“He was caught away into paradise and heard unutterable words which it is not lawful for a man to speak.”—2 Cor. 12:4.
1, 2. (a) When something comparable to a Persian garden has been called to our attention, when can it lawfully be spoken about? (b) How did the apostle Paul call attention to such a paradise?
WHEN something as grand and lovely as an Oriental Persian garden has been revealed by the fulfillment of divine prophecy, then it becomes lawful and timely for us to speak about it. Man can then speak about it with certainty, upon the solid ground of plain facts. Today, after nineteen centuries from when the apostle Paul mentioned it to the Christian congregation in Corinth, Greece, we can speak understandingly about the wonderful thing revealed to him. When submitting proof to the Corinthian Christians that he was an apostle of Jesus Christ, Paul said:
2 “I have to boast. It is not beneficial, but I shall pass on to supernatural visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in union with Christ who, fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know; God knows—was caught away as such to the third heaven. Yes, I know such a man—whether in the body or apart from the body, I do not know, God knows—that he was caught away into paradise and heard unutterable words which it is not lawful for a man to speak. Over such a man I will boast, . . . I shall not be unreasonable, for I shall say the truth . . . just because of the excess of the revelations.”—2 Cor. 12:1-7.
3, 4. When was it that Paul had this paradisaic vision, and how did he describe his conversion to Christianity before King Agrippa?
3 Fourteen years before Paul wrote those words would fall about the year 41 (A.D.), or at least five years after he was converted from Judaism to Christianity by means of a miraculous vision in which he saw some of the blinding glory of the resurrected Jesus Christ in heaven. Telling about it before the Roman governor Festus and King Agrippa II and others in the stately group of people in the official audience chamber in Caesarea, Paul solemnly said:
4 “Amid these efforts as I was traveling to Damascus with authority and a commission from the chief priests, I saw at midday on the road, O king, a light beyond the brilliance of the sun flash from heaven about me and about those traveling with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground I heard a voice say to me in the Hebrew language: ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? To keep kicking against the goads makes it hard for you.’ But I said: ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said: ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. Nevertheless, rise and stand on your feet. For to this end I have made myself visible to you, in order to choose you as an attendant and a witness both of things you have seen and things I shall make you see respecting me’ . . . Wherefore, King Agrippa, I did not become disobedient to the heavenly sight, but both to those in Damascus first and to those in Jerusalem, and over all the country of Judea, and to the nations I went bringing the message that they should repent and turn to God by doing works that befit repentance.”—Acts 26:12-20.
5. With what mental attitude did Paul write about his visions and revelations, and so how are we using our time in considering his paradise vision?
5 That vision was no daydream, no mere imagination or hallucination. It was so true that Paul took it most seriously and did not disobey its message to him. For proving obedient to the vision to the end of his life he died a martyr’s death. Equally so, Paul wrote in all seriousness about the supernatural visions and revelations that the Lord Jesus Christ in heaven gave to him. We may be sure, then, of one thing: We are not wasting time with a mere hallucination when we consider the supernatural vision to which the man personally known to Paul was caught away, to see paradise and hear unutterable words, which it was not then lawful for a man to speak. Rather we are using time to come to an understanding.
6, 7. Who was this caught-away man about whom Paul writes, but how did another man also receive a disclosure from Jesus about paradise?
6 The man favored with such a supernatural vision was doubtless the apostle Paul himself, for no one else has told us about this experience that happened about A.D. 41. Paul, however, was not the only man to whom Jesus Christ made a disclosure about a paradise. Well before Paul became a Christian there was a man to whom Jesus spoke about paradise. This occurred in the year 33 (A.D.), on the Jews’ Passover day, at Calvary, outside the walls of Jerusalem.
7 Jesus was then hanging on a torture stake, nailed to it hand and foot. Above his head the Roman governor Pontius Pilate had posted the legal charge because of which Jesus was being executed. Jewish people “stood looking on. But the rulers were sneering, saying: ‘Others he saved, let him save himself, if this man is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.’ Even the soldiers made fun of him, coming close and offering him sour wine and saying: ‘If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.’” One man there, however, had the courage to raise his voice in defense of Jesus. He came to realize that if this man Jesus was willing to die this horrible, shameful, painful death without murmuring and complaint, there must be truth in his convictions and claims. He, too, was hanging on a torture stake, although likely not nailed to it like Jesus, who was suffering worse whereas he “did nothing out of the way.” After closing his defense of Jesus and in order to express faith in Jesus even on the day of his public execution, this evildoer “went on to say: ‘Jesus, remember me when you get into your kingdom.’” What did Jesus say in answer? “He said to him: ‘Truly I tell you today, You will be with me in Paradise.’”—Luke 23:35-43.
8. What happened to Jesus’ body after his death, but what happened to the body of the sympathetic evildoer?
8 Jesus said that to the evildoer about twelve o’clock noon. For three hours more they hung on their torture stakes. Then the evildoer heard Jesus call out to God in heaven: “Father, into your hands I entrust my spirit.” It was now all over with Jesus. “It has been accomplished!” he said and, bowing his head, he stopped breathing. (Luke 23:44-46; John 19:28-30) Jesus’ defender, the suffering evildoer alongside, lingered on. But as the Jewish sabbath day was to begin at sundown, the soldiers hastened his death by breaking his legs and those of another impaled evildoer. So he died the same day as Jesus, his chosen King. What happened to the evildoer’s dead body is not told us; but Jesus’ body was taken down and buried in a new tomb belonging to a rich Jew of Arimathea, named Joseph, who had become a disciple of Jesus.—John 19:31-42; Matt. 27:57-61.
A THIEF IN PARADISE?
9. What question now faces us regarding the identity of paradise, and what is the answer?
9 The question now faces us, Did Jesus refer to the same Paradise as the one to which the apostle Paul referred much later on? Did Jesus speak to the evildoer on the stake about the same Paradise as he mentioned when he gave The Revelation to the apostle John, about 96 (A.D.)? In Revelation 2:7, Jesus said: “Let the one who has an ear hear what the spirit says to the congregations: To him that conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” Scripturally, the answer must be no.
10. Why was Jesus not talking to the evildoer on the stake about a heavenly paradise?
10 To the evildoer on the stake Jesus was not talking about a heavenly Paradise. The evildoer could not grasp spiritual things any more than the Jewish Pharisee Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, to whom Jesus said: “Unless anyone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. . . . Unless anyone is born from water and spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. What has been born from the flesh is flesh, and what has been born from the spirit is spirit. Do not marvel because I told you, You people must be born again. . . . What we know we speak and what we have seen we bear witness of, but you people do not receive the witness we give. If I have told you earthly things and yet you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:3-12) To the evildoer Jesus spoke of a Paradise within his understanding. So the evildoer did not understand that by being in Paradise with Jesus as King he would go to heaven at death, or that at his resurrection from the dead he would be ushered into heaven.
11. How, too, does the case of Jesus’ own apostles show that the evildoer on the stake would not think of a heavenly kingdom or paradise?
11 Even after years of preaching the kingdom of the heavens and up to the moment of Jesus’ ascending to heaven before their eyes, his own apostles had no idea of a heavenly kingdom. Otherwise they would not have asked him this farewell question: “Master, are you restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?” (Acts 1:6-11) How, then, could that sympathetic man on the stake, an evildoer, not an intimate apostle of Jesus, think of Jesus as coming into a heavenly kingdom or think of Paradise as being in heaven?
12. Why do some religious leaders of Christendom today accept the paradise that rabbinical schools of Jesus’ day taught?
12 The Paradise of which Jesus spoke to the evildoer was not the paradise that rabbinical schools of that day taught. According to such schools Paradise still existed, namely, the garden of Eden. According to their teaching, where did it exist? To quote one authority: Paradise “was a region of the world of the dead, of Sheol, in the heart of the earth. Gehenna was on one side, with its flames and torments. Paradise on the other, the intermediate home of the blessed. . . . The patriarchs were there, Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, ready to receive their faithful descendants into their bosoms . . . The highest place of honor at the feast of the blessed souls was Abraham’s bosom (Luke 16:23), on which the new heir of immortality reclined as the favored and honored guest.”* Today a number of religious leaders of Christendom accept that rabbinical teaching.* They know that Jesus did not go to heaven on the day on which he spoke to the evildoer hanging on the stake. They know that on the morning of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead he said to Mary Magdalene: “I have not yet ascended to the Father. But be on your way to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father and to my God and your God.’” (John 20:17, 18) So Jesus had not gone to any heavenly Paradise.
13. Why, as proved by Peter on the day of Pentecost, had Jesus not gone to any heavenly paradise?
13 Why not? Because since his death and burial Jesus had been in Sheol, for parts of three days. His soul had been in Sheol, in fulfillment of Psalm 16:10: “You will not leave my soul in Sheol. You will not allow your man of loving-kindness to see the pit.” That is the interpretation that God’s holy spirit gave through the apostle Peter on the day of Pentecost. Peter, under the operation of the spirit just poured out, said: “David says respecting [Jesus], ‘I had Jehovah continually before my eyes; . . . you will not forsake my soul in Hades, neither will you grant your man of loving-kindness to see corruption. . . .’ Therefore, because [David] was a prophet and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath that he would seat one of his offspring upon his throne, he saw beforehand and spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that neither was he forsaken in Hades nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God resurrected.”—Acts 2:25-32.
14. Why were Jesus and the evildoer not in Paradise down in Sheol, and why did the evildoer not share with Jesus in the “first resurrection”?
14 On the day of death the evildoer was with Jesus in Sheol or Hades. He had not gone to heaven, any more than Jesus had gone to heaven. Nor were Jesus and the evildoer in a Paradise down in Sheol or Hades. Paradise is not down there, nor did God afterward transfer Paradise from Sheol to heaven, to His immediate presence, for Sheol or Hades is not what the ancient rabbis mistaught it to be. According to the Holy Bible, Sheol or Hades is the common grave of mankind. When Jesus was raised from the dead in order that his soul might not be left in Sheol or Hades, he experienced the “first resurrection.” So we read: “He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that he might become the one who is first in all things.” (Col. 1:18) The thief did not participate in the “first resurrection” with Jesus, for that is a spiritual resurrection, a resurrection to life as a spirit person in the invisible heavens. Jesus told Nicodemus that one must be “born again,” “born from water and spirit,” to enjoy that spiritual resurrection. In the case of Jesus’ faithful disciples, there was no begetting of them by God’s spirit until first on the day of Pentecost, fifty-one days after Jesus died.
15. Why did not what Paul says in Romans 6:3-5 apply to the evildoer, and hence, when Jesus rose from the dead, what happened to the evildoer?
15 Although the evildoer died alongside Jesus, there was no application to him of what Paul says, in Romans 6:3-5: “Do you not know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we were buried with him through our baptism into his death, in order that, just as Christ was raised up from the dead through the glory of the Father, we also should likewise walk in a newness of life. For if we have become united with [Christ] in the likeness of his death, we shall certainly also be united with him in the likeness of his resurrection.” Instead of dying a Christlike death, the evildoer died a criminal’s death. He said to the other dying evildoer: “We are receiving in full what we deserve for things we did; but this man did nothing out of the way.” (Luke 23:40, 41) Consequently, when Jesus rose from the dead, he left the evildoer in Sheol, not in Paradise.
16. Did the evildoer ask Jesus for the privilege of being in the kingdom, and did the apostle Peter use one of the “keys of the kingdom of the heavens” in the evildoer’s behalf? How do we know?
16 Analyze, now, what the evildoer said to Jesus: “Jesus, remember me when you get into your kingdom.” Was he thus asking to be in the kingdom of Jesus? In no way! Even from an earthly, human standpoint, how could he ask to be in the kingdom, when he was not in the royal family line of David as Jesus was? Moreover, the evildoer could not bypass the apostle Peter into the Kingdom. Surely this evildoer did not know that Jesus had privately said to Peter: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of the heavens, and whatever you may bind on earth will have been bound in the heavens.” (Matt. 16:19) It was first on the day of Pentecost that the apostle Peter, having received the outpoured spirit, began to use either of these “keys of the kingdom of the heavens.” On that day of Pentecost the evildoer was not there to hear Peter preach. He could not take advantage of Peter’s use of the first key in order to get into the heavenly kingdom to be with the glorified Jesus Christ.
17. With whom did Jesus make a covenant for the kingdom, and why did this not include the evildoer?
17 On the night before Jesus was impaled on the torture stake with the evildoer alongside, Jesus set up the Lord’s evening meal as a yearly celebration. He then said to his eleven faithful apostles: “You are the ones that have stuck with me in my trials; and I make a covenant with you, just as my Father has made a covenant with me, for a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel.” In addition to that covenant for the kingdom there was the new covenant. Jesus mentioned this covenant to these apostles when he served them with the cup of wine, saying: “This cup means the new covenant by virtue of my blood, which is to be poured out in your behalf.” (Luke 22:19-30) Unlike the eleven faithful apostles, the evildoer had not stuck with Jesus in his trials. So Jesus did not tell the evildoer that He was taking the evildoer into the covenant for the kingdom just because the evildoer came to Jesus’ defense and asked to be remembered by Jesus after becoming king.
18. When the resurrected Jesus entered as a forerunner into God’s heavenly sanctuary, why did the evildoer not enter with Jesus as a fellow forerunner?
18 Hebrews 6:19, 20 tells us that Jesus, as God’s High Priest, entered as a forerunner into God’s heavenly sanctuary, “within the curtain,” after he had sacrificed his flesh and been resurrected as a spirit person. The evildoer could not be a fellow forerunner with Jesus, because, as in ancient Israel, the high priest entered into God’s Most Holy alone. (Heb. 9:6-8) On Jesus’ resurrection day the evildoer did not receive a resurrection body, but he has had to wait until the time comes for the resurrection of those in the memorial tombs, at which time he will be given a body. After Jesus was resurrected, the apostle wrote to his Christian brothers: “We have boldness for the way of entry into the holy place by the blood of Jesus, which he inaugurated for us as a new and living way through the curtain, that is, his flesh, and . . . we have a great priest over the house of God.”—Heb. 10:19-21.
19. Why was the evildoer not a foundation for the Christian congregation, and why did he not become greater than John the Baptist?
19 The evildoer was no foundation for the Christian congregation; he was not even a member of it. The “twelve apostles of the Lamb” were made secondary foundations of the Christian congregation, which was built upon the main foundation, the Rock-mass Jesus Christ. (Rev. 21:14) On the day of Pentecost the evildoer did not receive the outpoured holy spirit any more than John the Baptist did. He did not become greater than John, for Jesus said concerning those who get into the heavenly kingdom: “Among those born of women there has not been raised up a greater than John the Baptist; but a person that is a lesser one in the kingdom of the heavens is greater than he is. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of the heavens is the goal toward which men press, and those pressing forward are seizing it.” (Matt. 11:11, 12) The evildoer was not made an exception to all the requirements and all the provisions that were made for the Christian congregation of 144,000 overcomers of this world.—Rev. 7:4-8; 14:1-5.
20. Why when on the torture stake was the evildoer not begotten with God’s spirit or anointed with it?
20 On the stake the evildoer was not begotten with God’s spirit and anointed with it. It was not on Passover day nor when on the torture stake that Jesus poured out God’s holy spirit upon his faithful disciples. It was on the festival day of Pentecost and when he was at God’s right hand in heaven, as God’s High Priest, that Jesus poured out the holy spirit. (John 7:39) Then first the living disciples were made spiritual sons of God and were taken into the new covenant and were also anointed with the spirit and taken into the Kingdom covenant as joint heirs with Jesus Christ.
21. So why was the paradise that was mentioned to the evildoer not the same as the kingdom of the heavens, and why did he not sit down with Jesus in his heavenly throne?
21 So Paradise that Jesus mentioned to the evildoer is not the same as the kingdom of the heavens. Jesus did not promise the evildoer that he would be with Jesus in the Kingdom. The evildoer did not ask to be with Jesus in the Kingdom or to be a part of it. Not being a member of David’s royal family line, the evildoer asked merely to be under the Kingdom and to have the King recognize him or remember him and see that he had a resurrection from the dead into the realm of the Kingdom. Paradise is under the Kingdom. Since that is so, Paradise can first be established after the Kingdom has been established. Jesus’ kingdom was not established back there on earth on the Passover day of his death. All the Scripture prophecies and related facts prove that the Kingdom was set up in the heavens in the year 1914 (A.D.). When Jesus ascended to heaven on the fortieth day after his resurrection, he sat down at God’s right hand, to wait till 1914 and the inauguration of the Kingdom then. The friendly evildoer did not sit down with Jesus in His throne, a thing that Jesus said would be granted to those of his congregation who conquer this world spiritually.—Rev. 3:21; Heb. 10:12-14.
22. Why was it not from Paradise that Jesus was resurrected, and into what will the evildoer and mankind in the memorial tombs be resurrected?
22 All this makes it impossible that the evildoer was with Jesus in Paradise on the day of their death on torture stakes. On the third day of his death, Jesus was not resurrected from Paradise, leaving the evildoer down there with the dead. That would have meant that Jesus had been with him in Paradise for just parts of three days and had then left him there. Jesus did not descend back to Paradise to be with the evildoer. He ascended to heaven to be with his heavenly Father. On the third day the evildoer had no resurrection with Jesus from a paradise. For no dead person will there be a resurrection out of the true Paradise. For the evildoer and mankind in the memorial tombs there will be a resurrection into Paradise, here on earth. The evildoer was not the first to gain Paradise, nor were there any of the dead in Paradise before the evildoer. Paradise is a place, not of the dead, but of the living!
THE GARDEN OF EDEN
23, 24. (a) Who was the first man in Paradise, and why? (b) Why is the name Paradise appropriately applied to the garden of Eden?
23 The first man in Paradise was Adam the son of God. Adam was then alive. There was no Sheol or any Hades then, for no human had then died and been buried in an earthly grave. In an article on Paradise The Encyclopedia Americana (Volume 21) opens with the words: “the garden of Eden. The word is originally Persian and signifies a park. It has been introduced into modern languages as a name for the garden of Eden . . . and hence of any abode of happiness.”
24 The name is appropriately applied to the garden of Eden in which Adam was created and put. The Bible’s Hebrew word for “garden” means an enclosed or fenced-in place; what was enclosed was something delightful and beautiful. This agrees with the Persian thought of a pardes or paradise: “a wide, open park, enclosed against injury, yet with its natural beauty unspoiled, with stately forest-trees, many of them bearing fruit, watered by clear streams, on whose banks roved large herds of antelopes or sheep—this was the scenery which connected itself in the mind of the Greek traveller with the word parádeisos, and for which his own language supplied no precise equivalent . . .” By certain Greek authors the word was used to mean an “extensive plot of ground, enclosed with a strong fence or wall, abounding in trees, shrubs, plants, and garden culture, and in which choice animals were kept in different ways of restraint or freedom, according as they were ferocious or peaceable; thus answering very closely to the English word park, with the addition of gardens, a menagerie, and an aviary.”*
25, 26. (a) How did the word Paradise come to be applied to the garden of Eden? (b) Why does not the Roman Catholic Douay Version of the Bible use the expression “the garden of Eden”?
25 Thus it was that, in the third century before the Christian era, the Hebrews who began translating their inspired sacred Hebrew Scriptures into Greek used the Greek word parádeisos or paradise in translating the Hebrew word gan. Men translating the Bible into Latin used the Latin word paradísus. Hence, in the Roman Catholic Douay Version of the Holy Bible, we read (Genesis 2:7-15):
26 “And the Lord God formed man of the slime of the earth, and breathed into his face the breath of life; and man became a living soul. And the Lord God had planted a paradise of pleasure from the beginning: wherein he placed man whom he had formed. And the Lord God brought forth of the ground all manner of trees, fair to behold, and pleasant to eat of: the tree of life also in the midst of paradise: and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. And a river went out of the place of pleasure to water paradise, which from thence is divided into four heads. . . . And the Lord God took man, and put him into the paradise of pleasure, to dress it, and to keep it.”
27. How many times does the Hebrew Bible use the corresponding word pardēsʹ, and how does the shepherd lover of The Song of Solomon illustrate the meaning of this word?
27 Three times in its later scriptures the Hebrew Bible itself uses the word pardēsʹ. (Neh. 2:8; Eccl. 2:5; Cant. 4:13) The beautiful loveliness of a pardēsʹ or paradise is expressed, in The Song of Solomon 4:13, in the words of the shepherd lover to his beloved girl friend: “A garden barred in is my sister, my bride, a garden barred in, a spring sealed up. Your skin is a paradise of pomegranates, with the choicest fruits, henna plants along with spikenard plants; spikenard and saffron, cane and cinnamon, along with all sorts of trees of frankincense, myrrh and aloes, along with all the finest perfumes; and a spring of gardens, a well of fresh water, and trickling streams from Lebanon.”—Cant. 4:12-15, NW; Dy; Yg; Ro; Da.
28. What was it that added most highly to the pleasures of the garden of Eden, and how was the garden’s being enclosed shown by what took place after sin entered?
28 However, there was something that beautified the Paradise of Eden still more for the first man Adam and his perfect wife Eve and that added most highly to its delights and pleasures. This was the presence of Jehovah God, their Creator and loving heavenly Father. In his marvelous way he walked in that garden and gave to the man His law and guidance. His presence sanctified that paradise, that garden of Eden, and made it a place for holy living. (Gen. 2:19-25; 3:8, 9) In the right order of things, when Adam and Eve broke off holiness by sinning against their Creator, Father and God, they were driven out of the earthly Paradise, to die as sinners outside on cursed ground. The fact that the garden or Paradise of Eden was a place enclosed or fenced in, at least by invisible angel guards, is shown in the words of Genesis 3:23, 24 (Dy): “And the Lord God sent him out of the paradise of pleasure, to till the earth from which he was taken. And he cast out Adam; and placed before the paradise of pleasure Cherubims, and a flaming sword, turning every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.”
29. What can be said about Adam’s getting back to Paradise at his death, or Abel’s getting there when murdered?
29 Outside of Eden Adam lived to the age of 930 years. Adam did not get back to Paradise when he died, even though it was still in existence, not in the center of our planet earth as the religious clergy teach, but on top of the earth. Adam got back to the ground, out of which he had been taken. Psalm 16:10 did not foretell of him, the first Adam, that his soul would not be left in Sheol or Hades, but it foretold this concerning the “last Adam,” Jesus Christ. The living soul Adam had sinned and had died as the penalty for rebelling against the Creator and God of Paradise. (Ezek. 18:4, 20; Gen. 2:7) When Adam’s godly son Abel was murdered by his jealous brother Cain, Abel did not get into Paradise; but his blood cried out to God from the ground outside the Paradise of Eden.—Gen. 4:1-11.
30. What can be said about Paradise and Enoch, who was transferred in order not to see death?
30 Adam saw the birth of Enoch, the seventh in line from Adam. By a holy way of life Enoch “kept walking with the God.” In due time God transferred Enoch. But when he was transferred that he should not see death, Enoch did not get into Paradise, which still existed. Hebrews 11:5 tells us that “he was nowhere to be found.” He was peacefully taken into death by God’s miracle that spared Enoch of any rigors of dying. Because he had pleased God well, he was treasured up in God’s memory. In God’s time Enoch will have a part in the resurrection of the righteous ones. (Acts 24:15; John 5:28, 29) The original garden of Eden is now no more, for it was destroyed in the flood of Noah’s day. When raised from the dead, Enoch will be resurrected into Paradise restored here on earth.
Cyclopædia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, by McClintock and Strong, Volume 7 (1894), page 657.
See The Scofield Reference Bible, the copyrighted edition of 1945, page 1098, footnote 1 on Luke 16:23 containing the word “hell.”
Cyclopædia, by McClintock and Strong, Volume 7 (1894), page 652.