A friend told me that he was saved and consequently was going to heaven. It was a case of go directly to heaven, do not pass GO, do not collect $200 (you have to have played Monopoly in your childhood for this comment). That got me thinking.
I live in Southern Ontario. If I want to go by train to Ottawa I can do it but not directly. If I get the “milk run”, it may stop at half a dozen towns on the way for a few minutes each. If I get the express run, it still stops in Toronto and I have to change trains. The Toronto stop for all trains may be as much as a couple of hours or more.
The point is, all my trips are simply from where I am to Ottawa. But there is at least one stop along the way of some duration that cannot be avoided. So for my friend I wonder if there is a stop along the way. He says no. My read of scripture says to me “yes”. There is much debate and theological argument which I will avoid. I’ll give you the argument that scripture presents to me.
What Is Paradise?
It may be tempting to equate “paradise” with “heaven”. However, they are distinctly different words. Jesus talks of heaven often and he always uses the word “heaven”, never the word for paradise. I checked other versions of the bible, the Vulgate, the NIV, The New Oxford bible, and an early Greek text. Clearly “paradise” is not “heaven”.
A word search of the KJV on the word “paradise” gives three references:
In the first reference, Paul speaks of a man that he knew who in a vision was “caught up to the third heaven“, which he identifies as “paradise”.
The first thing to note is that the word “paradise” is not equivalent to “heaven”. Rather it is one of a number of what I will call ‘sub-heavens’, namely the third one.
Another thing to note is that Paul is addressing this message to the members of the church in Corinth. Since he seems to have felt no need to explain his words, we might assume that the members of the early church understood that there were either multiple levels of, or places within, heaven, paradise being one of them.
The gospels contain what has to be a small fraction of what Christ taught to his disciples. We must assume that he shared a vast understanding of the heavenly realm to the 12 who were to carry his message into the future. This would necessitate an understanding of heaven and the underworld tohich we assign the name “hell”. But hell – I prefer the term ‘underworld’ – also has multiple levels as we saw in The Book of Enoch. The Roman Catholic Church (RCC) also recognizes multiple levels of the underworld such as “limbo” and “purgatory“.
Now I was familiar with the second reference to paradise in the list above in Luke 23:39-43, the story of the robber crucified with Jesus.
39 And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us.
40 But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation?
41 And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss.
42 And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.
43 And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.Luke 23:39-43, KJV
The first thing to note is that Jesus told the robber that they were going to paradise that day and not heaven. In fact there would be death, the descent into “hell” and resurrection followed by 40 days on earth before Jesus ascended into heaven. This sequence of events but not their timing, is recognized by all Christians in the Apostle’s Creed:
… he descended into hell;The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
on the third day he rose again from the dead;
he ascended into heaven, …
So the robber did not go to heaven that day; indeed he could not because Christ had not yet gone to heaven and the robber could not go before Christ.
What Is Hell?
The early great biblical figures including Adam, Eve, Noah, Abraham, David and the prophets all died (except Enoch and Elijah whom God took directly in some manner). They were all guilty of sin and could not, as a result, go to heaven. Yet they were Godly people not deserving of hell. In fact they went into a place, presumably paradise or limbo to wait until the Final Judgment.
It is a Christian belief that when Christ descended into “hell” he in fact descended into one or more of the realms of the underworld to minister to the captive righteous. Consider:
By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;1 Peter 3:19, KJV
Indeed, Paul hinted at an underworld of many places:
(Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?Ephesians 4:9, KJV
There is considerable theological thought on the nature of hell or Sheol, and the underworld which I will not explore but would certainly encourage you, dear reader, to follow up with the great theologians such as St. Thomas Aquinas.
Death As a Form of Sleep
There are also passages where people who have died are described as being “asleep” which suggests that death is not our final state before judgment. These include:
And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.Acts 7:60, KJV
But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.1 Corinthians 15:20, KJV
13 But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.
14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.
15 For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.
16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.1 Thessalonians 4:13-17, KJV
Then there is this rather enigmatic passage from Luke which might refer to death as we know it as sleep and death as in the passage referring to the final judgment of hell:
But I tell you of a truth, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God.Luke 9:27, KJV
There are a number of verses that indicate there will be a final judgment of all souls, living and dead, at Christ’s return to set up his kingdom.
“I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick [meaning living] and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom;”2 Timothy 4:1, KJV
The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished:2 Peter 2:9, KJV
And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.Ephesians 4:30, KJV
4 In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ,
5 To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.1 Corinthians 5:4-5, KJV
Based on the scripture passages cited above plus research done on other articles on the spiritual life and realm, I view the spiritual realm as having many levels either hellish or heavenly under a final Heaven which is our desired destination. Further, I conclude that we do not go to heaven or hell immediately on ‘death’ but reside in a holding state until in thee End Time, Christ returns, judging all souls, living or dead before sending them on to their final resting place in eternity.
What we refer to as “death” represents the death of the body. The soul or spirit lives on in a state that Jesus and the apostles refer to as “sleep”. Only at the Final Judgment do we enter an eternal state. One is Life, being in God’s presence. The other is Death – a final death which is eternity removed from God’s presence. What is interesting is that you can make the choice for yourself today.
A friend sent me this article that provides a bit of background: What Is Paradise and Is it Different Than Heaven?
Articles in This Series
Refer to the series index in Notes on a Spiritual Journey.
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