“Paradise, Heaven, Abraham’s Bosom – I’m confused!!!”
I had to chuckle when I first read this question. It showed me the enquirer was digging deep in God’s Word and mining the sort of questions that have challenged the saints through centuries.
The question as it originally came to me was this, “When Jesus is on the cross and he says to the thief, ‘’I tell you the truth, today you will be in Paradise with me.’ what exactly is He saying? Because Jesus didn’t go to heaven that day, He spent time in hell…right. And what is paradise, is it heaven or like Abraham’s Bosom?”
Right away I knew I had my work cut out for me. But hey, the best steak is worth the chew! – Right?
As I researched I was surprised to learn that even the early church father’s could not agree on this. In fact, the topic is far more complex that the question above articulates.
The term “heaven” appears in the very first verse of the Bible: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). The original Hebrew word used throughout the Old Testament is in the plural “shamayim.” In scripture it is used of the place where birds fly (Matt. 13:32), the place where the stars are located (Isa. 13:10), the realm of angels (Matt.18:10) and where God dwells (Deut.4:39). Paul curiously writes of having been caught up to “the third heaven” (2 Cor. 12:2).
The term “Paradise” appears in Luke 23:43, 2 Cor. 12:4, Rev. 2:7. The same Greek word (paradeisos) is used for “garden” in the Greek Old Testament, e.g. “the Garden (or Paradise) of Eden.” In Judaism “the Garden of God” also refers to the place where righteous souls go and await the resurrection (See Luke 16:22 “the bosom of Abraham” and Rev. 6:9 souls of the martyrs under the altar.)
To me, all this adds tantalizing tidbits to the question at hand, but I hesitate to get too dogmatic about details.
As to how Jesus could be three days in hell and “today” be with the repentant thief in Paradise, we can add a few more questions…
If our understanding of Paradise is correct, it seems that a similar construct can be discerned when speaking Hell. Two Greek words are used in speaking of these nether realms: “Hell” and “Hades.” Hell (aka “Ghenna,” “the lake of fire,” etc) is “prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41) and will be where the unrighteous go after the final judgement (Rev. 19:20-21; 20:10-15). If Jesus had visited Hell after his crucifixion there would have been no one there! “Hades” (Hadas) makes more sense. This appears to correspond as the opposite to Paradise, it being a place where the unrighteous dead await the judgement.
To the thief on the cross Jesus promised “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). Yet when he arose from the tomb three days later He told Mary, “I am not yet ascended to the Father” (John 20:17). More to chew!
Into this mix we must also remember that Christ in his fullness has all His Divine attributes. He is Eternal, and He is Omnipresent. This means He is capable of being all places at all times. But at what point did He again resume that fulness?
Perhaps rather than trying to discern the more difficult aspects of Christ’s statement , I.e. “Today” and “Paradise,” we should focus on His words “you will be with Me.” For me, at least, that is sufficient.
Note: This enquirer also had a second question. I’ll tackle it next week!
Got a question? Use the Contact page and send It to me. We’ll search the Word for God’s answer.