And he said to him, Truly I say to you, Today you will be with me in Paradise. Luk 23:43
I read an article lately about hell. It recounted what I had heard for so many years. As biblically, hell is the future place of eternal judgement for all enemies of Christ, one of the questions that arose is where the dead are as of today. The story of Lazarus that Jesus told us talked about a place in two parts – one for believers, one for the enemies of God. The article called the place hades or sheol, Greek and Hebrew names for the realm of the dead. The good part of it was either called bosom of Abraham or paradise – the first name being derived from the story.
But why paradise?
This is derived from above verse, using some reasoning. Since Jesus was in the grave, or let’s say dead for three days, yet told the thief that he would be in paradise with him that day, paradise had to be in sheol. And if so, it had to be the good part – of course.
But this triggers a question deep in me:
Why should a God that is outside of time have us wait in yet another place before final reconciliation?
The reasoning for such a place is deeply woven into our understanding of time. Time as a half dimension that only can be traveled in one direction – forward, as any violation, going back to the past, would cause paradoxes. Imagine a time traveler killing himself in the past, thus never reaching the point in time that he started his journey from. As long as time exists, it will always be unidirectional.
Jesus died before the foundation of the earth. Most people explain this using determinism: If God knew that Jesus was going to die on Easter, April 7 30 AD – the date most scholars agree with – it was an either true or false statement. History tells us that it was true (and the bible tells us that God cannot lie), and thus you might look at it as fulfilled as soon as God knew. Granted, somewhat philosophical, complicated, and for many reasons twisted. Something happens when it happens, at least within a framework of time. But without?
Through the death and resurrection of Christ we are seated with Christ in heavenly places. Yet the dead who believed in Christ will be resurrected the moment Jesus comes back and joined with the living. In revelation, we find a multitude standing before the throne. And there already is a cloud of witnesses cheering us on. So tell me, where are the dead – in paradise, after having been seated with Christ in heavenly places? What a step back! And who then is cheering us on?
Maybe, the bosom of Abraham was only for the Old Testament up to Jesus’ death on the cross. That somewhat makes sense. But then we have Enoch and Elijah – both of which are reported to have gone on to heaven. Could it be that Jesus used metaphors in his story, so we would understand? To drive home a point? Once your dead, it is too late?
I imagine that a dead believer having to watch his enemies being tortured is not very happy. The German word for that would be Schadenfreude – malicious joy. Even if you call it sense for righteousness, reading the New Testament of grace and mercy, I can’t believe that. But that is just my reasoning.
OK, so maybe the bosom of Abraham existed for the time of the old covenant. But would you call it paradise?
Paradise is the heavenly doorway into this dimension, it is the manifestation of the Kingdom of God – in heaven and on earth. Jesus told us – even before his death – that the Kingdom of God is here and is yet to come. It had been seeded to the earth, and grows since then. Paradise is not for the dead – but for the living. And it is not for the future, it is for now.
At the cross, Jesus established his reign over everything. Thus, this is what he said to the thief:
No matter whether you are dead or alive – today, as soon as I die, I regain access rights for you to come into the Kingdom of God, that is paradise. Since you asked me to remember you when I am in my Kingdom, you just gained the right of access for yourself. And by the way, what you called my Kingdom, I just call paradise for the moment. Thus I give you an illustration of what it looks like, as far as you can understand.
What does that mean for you and me?
Where there is no time, things coexist to be discovered. Just as in quantum physics, where all possible states coexist until somebody measures something – and at that time, what is measured falls into one state. We could say that measurement causes matter or light, particles or waves to assume a certain state – without measurement, things might have turned out differently. Not easy to grasp.
Back to time. The moment you discover the death and resurrection of Jesus as a personal now-moment for yourself, you gain access rights to paradise, become a part of the Kingdom of God. And you will be with him in this new heaven and new earth, in this new creation. You even will be a new creation.
Speaking of a new heaven and a new earth: As there is no time, this new heaven and new earth coexist with the old creation rather than succeed the old creation after God’s judgement. It is our measurement that determines which of the two we will see and live in.
As a parentheses, let’s have a new look on the book of revelation. Maybe the things described do not portray a timeline, a succession of happenings, but rather coexist and are discovered at different times by John. Thus he says: and then I saw. Coexisting creations, coexisting truths to be discovered personally.
And as it is our own measurement, our own focus, our own faith that determines which of the two creations become real for us, time and even space become more and more unreal and subjective. They are a characteristic of the old creation. They only are true as long as we keep measuring the old way. Granted, for a life time they have been our measuring sticks we applied to the world, and it will be hard not to use them and subject to them any longer – but do we really have to?
What do you think, and what could it look like to replace time and space with faith, the dimension of the Kingdom of God? And by the way – welcome to paradise.