What is Paradise?

December 23, 2023

Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”
And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”

Luke 23:42-43 (NKJV)

In this historic moment, Jesus assures the thief that, on that very day, he would be with Him in a place called “Paradise.” The exact nature and characteristics of this place of “Paradise” is somewhat debated among theologians, but in this blog we will dive into the Word of God to get a clearer picture of what Jesus meant:

The Garden of Eden Was a Paradise

The Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Genesis 2:8-9 (NKJV)

The word “garden” here (often called the Garden of Eden) is sometimes paralleled with the idea of Paradise because the Septuagint (an ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament) uses the Greek word παράδεισος (paradeisos) to describe the Garden in Genesis. This is the same exact word Jesus used in Luke 23:43.

The Book of Revelation

“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 (NKJV)

Here in the Book of Revelation, Paradise is also associated with the tree of life and the presence of God.

Paul Caught Up Into Paradise

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 12:2-4 (NKJV)

Paul speaks about an experience (possibly his own) where someone was “caught up into Paradise.” This gives an idea that Paradise is a heavenly realm, distinct from Earth.

From these Scriptures, we can glean a few things:

  • Paradise is associated with the presence of God.
  • It’s a place of beauty, blessing, and life (often symbolized by the tree of life).
  • There’s a heavenly aspect to Paradise, separate from our earthly experience.

The Concept of Paradise

Theologically, the concept of Paradise has been understood in various ways:

  1. Intermediate state after death: Some believe that Paradise is where the righteous went after death, awaiting the resurrection. This is based on verses like Luke 16:22, where Lazarus (not the one Jesus raised from the dead) is taken to “Abraham’s bosom” upon death. This place is often understood as a temporary abode for the righteous dead before the Final Resurrection and Judgement.
  2. Heavenly Realm: Some see Paradise as equivalent to Heaven, where believers are in the presence of God.
  3. New Earth: Others believe Paradise will be fully realized in the new heavens and the new earth described in Revelation 21 and 22, where God will dwell with His people forever.

Regardless of the exact nature or timing of Paradise, it’s clear from the Bible that it’s a place of God’s presence, blessing, and life.

Let’s take a look at the Hebrew and Greek:

Hebrew: גַּן (Gan)

The Hebrew term “gan” means “garden.” As mentioned before, the most prominent “garden” in the Old Testament is the Garden of Eden. This garden is described as a place of perfect harmony, where humanity had intimate fellowship with God. It’s where they were intended to live eternally, but the Fall disrupted this.

The Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed.

Genesis 2:8 (NKJV)

The Garden of Eden, as a concept, reflects a place of perfection, unbroken relationship with God, and life in its fullest.

Greek: παράδεισος (Paradeisos)

This term in the Septuagint (LXX, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible) translates into the Hebrew word “gan” (garden). By the time of the New Testament, παράδεισος (Paradeisos) had taken on broader connotations, including “the abode of the righteous dead” or a “future place of blessing for the righteous.”

“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 (NKJV)

The New Testament writers, influenced both by Jewish thought and the teachings of Jesus, understood “Paradeisos” in connection to the place where the righteous are with God, both immediately after death and in the final consummated kingdom.

Inter-Testamental and Extra-Biblical Literature

Between the Old and New Testaments, various Jewish writings expanded on the idea of the afterlife, often drawing on the foundational idea of the Garden of Eden as a place of blessing. Many of these texts describe the fate of the righteous and the wicked in terms that remind us of the Garden of Eden or its antithesis. This inter-testamental literature influenced how many in the 1st-century Mediterranean world thought about the afterlife.

For instance, in the Book of Enoch, a non-canonical Jewish text from the Second Temple period, the term “Paradeisos” is used to describe the place where the righteous will be rewarded.

Implications for Understanding “Paradise”

When Jesus spoke to the thief on the cross about being with Him in “Paradise,” He was invoking a concept layered with meaning:

  1. Return to Eden: The promise of Paradise carries the idea of a return to the idyllic conditions of Eden. In Eden, humanity enjoyed unhindered fellowship with God, something that would be restored in Paradise.
  2. Present Reality and Future Hope: While some understand Jesus’ words to the thief as pointing to an immediate experience after death, others see it as pointing to the future resurrection and the new heavens and new earth. It could also encompass both: an immediate post-death experience in God’s presence and a future, fuller realization in the new creation.
  3. Assurance of God’s Presence: Above all, the promise of Paradise is the promise of being with God.

As the Psalmist writes:

You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Psalm 16:11 (NKJV)

In conclusion, the Biblical concept of “Paradise” is multifaceted, drawing on both Hebrew and Greek understandings. Through it, believers are assured of a future that echoes the perfection of Eden and promises eternity in the presence of God.

Read: The Divinity of Christ