What is Paradise?

Paradise

We have very little information about Paradise. We only find the word paradeisos in three passages in the Bible:

  • Luke 23:43, where Jesus tells the thief on the cross that he would Join Him in Paradise that day
  • 2 Corinthians 12:4, where Paul talks about a man who was ‘caught up’ into Paradise, or “the third Heaven.”
  • Revelation 2:7, where Jesus writes to the church in Ephesus.

Commentators differ greatly on Paradise, since we know so little. I wouldn’t suggest that anyone take a strong position on Paradise. It’s a secondary matter, and certainly not one worth disputing. Here are a few thoughts that come to mind when reading these three passages:

Luke 23:43

Jesus tells the thief that he would join Him in Paradise that day. Based on this passage, it would appear that Paradise was not the same as Heaven. We read in John 20 that Jesus told Mary, do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. That was on Sunday. If the thief joined Jesus in Paradise on Friday, that may mean that Jesus went to Paradise and not to Heaven.

2 Corinthians 12:4

Paul describes a man who was caught up into God’s presence. In v2 he writes, the third heaven and in v4 he writes, paradise. According to ancient Jewish thought, the third heaven is the place where God dwells. Based on this passage, we might believe that Paradise is Heaven.

Revelation 2:7

Jesus told the church in Ephesus that to the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. One would presume that this is the same Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden…which leads some (including some early church fathers) to believe that Eden was never on Earth, but is on some other plane of existence, like Heaven and Hell. There are three other verses about the Tree of Life in Revelation, showing that it is (or will be) located in the New Jerusalem, which will descend from Heaven to the New Earth.

Paradise: a Possible Synthesis

Is there some way to reconcile these passages? I believe so. First, paradeisos is a general word that provides a mental picture of a garden, or a safe, manicured, well-tended park. It could be used to describe any place that’s like that. Several passages in Proverbs talk about things being like this garden: wisdom, the fruit of the righteous, a longing fulfilled, and a soothing tongue. It’s possible that the three New Testament passages that mention Paradise are talking about different places that are all like this kind of safe, protected, beautiful garden. Next, it’s possible that the word was used to describe two different places. The first would be Heaven or, more literally, ‘the place where God is.’ The second would be a temporary place where the dead waited for Judgement Day. Jesus mentioned this in Luke 16, where He told of a rich man and Lazarus. This place was historically known as Hades, where the unrighteous dead would be in hell and the righteous dead would be in Abraham’s Bosom, believed to be Paradise. Some believe that this place was emptied at the time of Jesus’ resurrection. If that’s the case, the same word could have been used to describe both Hades and Heaven.

In the end, we’re left with a lot of conjecture. We don’t know if anyone is currently in Paradise, or what they would be doing if they were there. That’s okay. There are plenty of other passages that talk about where we’ll end up. Those who wish to be with God forever, and are willing to submit to Him, will be with Him forever in a beautiful, safe, amazing world. Those who want nothing to do with God, who are unwilling to submit to Him, will get their wish…they will be separated from Him forever.

I know which I’d prefer. Do you?

Where’s the Proof that Heaven Exists?

Bob wants to know why we humans believe that, after we die, we would be sent to a place based on what we did when we lived. He wants proof that Heaven and Hell exist.

We have no proof that Heaven or Hell exist, of course. We have some evidence, but not proof like “2 x 2 = 4” kind of proof. That’s not to say that one shouldn’t believe in Heaven and Hell, of course…only that we can’t prove they exist by scientific methods. After all, as the saying goes: you can’t weigh a chicken with a yardstick. How would one go about proving that Heaven or Hell exist? Certainly not by mere observation. We can only suggest that they may exist using logic.

Some suggest that we ourselves are evidence for Heaven and Hell. We seem to have a built-in understanding that justice exists…that complaining about the bad things that happen means something, as if things are not as they should be. This appears to be more than simple personal preference. Nobody says simply, “I don’t care for injustice,” as if injustice is merely less preferable than justice. It’s more of a sense of the way things “ought” to be. From where we do get this “ought”? If justice exists, rather than only mindless and meaningless life and death in an automatic world, then someone outside of the world must provide it. If the demand for justice is a universal human trait, doesn’t that imply that God exists, and that we understand that He SHOULD make things right? It seems a reasonable conclusion.

In addition to our cries for justice, we also seem to have a built-in hunger that this life can never fill. CS Lewis wrote about it this way:

If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.

He’s not alone in this observation, of course. Others have written similar things over the years. I would suggest (without proof, certainly) that every desire we have is evidence that God exists, and that there is a life after this life, and that we can find justice and fulfillment there. We get thirsty, so we drink. The problem is that we get thirsty again. There’s no reason, on the surface, to think that our cravings for food and water and sex have anything to do with some supreme being outside the universe…but we also crave truth, and beauty, and knowledge, and self-fulfillment. None of those things can be tested scientifically, and there’s no strictly physical explanation for them. That’s why Jesus said that He would provide living water that would finally satisfy our thirst once and for all. It’s a metaphor, clearly…but the implication of the metaphor is that our ‘thirsts’ are something we can’t satisfy on our own. We need someone to provide that fulfillment, and Jesus is that someone. That also seems like a reasonable conclusion.

What do you think? Is it possible that hunger, thirst, our sex drive, loneliness, and our desire for beauty and self-actualization have their ultimate fulfillment in God?

As for why we believe there’s an afterlife, and why our actions here might affect it, I couldn’t say. Certainly I’ve seen no rational materialistic explanation for it. Maybe it’s because it’s true, and that God creates all of us with some rudimentary understanding that our actions have consequences, that justice will one day be done, and that all of our hungers might finally be fulfilled. I like the question.

Thanks for asking, Bob.

Do infants go to Heaven if they’re not baptized?

Should infants be baptized? Is it okay to baptize a baby? Do I need to be baptized?

I love getting email from GodWords readers, and I always answer each message personally. Sometimes, the messages are intensely personal. While I try to be sensitive to those involved, I think that many private questions deserve to be published. I would never divulge anyone’s identity in a touchy situation, but here’s how I see it: if one person asks, chances are good that others struggle over the same issue. I’ve left out some of the details, of course…but here’s a recent question:

I lost my grandaughter to illness at the age of 4 months. I have been haunted by the fact she wasn’t baptised. I always wonder if she is in heaven and ok. What is your feeling about this?

A GodWords Reader

I’m very sorry to hear about your granddaughter. I can’t imagine how difficult that is for you, but I hope to help make things just a little better. Do not worry about her spiritual condition. =)

We are all born in sin, to be sure. However: we have no choice in that matter. Since it’s out of our control, God would not judge us for it. As Paul wrote in Romans 4, “where there is no law there is no transgression”. Your granddaughter couldn’t have known about any laws, rules, or even guidelines…much less break any of them, so she couldn’t be guilty of any sin. She was guiltless, of course.

According to 2 Corinthians 5, Jesus’ death on the cross covered ALL sins for ALL time for ALL people. That doesn’t mean that everybody will go to Heaven, of course…but that passage makes it clear that it’s not sin that sends people to Hell. Heaven is closed only to the people who reject God. Your precious little granddaughter could not have rejected God. There is no reason to worry, as God is always just. He loves your little one very much.

Baptism, of course, is not a spiritual act. It’s a social act. As I’ve written elsewhere, baptism is a sign to a believers that you share their faith and want to join their community. If you’re being baptized, you’re probably being obedient to God’s instructions to be baptized…and THAT is indeed a spiritual act. The process of getting wet has nothing at all to do with whether you end up in Heaven.

I hope that eases your mind. There is only one question left to ask. I don’t want to offend you by being very personal, but it’s important. Here’s the question: will you be joining your granddaughter in Heaven? If you trust God with your own life, you will be reunited with her. I hope, and I pray, that you trust God…not just to be reunited with your granddaughter, but to receive the grace and forgiveness and love and joy and – especially – the peace that He gives to all who trust Him. If you need to know more about that, please let me know.

Did the Thief on the Cross Go to Heaven When He Died?

No.

Let’s look at some Scripture for our answer. Before they died, Jesus told the thief that they would be together in Paradise on THAT VERY DAY. Jesus could not have meant Heaven. After all, in John 20:17 (several days later, after His resurrection) Jesus told Mary that He had not yet ascended to His Father…so Paradise cannot be heaven.

What is Paradise?

Let’s go to Luke 16:19-31…the story of Lazarus and the rich man. Here Jesus tells of “Abraham’s Bosom” and “Hades”…the waiting places of the righteous and unrighteous dead, respectively. There’s a gulf fixed between them that prohibits crossing over, but they are adjoined. The two together were known as Paradise.

1 Peter 3:18-20 tells us that after Jesus died He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient in the days of Noah. That prison is Hades, which is part of Paradise. Hades is more literally translated “the grave”. The translation to “hell” is an unfortunate one, as hell is not yet populated. So: Jesus told the truth to Mary about not yet ascending to His Father…and He told the truth to the thief about being together in Paradise THAT DAY. Peter’s words give further evidence that this explanation is accurate.

Do you have to be baptized to go to Heaven?

Can you go to Heaven if you're not baptized? Do I have to be baptized to go to Heaven? What if you're not baptized?

That’s a good question. Most people are aware that there are different points of view on the question of whether baptism is required for salvation. Scripture, however, is abundantly clear. Baptism is NOT required for salvation.

Christian baptism has its roots in a much older tradition. Converts to Judaism were baptized in a ritual bath called a MIKVAH. This immersion was a public statement that you wanted to join a community of faith, that you believed as they did, and that you intended to live that way. There are other uses for MIKVAH, such as in preparation for beginning ministry as a Jewish priest, cleansing tools and utensils for use in the Temple, and so on.

When Jesus was baptized, He was beginning His ministry. When those who came after Him were baptized, they were making a public statement of their belief in Jesus as the Messiah, and of their intention to join the Christian community. There’s no part of the ritual that leads to salvation.

Of course, Christians were commanded to be baptized in Scripture…but not until they were Christians. While there are certainly a few verses that appear to teach that baptism cleanses a person from sin, closer inspection shows that they don’t. We have examples of people being saved before baptism, and that should clear things up. Certainly the thief on the cross comes to mind, as do the words of Romans 6:3-4

Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

Baptism symbolizes Jesus’ death and resurrection, and our decision to partake in the benefits of His sacrifice. Paul pointed to the fact that salvation doesn’t require baptism when he wrote to the Corinthians:

For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel – not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

Paul definitely would not say that if baptism were necessary to go to heaven. Possibly the most damaging evidence against the belief that baptism is a requirement for salvation is found in Acts 10:

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, “Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.”

The Gentiles (non-Jews) believed the gospel and were saved…and then they were baptized. Again, Scripture is clear on the matter. If you have specific questions about particular verses, let me know.