|Topical Bible Study||August 1959|
The Bible versus Tradition—Article VIII
“Verily I say unto thee this day; with Me shalt thou be in paradise.” —Luke 23:43, Rotherham
IT IS generally supposed by most professed Christians that the words “paradise” and “heaven” are essentially synonymous, and that in the Bible they are both used to describe the eternal home of the saved. There is one tradition, however, which makes paradise an intermediate state into which the righteous go, there to await the time of the resurrection at “the end of the world” when they will be transferred to their permanent home in heaven.
Doubtless many suppose that the word paradise appears many times in the Bible, but actually it does not. It is not used in the Old Testament at all, and occurs only three times in the New Testament, one being in Jesus’ promise to the thief on the cross, “Thou shalt be with me in paradise.” It translates the Greek word paradeisos, which, according to Prof. Strong, is of Oriental origin, the literal meaning of which is “park,” or garden, and by implication, Eden.
The Bible tells us that God “planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed.” (Gen. 2:8) Since there is no suggestion of a heavenly, or spiritual, “park” or garden in the word paradise itself, it seems obvious that its uses in the New Testament are directly or indirectly related to the divine purpose in the creation of man, and to God’s provision of that garden home for him “eastward in Eden.” Certainly the Garden of Eden was a paradise.
However, because of sin, man was driven out of Eden, out into the unsubdued earth to eke out an existence by the sweat of his face, until he returned to the dust from whence he was taken. (Gen. 3:17-21) Paradise was lost, but not forever, for the Bible clearly reveals that the divine plan of redemption through Christ, the Redeemer and Savior of the human race, is designed to restore man to life and to his lost paradise.
Although the word paradise simply means a park, or garden, we believe that we are within the larger meaning of the word paradise as used in the Bible when we say that it denotes man’s earthly home, and the blessings of everlasting life which all the willing and obedient will ultimately enjoy in that home. The restoration of paradise, then, would involve much more than planting beautiful fruit trees and flowers in the ancient land of Mesopotamia, where it is believed the original Garden of Eden was situated. The Apostle Peter speaks of the period of Christ’s second presence as “times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.”—Acts 3:19-21
The “all things” to be restored are the “all things” which were lost. And when these “all things” are restored, paradise will be restored. The work of restoring paradise is to be accomplished by the reign of Christ, when those who, during the Gospel age, have suffered and died following in the footsteps of Christ will live and reign with him.
THE coming of the Messiah and the establishment of his kingdom was the hope of Israel. Promise after promise in the Old Testament gave them the assurance that this was the divine plan for Israel and for the whole world of mankind. They believed not only that the Messiah, the great King of promise, would deliver them from bondage to the Gentiles, but also from bondage to sin and death. “In this mountain,” or kingdom, the Lord had promised, there would be a “feast of fat things,” and death would be “swallowed up in victory.”—Isa. 25:6-9
Jesus came to be the King in this long-promised kingdom. His disciples had accepted him as the Messiah, and had given up all to follow him. Together with Jesus and the assistance of seventy evangelists selected and appointed by Jesus, the original twelve preached the Gospel of the kingdom throughout Judea for more than three years. It was not a large country, and we may safely assume that essentially all of the nation had learned more or less about Jesus, although but few had a clear understanding of just who he was.
When Jesus was arrested by his enemies with the intent of having him put to death, one of the charges brought against him was that he claimed to be a king. Ordinarily, if a charge like this were true, it would mean treason to the Roman government to which the Jewish nation was at that time subject. Jesus did not deny the charge, but acknowledged that it was to this end he was born.
An inscription over the cross on which Jesus was crucified proclaimed him to be “the king of the Jews.” So it was general knowledge in Israel that Jesus and his followers expected the establishment of the messianic kingdom with Jesus as its head.
The two malefactors, or thieves, being crucified with Jesus could not have been unaware of these circumstances. While the prejudice and hatred of the people against Jesus influenced one of the thieves to rail against the Master, the other thief took a more realistic view. Inasmuch as they were dying, and the situation seemed hopeless, it could do no harm, the thief apparently reasoned, to ask a favor of this man who was supposed to be a king. So, turning to Jesus he said, “Lord remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.”—Luke 23:42
Not a Christian
IN AN effort to find something in the Bible to support the tradition that the righteous go immediately to heaven when they die, this account of the thief on the cross has been seized upon. Actually, however, there is nothing in the record to indicate that this thief was righteous, or that he even repented of his sin. Certainly there is nothing in the narrative to indicate that he accepted Jesus as his Redeemer and Savior.
Stripped of its traditional coloring, all this account shows is that the dying thief, knowing that in some way Jesus was supposed to be a king, asked to be remembered when he came into his kingdom. As one dying man to another, the thief was sympathetic toward Jesus, and hoped that in return this unusual “criminal” would do something for him, if and when he could. And what else could he ask than to be remembered when Jesus came into his kingdom?
While the thief was “grasping at a straw” in a situation in which there apparently was no basis for hope, it was different with Jesus. He knew that his death on the cross would not destroy God’s kingdom plan, but was a necessary part of it. Unlike the rulership of other kings, the divine plan for Jesus was that he would reign, not over dying subjects, but over subjects redeemed from death with an opportunity of proving their worthiness of everlasting life. And Jesus knew that he was even then dying for his subjects, dying that they might live.
Jesus also knew that, in the divine plan of salvation, provision had not only been made for redemption through the shedding of his own blood, but also for the restoration of those redeemed; and he knew that the restoration of the redeemed world would be the work of his coming kingdom. He knew that when the work of his kingdom was complete, the lost paradise would be restored. Knowing this, and having absolute confidence in the outworking of his Father’s purposes, he gave the reassuring reply to the thief, “Thou shalt be with me in paradise.”
It is doubtful if the thief understood the full significance of the reply to his request to be remembered in Jesus’ kingdom. It was not necessary that he should. To Jesus it was an opportunity to express his confidence in his Heavenly Father’s promises, and to bear testimony once more to the truth, and to do it in an hour of darkness and great trial.
“Verily I say unto you today,” said Jesus, “shalt thou be with me in paradise.” Who but Jesus could have made such a promise on each a day! The misplacement of the comma in the King James Version has hidden the true meaning of what Jesus said to the thief, and has caused many to believe that Jesus and the thief both went to paradise that day, which is contrary to the teachings of God’s Word.
Died for Sin
THE Bible teaches that Jesus died, that he “poured out his soul unto death.” (Isa. 53:12) From Psalm 16:10 we learn that Jesus’ soul was in sheol, the Bible hell, which is the state of death, from the time of his crucifixion until he was raised from the dead “on the third day.” After his resurrection Jesus said to Mary, “I am not yet ascended to my Father.” (John 20:17) From these texts of Scripture we know positively that Jesus did not go anywhere at the time he died except into death. The same was true of the thief.
But on that memorable day, when his enemies had seemingly gained a complete victory over him; when he was being put to death, and from the human standpoint it appeared that there was no hope that he would ever have a kingdom, his faith enabled him to say to the thief that he would be remembered in the kingdom, remembered in paradise. This not only meant that the messianic kingdom would be established in God’s due time, but that it would be completely victorious over all the enemies of God and of righteousness, and that through its administration the lost earthly paradise would be restored.
We make no apology for changing the position of the comma as it appears in the King James Version, for the punctuation of the Bible is not inspired. It did not come into use until several centuries after the Bible was written. Dr. Rotherham, an eminent scholar, recognized the intent of Jesus’ reply to the thief, and in his translation, as will be noted at the head of this article, punctuates the sentence as it should he punctuated.
In using this mannerism of speech, Jesus was simply following a much used pattern in the Old Testament. Deuteronomy 4:39 reads, “Know therefore this day, and consider it in thine heart, that the Lord he is God in heaven above, and upon the earth beneath: there is none else.” How wrong it would be to punctuate this text to mean that the Lord is God of heaven and earth this day. It could imply that someone else was god on other days. Deuteronomy 6:6 reads, “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart.” Simply by changing the position of the second comma this text would read, “And these words, which I command thee, this day shall be in thine heart,” leaving a possible implication that on future days these words need not be in their hearts.
But in the case of Jesus’ statement to the thief on the cross, those who were looking for every possible opportunity to bolster traditional theology that the dead are not dead, did not hesitate to place the comma to give this thought. But as we have seen, both reason and the Scriptures dictate that the text should be punctuated as Dr. Rotherham has done, thus placing the emphasis on the day in which the Master, in demonstration of his faith, made this remarkable promise to the thief regarding the coming messianic kingdom and the blessings to be dispensed to the dying world at that time.
Caught up to Paradise
THE second use of the word paradise in the Bible is in II Corinthians 12:2-4, which we quote: “I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) how that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which is not lawful for a man to utter.”
Without doubt the “man” here referred to was Paul himself. His statement that he could not tell whether he was in the body or out of the body, is simply his way of emphasizing the great reality of this vision, and the vivid manner in which it portrayed truths to him concerning the “third heaven” and “paradise.” Paul’s account of this vision has been used by many in an effort to prove that “heaven” and “paradise” are one and the same place. A casual reading of the passage could give this impression.
But if we were to use the passage for this purpose, we would have to conclude that “paradise” and the “third” heaven are the same, which, of course, presents the necessity of explaining the difference between the “third” heaven and the regular heaven. Indeed, in order to understand the meaning of this vision with any degree of clarity it is essential to determine, if possible, just what Paul means by the “third” heaven.
The word “heaven” is used in the Bible with a number of different connotations. In some in stances it simply denotes the atmosphere above the earth which we call the sky, including in this context the sun, moon, and stars located in the “heavens.” In other instances the word “heaven” describes a plane of life higher than the human, and, of course, the place where these spirit beings abide. Thus we speak of the angels of heaven. The Bible speaks of the “heavenly calling” which is extended to the followers of Jesus in this age.—Heb. 3:1
The highest form of life in “heaven” is the divine, which means that God dwells in heaven. Jesus was exalted to the divine nature when he was raised from the dead. His footstep followers are promised the same exaltation. So we properly say that the Christian has a heavenly hope.—II Pet. 1:4
The Lord said, “The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.” (Isa. 66:1) This suggests that “heaven” is not only the abode of the Creator, and of those whom he has created on the spirit plane of life, but also that it is the divine seat of government over the affairs of the earth and, without doubt, the entire universe.
NARROWING this down to God’s relationship to his human creatures, the Scriptures indicate that he works through his spirit creatures, one order of which is referred to in the Bible as angels. In this connection a study of the Bible’s accounts of the various ways in which God used the holy angels to guide and protect his servants on earth is very revealing.
The Bible reveals that many of the holy angels, including the mighty Lucifer, rebelled against God and his laws and, throughout the centuries from Eden until now, have sought, by deception and otherwise, to lead the human race away from God. A large measure of success has attended their efforts. This, of course, has been by divine permission in order that both men and angels might learn that it is impossible to disobey God’s law and enjoy everlasting life.
The point we wish especially to emphasize is that beings in the spiritual world exercise a potent influence in the affairs of men. It is also true that the material “heavens” above—the sun, moon, stars, clouds, and atmosphere—are vitally related to life on the earth. Because this is true of the spiritual world and also of the firmament above, the Lord used the term “heavens” to symbolize spiritual ruling power in the affairs of men.
It is in this sense that Paul uses the expression “third” heavens. The Apostle Peter, in the 3rd chapter of his 2nd epistle identifies all three of these “heavens.” First he speaks of a “heavens” that existed before the Flood. Then he mentions the “heavens” which are now. And then he explains that we, according to God’s promise, “look for new heavens … wherein dwelleth righteousness.”—II Pet. 3:5,6,10,13
The first two of these symbolic “heavens” are not righteous, for they embrace the period of human history when Satan and his fallen angels are the dominant unseen power which rule in the affairs of men. But “righteousness” will dwell in the “third” heaven, as Peter explains. The exalted Jesus, and with him those who have proved worthy to live and reign with him, will be the spiritual, invisible rulers in the “third” or “new heavens,” while Satan will be bound and ultimately destroyed.
So Paul was given a wonderful vision in which he was carried down the stream of time to the period when Christ’s kingdom would be ruling the world. Instead of speaking of what he saw as being the conditions which would exist in the messianic kingdom, he used the scriptural symbolisms for the spiritual and material aspects of the kingdom, “heaven” and “paradise,” the latter being but a synonym for what Peter described as the new “earth.”
The kingdom of Christ will have its spiritual and earthly phases right from the beginning. But we would suppose that it will be some time before the earthly phase of the kingdom has expanded to the point where conditions as a whole throughout the earth could very well be symbolized by the thought of “paradise.” (Ezek. 36:35) Probably what Paul saw in his vision, which he says—according to the marginal translation—was not “possible” for him to utter, were conditions in the earth well on toward the end of Christ’s thousand-year reign, hence his use of the word “paradise” as a symbol rather than the more common one, new “earth.”
The Paradise of God
THERE is only one more use of the word “paradise” in the Bible, and that is in Revelation 2:7, where we read, To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God” This is a promise to the “church,” that class of “called out” ones from the world who are promised a heavenly reward with Jesus.
A casual reading of the text suggests that these “overcomers” will enjoy the blessings of the restored paradise, as symbolized by the original Garden of Eden. But a more careful study reveals a deeper meaning to this promise, and a meaning that is harmonious with the general testimony of the Scriptures which assure the church, not life in an earthly paradise, but in a heavenly home, indeed, in a place which Jesus went away to prepare.—John 14:2,3
Practically all the important lessons in the Book of Revelation are taught by symbols. The symbols used in Revelation, and in fact throughout the entire Bible, are things and circumstances concerning which we, as humans, have at least some knowledge, otherwise the symbolic language of the Bible would have no meaning to us. There are things we know about the sun, the moon, the stars; and about sheep and goats; wheat and tares; rivers and trees; storms and earthquakes. So when the Bible uses these as symbols certain lessons are conveyed to us.
In the 2nd and 3rd chapters of Revelation, seven wonderful promises are made to the faithful footstep followers of Jesus, the “overcomers” of the Gospel age. All of these promises are illustrated by things with which we have at least some acquaintance. Verse 10 of the 2nd chapter reads, “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.” No Christian in reading this supposes that he will be wearing a literal crown in heaven. A crown signifies rulership, and the overcomers will be exalted to the highest form of life, the divine, to be associated with Jesus in his kingdom.
In verse 17 of this chapter, the promise is given, “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.” The expression “hidden manna” takes our minds back to the tabernacle in the wilderness. In the most holy of this tabernacle, representing heaven was the “ark of the covenant.” (Heb. 9:4) In this was placed a golden bowl of manna. While the manna collected daily by the Israelites corrupted, that which they placed in this golden bowl did not. This, then, conveys the thought of incorruptibility.
No one supposes however, that when the overcomers reach heaven they will eat literal manna from a golden bowl. But all true Christians do rejoice in the hope of immortality which the “hidden manna” symbolized.—I Cor. 15:54
In chapter 3, verse 12, the promise is, “Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God.” No overcomer will be transformed into a pillar to be placed in a literal temple in heaven. This is a symbol of the sure and fixed position to be enjoyed by those who prove faithful. Now we are being tried and tested. There is a possibility of “falling.” But over there, the testing will have been finished, and those who have overcome will be as pillars fixed and secure, in that glorious spiritual temple which will be the meeting place between God and men.
So we should view the promise in chapter 2, verse 7, relating to paradise, in the same manner. We know the story of the original paradise, and its tree, or trees, of life in the midst of the Garden. We know that because of disobedience our first parents were driven out of Eden to die. Flaming swords were put up to prevent their return to the garden and partaking of the tree of life and living forever.
Knowing these circumstances the Lord uses them symbolically to assure the overcomers, who follow Jesus faithfully into death, that it will not be thus with them. Continuous access to the tree of life in the original paradise would have meant eternal life for our first parents, so the Lord uses this fact to assure us that if we are overcomers we will be rewarded with everlasting life.
This does not mean that the “overcomers” of the present age will live in an earthly paradise, any more than the other promises mean that they will wear literal crowns, eat manna from a golden bowl, or become marble pillars in a literal temple. While this promise assures the overcomers of eternal life, which, in reality, will be immortality, the one in the 10th verse reveals that with this life will also be given ruling authority, as symbolized by the “crown.” By the use of all the various symbols in these promises to the overcomers, we get a comprehensive understanding of the great “prize of the high calling” for which every follower of the Master is striving.—Phil. 3:14
“Paradise,” then, properly and scripturally speaking, is the home on earth, and the blessings of that earthly plane of life which will be enjoyed by the restored human race, a small sample of which was prepared for our first parents “eastward in Eden.” While, as we have seen, the word means a garden, or park, the original garden of Eden which in itself, was glorious and a marvelous provision for man, it also foreshadowed all the blessings God designed for his earthly creature man, including everlasting life and his dominion over the earth.
All of this will be restored during the “times of restitution of all things.” Truly this will be “paradise restored.” With that restoration will come the full answer to our Lord’s prayer, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.”