admitted he is not rational, however rational he may seem to himself to be. These things have been said to make known the nature of the correspondence of man with heaven and with hell. While man's rational mind is being formed, it corresponds to the world of spirits, what is above it corresponding to heaven and what is below to hell. With those preparing for heaven, the regions above the rational mind are opened, but those below are closed to the influx of evil and falsity; while with those preparing for hell, the parts below it are opened, and the parts above it are closed to the influx of good and truth. Thus the latter can look only to what is below themselves, that is, to hell; while the former can look only to what is above themselves, that is, to heaven. To look above themselves is to look to the Lord, because He is the common centre to which all things of heaven look; while to look below themselves is to look backwards from the Lord to the opposite centre, to which all things of hell look and tend. Emanuel Swedenborg [HH 429-430]
The twelve gates were twelve pearls: each gate was of one pearl. This symbolically means that an acknowledgment and concept of the Lord join all the concepts of truth and goodness in the Word into one and introduce into the church.
The twelve gates symbolize in sum the concepts of truth and goodness by which a person is introduced into the church . Twelve pearls also symbolize in sum concepts of truth and goodness. That is why the gates were pearls. Each gate was of one pearl because all the concepts of truth and goodness symbolized by the gates and by pearls relate to a single concept, one that is their containing vessel, and that single concept is a concept of the Lord. We say, a single concept, even though there are many that make up that single concept, for a concept of the Lord pervades all other doctrinal concepts, and so all concerns having to do with the church. All matters of worship take their life and soul from that concept, for the Lord is everything in the whole of heaven and the church, and so in the whole of worship.
An acknowledgment and concept of the Lord join all the concepts of truth and goodness in the Word into one because all spiritual truths are connected, and if you would believe it, their connection is like the connection between all the members, viscera and organs of the human body. Consequently, as the soul holds everything together in their organization and connection, so that they are sensed only as a unit, so the Lord holds together all the spiritual truths that a person possesses.
That the Lord is the true door by which one is to enter into the church and so into heaven, He Himself teaches in John:
I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved.... (John 10:9)
And that an acknowledgement and concept of Him is the true pearl is meant by these words of the Lord in Matthew:
...the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one precious pearl, went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Matthew 13:45, 46)
The one precious pearl is an acknowledgment and concept of the Lord. Emanuel Swedenborg [AR 916]