The Biblical Basis for a Paradise Hope
ACCORDING to the Bible, mankind’s history began in a garden or paradise, in Eden. What was it like? We do not have complete details, but the reliable ancient record says that it was a garden with “every tree desirable to one’s sight and good for food.” (Gen. 2:9) Sounds good, does it not? And where was that garden located? Giving indication, Genesis 2:10-14 says:
“Now there was a river issuing out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it began to be parted and it became, as it were, four heads. The first one’s name is Pishon . . . And the name of the second river is Gihon; it is the one encircling the entire land of Cush. And the name of the third river is Hiddekel . . . And the fourth river is the Euphrates.” Thus, scholars have suggested an area in the Middle East, in what is now eastern Turkey. God’s original purpose was that in time the garden paradise in Eden would be expanded until it covered the globe.—Gen. 1:28.
Do you believe that this garden of Eden actually existed? German theologian and Bible translator Hans Bruns, commenting on these verses, offered this interesting observation: “The rivers are meant to indicate that this is not a fairy tale, but rather something that actually happened here on earth.” But we have other reasons, also, to have confidence in the existence of that paradise of the past.
An Earthly Paradise—Past and Future
Memories of mankind’s original paradise home endured. The Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek (280 B.C.E.) rendered garden, with regard to Eden, with the word “paradeisos,” from which we have the English word “paradise.” In his God-given language Adam doubtless told his descendants about the garden or paradise where he had lived. It was only logical that after being expelled from that original paradise man would look forward to a possible restoration. After the confusion of languages at Babel, people were scattered to the four winds, but they took their religious knowledge with them. Although differing cultures and geographic conditions tended to distort the original report about paradise, we find in the folklore of numerous ancient civilizations recollections of an original paradise. Writing in the Canadian journal Studies in Religion, John Navone points out: “Some belief in paradise as either an original or a final state is probably to be found in all religions.”
The hope of a future paradise was alluded to in many prophecies about the Promised Land and the coming reign of the Messiah. As an example, the prophet Isaiah foretold: “For Jehovah will certainly comfort Zion. . . . he will make her wilderness like Eden and her desert plain like the garden of Jehovah.” That meant a change from wilderness and desert conditions to one of verdant growth, of paradise. The prophet also spoke of building houses, planting vineyards, with long life in which to enjoy the earth’s produce.—Isa. 51:3; 65:21-23.
These words had a fulfillment when the Israelites returned to the Promised Land after 70 years of captivity in Babylon. Compared to its desolate condition during their exile, the land became paradisaic. But that was not the end of the matter. According to the Scriptures an even grander event was still future. Almost 800 years later the apostle Peter repeated Isaiah’s promise of a coming “new heavens and a new earth.” (2 Pet. 3:13) Also, according to Revelation 21:1, the apostle John saw in vision a yet future “new heaven and a new earth.”
Logically the prophecies of a coming “new earth” do not refer to a new globe. (See Psalm 104:5; Isaiah 45:18.) Yet the establishment of a “new earth” in the sense of a new earthly society wholly dedicated to God and interested in promoting his worship will undoubtedly bring resultant physical changes on the actual earth. Such a human society could rightfully expect to have divine blessing, and this will be reflected in the literal earth. During the funeral talk given at the Ohlsdorf cemetery I brought up this point, quoting, among other texts, Psalm 67:6, 7: “The earth itself will certainly give its produce; God, our God, will bless us. God will bless us, and all the ends of the earth will fear him.”
In the above-mentioned vision at Revelation chapter 21, John saw the ruling part of God’s new system directing its attention to the earth. With what results? “With that I heard a loud voice from the throne say: ‘Look! The tent of God is with mankind [note that God is spoken of as being with men, not men with God in heaven], and he will reside with them, and they will be his peoples. And God himself will be with them. And he will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.’” (Verses 3, 4) Does this not sound like paradise, a paradise restored to earth?
It is true that in most churches little is heard about the Bible’s promise of a future earth-wide paradise. However, during the funeral discourse I pointed out that knowledge of that earthly paradise was common among true worshipers both before and after the introduction of Christianity in the first century. It was not until later, after the foretold apostasy from Christianity had set in, that belief in the restoration of an earthly paradise began to wane.
Bible chronology and the fulfillment of prophecies indicate that the time is near when God will step in to destroy the present wicked system of things and replace it with the righteous rule of his Son, Christ Jesus—a “new heavens.” The earthly survivors of this time of trouble will serve as the nucleus of a “new earth.” Persons now serving God faithfully have a very good prospect of seeing paradise. But not only seeing it; they will have the privilege of assisting in its restoration. Would you like that?
Man’s Share in Restoring Paradise
No lazy man’s paradise this; it will be a place of satisfying activity. (Compare John 5:17.) Restoration of paradise will be accomplished by individuals carrying out the command given to man in the original paradise: subdue the earth, cultivate it and care for it. Man’s willingness to do so in harmony with divine instructions, coupled with God’s blessing, will bring about a gradual spreading of paradise conditions throughout the globe.—Gen. 1:28.
Many persons today are frustrated with their work, for it often is monotonous and seems to accomplish little more than offering the means to survive from one day to the next. What a contrast, though, in the picture conveyed by the prophetic words of Isaiah: “People will build houses and get to live in them—they will not be used by someone else. They will plant vineyards and enjoy the wine—it will not be drunk by others. . . . They will fully enjoy the things that they have worked for. . . . I will bless them and their descendants for all time to come.” (Isa. 65:21-23, Today’s English Version) Conditions comparable to that will exist in the coming earthly paradise. Can you imagine how satisfying it will be to apply your energies and talents to such work?—Eccl. 2:24.
Would you enjoy helping to restore paradise? Jehovah’s Witnesses have this as their hope. That is why they study the Bible and encourage others to do the same. They know that an accurate knowledge of God’s purposes and of his requirements for life is a must in order for one to have the privilege of sharing in this rewarding activity. Let them help you to find out more about your prospects of living to see paradise.
In spreading this encouraging message of a restored earthly paradise they are copying their Leader, Christ Jesus, who, up until his dying day, spoke to others about his kingdom and its blessings. One of his last recorded statements before he died were the words to an evildoer hanging alongside him on a torture stake: “Truly I tell you today, You will be with me in Paradise.”—Luke 23:43.*
Even as Jesus’ course demonstrated, we should not keep good things to ourselves but lovingly share them with others. In reality, we are obligated to make known to as many persons as we possibly can this comforting hope of a future earthly paradise. A funeral offered me a good opportunity to do this. Since all of us at some time need to comfort a friend or relative who has lost a loved one in death, you may find some of the Scriptural thoughts included in such a funeral discourse helpful.
There has been considerable controversy over the proper rendering of these words that can have great meaning for all of us. For a detailed discussion of this text, see pages 26-28.
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GARDEN of EDEN