PARADISE?............
It's Just Beyond the Horizon!


A view of paradise beyond
(Our thanks to FreeFoto.com for the use of this picture).

Christianity teaches that the truly righteous enter Heaven after their earthly existences are over. Here is a speculative glance at what could be happening in Heaven...... at This Very Moment!




L et us allow ourselves just a glimpse of heaven in the form of an eye witness report which we might receive.........



The scene is indescribably beautiful....
There are colours in abundance, none of which even exist on the earth! What can one even call them?
There are trees, rivers and flowers here, back on earth the flowers and their incredible colours would be called "breathtaking" but those of us here have no "breath" at the present time, we are spirits without bodies yet we are all able to see each other and to communicate with each other. Yet it seems that many of the words we used on earth are now meaningless and useless; no words even exist to describe the beauty which surrounds us here....
God's Throne is here and we know we abide in His close company...........the peace is indescribable...
We are all believers here...... my family who lived before me are here....Moses is here...David is here....Paul is here.....We regularly join together to sing praises to God and we are joined by a great angelic choir....
It is so joyful, yet it is only the beginning, the resurrection is yet future....


No, that is not an actual communication from heaven of course, but, if such a thing were possible, might it not read something like that?

There is a wonderful word which is used just three times in the New Testament; the word is 'paradeisos', usually translated into 'paradise'. This is a word which allows us just the briefest of glimpses into the glorious heaven which the righteous enter at their death. The root meaning of this word suggests an almost limitless garden of stunning beauty, and it is God's own garden. The Hebrews originally took a Persian word which meant something like 'walled royal park'. The sense is that this garden park, while huge, was off-limits - not open to all, reserved for favoured ones. 'Paradeisos' became the Greek form of this word. The concept seems to be that Eden continues presently in heaven:

'Lost or hidden since the Fall, it will be regained at the end, whilst it may already mean, in the intermediate era, the abode of the blessed dead' (Dictionary of the Bible, Revised Edition, by Hastings, article "Paradise").

The Greek Old Testament (The Septuagint) uses 'paradeisos' more than thirty times, especially in Genesis, where it means God's garden or Eden.

I want to look at the three verses in the New Testament which refer to this paradise to see what we might learn about a most glorious place which all true believers will visit.

1. 'And Jesus said to him, "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise."'
(Luke 23:43)

We all know the setting: Jesus was on the cross at this time, and this man who was also being crucified had asked Jesus to remember him 'When you come into your kingdom' - without doubt this man's recognition of who Jesus was shows us that God's grace and salvation had visited him. This man is saved. 'Soul sleep' adherents who believe that we have no consciousness between death and resurrection have argued about this verse and wished us to move the comma from before 'today' to after 'today' - something which would certainly make a difference to the precise meaning of this verse. While I may respect the integrity of these people, I feel they are certainly wrong because of eight other Scriptures:

1. Elijah had gone straight to heaven at death (2 Kings 2:11-13).
2. The beggar Lazarus had gone straight to heaven at death (Luke 16:19-23).
3. Paul obviously expected to immediately enter heaven at death in 2 Corinthians 5:1-8. Some have claimed that Paul was talking about the resurrection here, but it appears that he was not since he clearly refers to a state in which he would be '....absent from the body and to be present with the Lord' (verse 8). Souls in heaven are 'absent from the body' whereas the resurrection will be a resurrection of body and soul!
4. Then we must consider Paul's comments in Philippians 1:20-24; in view of the strong similarity of his comments here to those in 2 Corinthians 5 there seems little doubt that he is also talking here about entering heaven at death, indeed, once again he actually makes this quite clear because, in verse 24, he tells the Philippians that it is more needful for them that he, '...remain in the flesh... - only in heaven are we ever 'absent from the flesh'. When Paul discusses the resurrection at length in 1 Corinthians 15, he employs totally different terminology.
5. At his death of martyrdom, Stephen prayed to the Lord, asking Him to 'receive my spirit' (Acts 7:59). That sounds very much like Stephen expected to immediately enter heaven upon death.
6. In Matthew 22:31-32, Jesus said, 'But regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read that which was spoken to you by God, saying, "I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?" God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.' Now, certainly, the point which our Lord was making (to the Saducees) concerned the resurrection of the dead (which they did not believe in), nevertheless Jesus obviously did not consider Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to be dead even as He spoke about them in the first century AD, obviously many years prior to the resurrection of the dead which is yet to occur.
7. 1 Thessalonians 4:14, in reference to the Second Coming, speaks of Jesus bringing the saints with him. And where is Jesus coming from? Heaven, of course.

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'
(Revelation 2:7)

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'
(Revelation 21:1-3)

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.."'
(Matthew 19:28).

CONCLUSION

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
2004.



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