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:
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.
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?