Paradise - Luke 23:39-43

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.
— Luke 23:39-43

Here Jesus promises paradise to the thief on the cross who makes literally a death bed conversion. Some people wonder: "well, where did Jesus go between the cross and resurrection? Was He going to be in heaven to make good on his promise to thief to be with him in paradise (heaven) that day?" The Bible doesn't tell us very clearly exactly what happened to Jesus between the cross and the grave (there are different theories out there and I suppose it is possible that Jesus made a stop off in heaven to welcome the thief). But the most likely explanation of Jesus' statement to the thief is simply that through the unity of the trinity, the thief would be experiencing the presence of God that very day in heaven (and because Jesus is one with the Father, as the Father welcomed the thief into heaven, the statement would be true). Having addressed that, I actually want to focus on something else...the meaning of this term "paradise" that Jesus interestingly uses here.

 

    "Paradise" in Greek can mean "Game Park" (like where animals are kept), "Garden", or simply a place of beauty and rest. The Septuagint (Greek translation of the OT) uses this term to talk about the Garden of Eden (where God and man had perfect communion). John uses it in Revelation to talk about the heaven of God's presence where the new Tree of Life is. It in essence symbolizes being in God's presence and in relationship with Him, although also secondarily as the place where God is, i.e. Heaven. So what Jesus promised to the thief was so much more than "you're going to be in a pretty place without pain soon" or as we sometimes say of people who have died "they're in a better place". No, paradise it is not a slightly "better" place. Paradise is God...God's unfiltered presence, which the thief would be ushered into because he was now saved by grace (having trusted in Jesus). That is what we all should long for! Whether here on earth  or going into the next life, our greatest joy, love and experience is the presence and smile of God! That is paradise!

In Prayer Today:

Are you experiencing the paradise of God's presence today?