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The importance of Paradise

I was recently asked:  “is there a heaven and separate paradise? Is this in the Bible?”. Let’s take a look.

Paradise is mentioned in 4 major places in the Bible (in fact in the KJV it appears 3 times in the entire Bible).

1) the Garden of Eden is known to be paradise;
2) Jesus mentions Paradise to the thief on the cross;
3) Paul mentions it in 1 Corinthians;
4) It is mentioned in the Revelation

We’ve been taught (for good reason) that Eden was Paradise on earth.  In the midst of Paradise was two trees: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and the Tree of Life.  Here we can see Paradise on earth.

Let’s skip to Revelation now:

Revelation 2:7 (NET)
The one who has an ear had better hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers, I will permit him to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God.’

We see two interesting things here.  The first and most obvious is that we see “the paradise of God.” Second and most interesting is that we see the Tree of Life.  Skip over to chapter 22 (this after the new heavens and the new earth appear):

Revelation 22:1-5 (NET)
1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life – water as clear as crystal – pouring out from the throne of God and of the Lamb, 2 flowing down the middle of the city’s main street. On each side of the river is the tree of life producing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month of the year. Its leaves are for the healing of the nations. 3 And there will no longer be any curse, and the throne of God and the Lamb will be in the city. His servants will worship him, 4 and they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 Night will be no more, and they will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, because the Lord God will shine on them, and they will reign forever and ever.

Verse 2 shows us again the Tree of Life for the healing of the nations.  No more curse; no more darkness (night).

Revelation 22:14-15 (NET)
14 Blessed are those who wash their robes so they can have access to the tree of life and can enter into the city by the gates. 15 Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the sexually immoral, and the murderers, and the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood!

Here we see that those who are saved, those with washed robes, will have access to the healing of the Tree of Life and can enter Paradise.  Those not saved are outside in eternal damnation.

Revelation 22:18-21 (NET)
18 I testify to the one who hears the words of the prophecy contained in this book: If anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. 19 And if anyone takes away from the words of this book of prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city that are described in this book. 20 The one who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon!” Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! 21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all.

The final note is that there is a curse for those who would take away the words from this book (most say this is the Bible, others say it is only Revelation) will not be able to partake in the Tree of Life, it’s holy healing, and in the holy city, which is Paradise (the final place of the Tree of Life).

Back to Eden.   The Tree of Life was in Paradise.  Adam and Eve were meant to partake from the Tree of Life (at what point is unclear).  But they ate from the forbidden tree, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Eve.  This opened their eyes to sin.  God says:

Genesis 3:22-24 (NET)
22 And the Lord God said, “Now that the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil, he must not be allowed to stretch out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” 23 So the Lord God expelled him from the orchard in Eden to cultivate the ground from which he had been taken. 24 When he drove the man out, he placed on the eastern side of the orchard in Eden angelic sentries who used the flame of a whirling sword to guard the way to the tree of life.

Man has come to understand good and evil, but at this time did not have a path for redemption.  If they would have then eaten from the Tree of Life, they would have remained this way, in their sinful nature, execrated and unredeemable. So God put them out of the Garden and, until Paradise was moved, He placed a cherubim at the gate to guard the way back.

The next time we see the Tree of Life it is in Heaven.

The next time we see Paradise it is in Sheol.

So first let’s talk about Abraham’s bosom.  I won’t reproduce the whole story here, but take the time to go read Luke 18:19-31.  Verse 22 in some versions says Abraham’s bosom; some versions will say Abraham’s side.

A point to be made here is that this is a true story.  This is not a parable.  One rule of thumb about the Gospels is that when Jesus speaks in a parable, He does not mention people by their proper names.  When He is telling true accounts, He usually does.

Lazarus, the beggar, died.  This is not the Lazarus who was raised from the dead.  He was carried to Abraham’s bosom.  The rich man finds himself in Hades, the Greek word for Hell.  We see that there is an impassable gulf between the two.  There is no indication that Abraham and Lazarus are in heaven.  In fact, scripture does not give evidence that those in heaven would be able to see into Hell.  The Old Testament speaks of this place, a holding place if you will for the saints of God; it calls it Sheol.  In the Old Testament when we read of Sheol, it is a place some call gloomy, but there was never any form of punishment or torment ever attached to it.  There is another word in the Old Testament called Gehenna.  This is the Jewish rendition of Hell.  It is a place of torment and punishment.

Nonetheless we have a place here that Abraham and Lazarus rest in.  The rich man condemned to Hell cannot gain access to it (by this we also know it is not hell itself).  Further, it would be foolish to think that Abraham has a special place just for himself.  It would seem likely that Isaac and Jacob and all the Old Testament saints are present here.  Hold that thought for a moment.

Now let’s move our attention to cross.  Jesus has been crucified and hangs for three hours between two thieves.  One taunts Him.  The other though:

Luke 23:39-43 (NKJV)
Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.”
40 But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation?  41 And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.”  42 Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”
43 And Jesus said to him, Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.

This second thief is told by Jesus that he (thief) and Jesus will be together in Paradise TODAY.

Now some have tried to play grammar gymnastics and render this as “Assuredly, I say to you today; you will be …”. Trying to force the emphasis of today on when Jesus was saying this.  This gymnastic event is absurd when we look at the original Greek and it’s grammar.  So if you hear a teacher go this path, please dismiss it.

What Jesus clearly says is that He and the thief will be together in Paradise this very day that they are being crucified.

So where is Paradise?  Heaven or Sheol?

The Bible is clear that Jesus did not rise for three days after His death.  So are we to assume that He died, went to heaven, then came back for the resurrection, walked the earth for the next forty days.  Not likely.  More likely would be:

Ephesians 4:9-10
9 (Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.)

Yes, Jesus ascended far above all the heavens, but first he descended into the lower parts of the earth.

Into Sheol.  Where he met up with the thief…. and Abraham and Lazarus the beggar and…

What else did He descend for?

1 Peter 3:18-20
For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; 19 in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, 20 who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water.

He descended to make a proclamation to the lost souls in prison.  He proclaimed His victory over sin and death.

BTW, He did NOT descend to fight Satan or the demons; did NOT descend to continue punishment for sin; did NOT wrestle with the demons; did not get beat up by the demons; etc., etc.

His mission was simple.  Let’s look at the Old Testament shadow of this event:

Leviticus 16:20-22
When he finishes atoning for the holy place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall offer the live goat. 21 Then Aaron shall lay both of his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the sons of Israel and all their transgressions in regard to all their sins; and he shall lay them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who stands in readiness. 22 The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to a solitary land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness.

The blood of the slain goat, which is all over Aaron’s hands at this point, is placed on the head of the live goat, the scapegoat.  The sins of Israel are placed on this goat.  Then this goat is taken away into the wilderness so that the sins are disposed of.  The Hebrew word for wilderness is midbar.  This word literally means:  an uninhabitable place.

Jesus was both the goat slain on the altar and the scapegoat Who carried the sins away from the people, never to return.

One final stop is Hebrews 9.

Hebrews 9:19-24 (KJV)
19 For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and of goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book, and all the people, 20 Saying, This is the blood of the testament which God hath enjoined unto you. 21 Moreover he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle, and all the vessels of the ministry. 22 And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission. 23 It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us

Verse 24 tells us that Christ carried His blood into the presence of God, into the throne room, and sprinkled it in the tabernacle and over all vessels there, including the Mercy Seat of God.

So we have Jesus’ death on the cross.  He descends into hell to take our sins to an uninhabitable place to dispose of them.  He proclaims to the lost souls His victory over sin and death.  Then He goes to the throne room of God to sprinkle the blood that cleanses us over the Mercy Seat in Heaven. He then goes into Paradise, in Sheol, to speak with the Old Testament saints, and the thief from the cross (today!).  He rejoiced with them and on the third day He is quickened by the Holy Spirit and He rises from the dead to earth, for forty days.

Here’s one more interesting thing.  Look at this set of verses in Matthew’s depiction of the crucifixion that covers the complete three days:

Matthew 27:50-53 (NET)
50 Then Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and gave up his spirit. 51 Just then the temple curtain was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks were split apart. 52 And tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had died were raised. 53 (They came out of the tombs after his resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.)

Verse 53 tells us that they came out AFTER His resurrection, so we know these verse cover the whole three days.  But who are these people?  Where did they come from?  Well, they are some of the Old Testament saints who were in Paradise in Sheol.

Finally, we know that under the New Covenant that Philippians 1:21-23 and 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 tell us that when we die we will go directly to heaven to be with Jesus.  Further, let’s not forget that aside from Revelation telling us that Paradise is now in heaven, we also have Paul telling us this:

2 Corinthians 12:2-4 (NET)
2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago (whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows) was caught up to the third heaven. 3 And I know that this man (whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows) 4 was caught up into paradise and heard things too sacred to be put into words, things that a person is not permitted to speak.

Because of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice, Paradise is moved to heaven.  There is no longer a holding place in Sheol.  We rejoice in the truth that when we die saved, we are immediately in the presence of our Lord, Christ Jesus.

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