But What of the "Day" to the Thief on the Cross?
Regarding the thief on the cross being in Paradise that "day," that is, the day of the crucifixion, this has often puzzled theologians; after all, even Jesus would not be raised until that Sunday. But I think that we have to accept that 'day' might sometimes be a little bit looser in Scripture than in our way of using it. First we must, I believe, reject the 'punctuation argument' which I am not going into here since I think we have covered it elsewhere.
We must understand that - in his next moment of consciousness - the thief was indeed in Paradise. So this does not mean that he would eventually get there at some far off point in time, no, he was there in his next second of consciousness and is that not "this day" for all intents and purposes?
The problem comes in when a few start to say, okay, if 'day' is looser in Scripture, perhaps the days of creation are also just loose eras of time. No, in that particular case they are wrong, I believe, because in the creation account the text is very, very careful to point out that these were literal days (the evening and morning were the third day' etc., etc).
8. The Book of Revelation appears to depict the saved in heaven
awaiting the resurrection and the restoration of all things
(Revelation 6:9-11). While we cannot assume literalism in
Revelation, it is hard to see that John would have been inspired
to write this if martyrs of previous generations were not
actually in heaven at this moment.
So Jesus' comments upon the cross show that all the truly righteous enter this glorious and colorful third heaven at death. Elderly and infirm Christians should now look forward to Paradise with complete confidence!
What more do these instances of Paradise in the New Testament teach us?
2. 'It is doubtless not profitable for me to boast. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord: I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago - whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows - such a one was caught up to the third heaven. And I know such a man - whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows - how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter'
(2 Corinthians 12:1-4).
This is the second place where 'Paradeisos' occurs in the New Testament. There can be no doubt whatsoever that this is a reference to the Third Heaven where God's throne also is, since Paul clearly tells us so.
The 'jury is out' on whether this was Paul's own experience and that he is simply using a terminology of humility, or whether this was a man he knew very well; certainly he would have been very convinced of the accuracy of these words before writing them here.
Christians of other ages too (on very rare occasions) believe that they have experienced a vision of heaven, always it is described as a place of wondrous beauty, colour, and indescribable peace. These words explain why Paul looked forward to heaven with complete confidence in 2 Corinthians 5:1-8 and Philippians 1:20-24. SO SHOULD WE!!
Are our pastors and ministers encouraging very elderly and very sick believers with these words? They should be! We should allow Paul's confidence in God's words to inspire us all.
But whereas just a few righteous or favoured individuals have been 'caught up into' and allowed a brief vision of the heavenly paradise in this life, all the truly righteous who are embraced by the grace of God WILL ACTUALLY EXPERIENCE THE HEAVENLY PARADISE just moments after their physical existences upon this earth come to an end.
3. 'He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God'
This is the final place that we read of Paradise in the New Testament. The Tree of Life which, of course, was present in the Garden of Eden is symbolic of Eternal Life. This underlines that Eden is presently removed to heaven; however, there is ample biblical reason to believe that Eden will again be established upon this earth at the time of the restoration of all things. Let us look at a few Scriptures which seem to make this plain:
'And I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God'
Jesus Christ Himself will eventually reside on an earth which will have been purified by fire by that time, effectively making it a new earth (2 Peter 3:10). The New Jerusalem is certainly symbolic of the Church - '...prepared as a bride adorned for her husband' (Revelation 21:2) - but may also be a literal city, and the whole text of Revelation 21 strongly suggests that the glorious Eternal State for the righteous will be based upon this earth rather than heaven. Eden and the Tree of Life will then be here on this earth as Revelation 21:6 and 22:2 seem to make clear. It also seems that the need for both the sea (21:1) and the sun (22:5) will disappear (confirming that this is referring to the new earth). See also Psalm 37:11 and Matthew 5:5.
Our existence will be one of total joy and total security under our God's loving care; we inherit all things in Jesus Christ, no joy or happiness will be witheld from us (Read 1 Corinthians 2:9 and Revelation 21:7). The greatest joys in this present life will be as nothing compared to the continuous joy in the presence of God Himself. People on this earth spend so much time and energy seeking thrills and joys but they continually elude them because they seek them apart from God and willingly ignorant of His revelation to Mankind.
But there are intriguing questions, puzzles and perhaps hints here. Since the final two chapters of Revelation plainly describe the final, Eternal State of the righteous in the company of God (post-resurrection), why are we told that the leaves of the Tree of Life will be needed for 'the healing of the nations' (Revelation 22:2)? This is plainly something of an enigma. Who are these "nations" which the immortal saints will then presumably assist Christ in teaching?
There are certainly question marks here and the text stops well short of giving us the full details which, of course, is God's prerogative, but it is not wrong to speculate where we recognize that we are using speculation. Here is a thesis which I propose:
Traditional reformed conservative evangelical theology has always placed a strong dividing line and dichotomy between the saved (the recipients of God's grace) and the unsaved. I take the point of this, but seriously wonder whether this fully reflects biblical teaching where it seems that 'the saved' might be saved from this or that but not necessarily from everything! (That is an essay in itself which I might get around to at some point). We also tend to think that the bestowal of God's grace means that we can never want anything more even though we recognize that truly converted people can greatly vary in knowledge. I propose that the nations who still apparently exist when we reach the Eternal State with a further need for healing are a whole group who have cried out to God for mercy over the ages, including perhaps millions who died in childhood (and in the womb!), but they are not the saints of God and need further help and instruction. Yes, they are genuinely saved and have risen in the resurrection, being fully covered by the scope of Christ's work upon the cross; yet they need further instruction. This is not Millenialism since Revelation shows that this healing will still be needed after the commencement of the Eternal State. I propose therefore that there might well be two levels of saved people with the lower level of the saved only learning of their salvation on the Day of Judgement. Intriguingly, Matthew 25:31-46 also speaks of the saved of 'the nations' who appear to be surprised to be saved through Christ! Would those of us who have been active Christians during this present life be surprised to be saved through Christ?
I freely admit that the paragraph which you have just read is partly speculation, but I see solid biblical reasons for the viewpoint expressed.
So the saints of God may still have an active role of teaching, instruction and judgement after the commencement of the final Eternal State. If this thesis is correct, this also explains a lot more which many have wondered about, including Matthew 19:28:
'So Jesus said to them, "Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.."'
Paradise exists at this present time in
Heaven. It is the Third Heaven and the place of God's throne. The
Saints of God go to this heavenly Paradise of Eden at their
death. They receive loving comfort and joyful fellowship there in
the company of God and of all the righteous of earlier ages who
are awaiting the Resurrection to Life. Without doubt many joyful
meetings will take place between righteous members of a family
who may have been separated by hundreds of years in their earthly
lives! Also, many reunions especially joyful in the case of
deceased children! While the joy will be boundless, nevertheless
these Saints will be aware of, and looking forwards to, the full
Resurrection to Life yet to come!
At the time of Christ's return, the resurrection and the restoration of all things, the heavenly Paradise will also extend to cover this entire earth (now refined by fire) and the seat of Eden and the place of the Tree of Life will again be upon this earth. At that unspeakably wondrous and glorious future time, the Saints of God (who had 'rested' in Heaven) will again apparently have a work to do under the direction of God Himself!
So Paradise may currently seem a long way away for the righteous who are perhaps undergoing severe tests and trials, but let us have the attitude of the apostle Paul who was assured that Paradise is really very close, indeed, it follows the last breath of the righteous upon this earth. So - in a very real sense - Paradise is just beyond the horizon.........
Robin A. Brace