The Spirit World: Chapter Six (Paradise)

This entry is part 8 of 23 in the series The Spirit World


(This is a continuation of The Spirit World book series. This post assumes the prerequisite reading of earlier posts in the series.)

“Paradise” is a Greek term literally meaning a “royal park” or a “garden.”  However, the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) translates “the garden of Eden” as “the garden of Paradise.”  Thus it can be gleaned that the Greek understanding of “paradise was more than a mere garden.  It was an exceptional type of garden, denoting a place of peace, innocence and freedom from the sinful realm.  It was a place in some way resembling the character and nature of Eden.

Paradise occurs only three times in the New Testament, in Luke, 2 Corinthians and Revelation.  In the first occurrence, Jesus speaks the term while hanging on his cross between the two thieves.  One criminal insults Christ, stating that if he is the Christ he should save himself and the two thieves with him.  The second criminal rebukes the first and states, “‘we are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve.  But this man has done nothing wrong.’  Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.'”  (Luke 23:41-42)  In the next sentence,

Luke 23:43 (NIV)
43 Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

From this use of the term, it can easily be understood that paradise refers to a righteous abode of the dead.  Clearly, Jesus nor the repentant thief were going to any other location in this world, as they both died on their crosses that day.  From other scriptures, one can affirm precisely where Jesus went to that very day.  Jesus is dying.  When he dies, his spirit will go where the spirits of the dead go.  He is to go to Hades (Sheol), the abode of the dead, but more specifically, the righteous Christ would go to Abraham’s Bosom, the righteous portion of Hades, and the repentant thief would follow him. 

In Psalm 16, David writes,

Psalm 16:9-10 (NIV)
9 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, 10 because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.

In this text, the term “grave” is Hebrew, Sheol.  As has been demonstrated, Sheol is the same as the Greek term Hades.  Jesus, indeed, is prophesied by David to enter into Sheol/Hades upon his death, yet is promised that he will not see decay.  It is the same promise others in the righteous side of Sheol/Hades have been given; the promise of redemption from Sheol/Hades.

Lest one be confused about who Psalm 16 refers to, Peter affirms unmistakably that Psalm16 is a messianic prophecy concerning Jesus.  On the day of Pentecost, in Peter’s sermon to the crowds in Jerusalem he states,

Acts 2:23-27 (NIV)
23 This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. 25 David said about him: “‘I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. 26 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope, 27 because you will not abandon me to the grave (Hades), nor will you let your Holy One see decay. [emphasis added]

Note once again, Peter’s own translation of the Hebrew “Sheol” in his quoting of Psalm 16.  He translates the term “Hades,” which is the underlying Greek term translated into “grave” in English.  There is no mistake.  Jesus entered Hades upon his death on the cross.  Thus, as he notes to the thief on the cross, “today you will be with me in paradise,” he clearly indicates the righteous side of Sheol/Hades as the destination of paradise.  Thus, paradise is one and the same as Abraham’s bosom.  It is the righteous side of Hades.

More on Jesus’ entry (and subsequent exit) from Hades will be examined in the next chapter.  For now, it is sufficient to note that he names the righteous side of Hades, “paradise” as he speaks to the thief on the cross next to him.

The next use of the term “paradise” comes from the Apostle Paul, in 2 Corinthians 12.  In this text, Paul gives a different picture of paradise altogether, which briefly muddies the theological water concerning the nature of Paradise.

2 Corinthians 12:2-4 (NIV)
2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know–God knows. 3 And I know that this man–whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows– 4 was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell.

The first observation from Paul’s use of the term is that he equates paradise with “the third heaven.”  He notes in verse 2 that this man (which is later revealed to have been himself) was “caught up to the third heaven.”  Then, restating the incident in verses 3-4 he notes the same location, identifying it by the term, “paradise.”  Paul clearly asserts, then, that paradise is synonymous with the third heaven.

The term “heaven” will be detailed in chapter fifteen.  At that time the description of the nature of the “third heaven” will be engaged.  At this early point, however, suffice it to say that the third heaven refers to Heaven proper, the place of God’s throne; a truth which will be demonstrated in chapter fifteen. 

At this time one sees a problematic comparison between Jesus’ and Paul’s usage of “paradise.”  Jesus uses the term plainly to refer to Abraham’s bosom, the righteous side of Sheol/Hades.  Paul uses the term to refer to Heaven proper, the place of God’s throne.

Continuing this brief confusion of the term, Revelation also uses the term paradise to refer to Heaven proper.  In Revelation 2:7, from the letter given to the church at Ephesus, Jesus states the following:

Revelation 2:7 (NIV)
7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.

Jesus does not state clearly that paradise is in Heaven proper, but he does state that paradise is the place where the tree of life exists.  He notes that “him who overcomes” will eat from the tree of life, “which is in the paradise of God.”  Therefore, if one can identify the location of the tree of life, one will ascertain the location of paradise.

Revelation 21 and 22 give incredibly detailed descriptions of Heaven proper; the place of God’s throne and the eternal dwelling of the righteous.  This description comes from the Apostle John, who records all that he sees in a vision; the bulk of the book of Revelation.  A portion of this description notes the location of the tree of life.

Revelation 22:1-2 (NIV)
1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

The tree of life stands on both sides of the river of life, which runs through the center of Heaven proper.  While this is a hard description to envision, artists have represented a split-trunk tree, with one half on either side of the river of life, meeting up in the middle and growing upward to its branches.  It is unclear as to the nature of this tree entirely from this text.  But what is clear, is that this tree of life exists in Heaven; the city of God.

At this point the difficult task of determining the location of paradise affords some confusion.  Clearly Jesus indicates paradise to be one and the same as Abraham’s bosom, the righteous side of Hades/Sheol.  Yet, Jesus also indicates that paradise is the location of the tree of life, which is Heaven proper.  Likewise, both Paul and John note the tree of life as being in Heaven proper.  The obvious question one should ask is, “which is it?”  The not quite so obvious answer is, “both.”

The next chapter will deal with a great migration concerning Sheol/Hades.  While details will be given in that chapter, for now let it be understood that Jesus did enter Hades upon his death, but he entered Heaven proper shortly thereafter.  Thus, when Jesus noted to the thief on the cross, “today you will be with me in paradise,” he truly spoke of the righteous side of Hades; that location the two of them would be going upon their deaths.  Yet, at a later time, after Christ’s resurrection and ascension into Heaven, Jesus notes to the church at Ephesus that paradise is in Heaven proper; as Paul and John both also note.

In conclusion, the key to the comparison of each use of the term “paradise” in scripture is simply this:  paradise is the place of the spiritual afterlife which is where Jesus exists.  When Jesus was in Hades, paradise was in Hades.  Afterward, when Jesus is in Heaven, paradise is in Heaven.  To be in the spiritual realm of paradise, then, is to be in the spiritual realm where Jesus is.  While one may rightly assert that Paradise is one and the same as Abraham’s Bosom, it should be noted that the term Paradise is never used of a spiritual abode in which Jesus is not present.

image The Spirit World series will continue weekly until the entire book is published online. If, however, you enjoy this series and do not wish to wait, you can purchase the paperback version of The Spirit World here.

Series Navigation<< The Spirit World: Chapter Five (Abraham’s Bosom)The Spirit World: Ch. 7 (The Migration of Paradise) >>

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