“You Will Be with Me in Paradise”
Who may claim this grand promise? How and when will it be fulfilled?
DO YOU ever expect to enter Paradise? Or is it possible that you have candidly examined yourself and reached the conclusion that you are entirely unworthy of such a reward? Even though you may realize you are far from perfect, it is likely that you have never been convicted as a criminal. Yet it was to such an offender against society that Jesus Christ gave the grand promise: “You will be with me in Paradise.”—Luke 23:43.
These words of hope were addressed to one of two evildoers who were executed alongside Jesus. The man had sufficient sense of the justice of things to appreciate that the innocent Jesus was suffering unjustly yet without complaint, while he and his fellow in crime were receiving the punishment they rightly deserved. He had doubtless heard of Jesus’ preaching about a future kingdom. He could observe firsthand the vicious, hateful attitude of the priests and scribes. So, in lining himself up against those who were reviling the impaled Christ, he expressed his faith in what Jesus stood for by asking to be remembered when the time came for Jesus to enter into his kingship.
Something that should capture your attention immediately is the fact that this evildoer believed in the resurrection, else how could he hope for any benefit to himself through Jesus’ remembering him? Nor did he expect any early fulfillment of his request, for he said, “Jesus, remember me when you get into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42) He was looking forward to a distant future time when he would be awakened from the sleep of death. But where would he expect to awaken? In heaven or on earth?
The Bible teaches that a comparatively small and limited number from among men have been called to become joint heirs with Christ and share with him in his heavenly kingdom. (Rom. 8:17) Jesus says of them: “Have no fear, little flock, because your Father has approved of giving you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32) To these select few the words of Revelation are applied: “To him that conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” (Rev. 2:7) On the basis of this text some have claimed that Paradise can be enjoyed only in heaven, and only those going to heaven can ever enjoy its blessings.
While it is true that a heavenly paradise is indicated by these words recorded by the apostle John, is it the Paradise that Jesus promised the evildoer? As a child that evildoer had no doubt learned about the start of human history when Adam and Eve were placed in a paradise or garden in Eden, toward the east. He would know that the peace and beauty of that paradise was something most desirable. In it the perfect human pair enjoyed an intimate relationship with their Creator. So the word “paradise” would be understood by the evildoer as a reference to no ordinary garden. It could mean nothing less than a restoration of that original Edenic paradise to earth.—Gen. 2:8; 3:8.
He may even have heard read in the synagogue Job’s fervent prayer for resurrection: “O that in Sheol you would conceal me, that you would keep me secret until your anger turns back, that you would set a time limit for me and remember me!” (Job 14:13) That evildoer would have no thought of going to heaven at death. Nor would he conclude that Jesus was referring to heaven when he promised him life in Paradise. Rather, he would have in mind the possibility of a resurrection to life on earth at a time when conditions here would be transformed into a paradise. The marvelous words of God’s inspired prophets would crowd back to his mind: “The earth itself will certainly give its produce; God, our God, will bless us.” “The tree of the field must give its fruitage, and the land itself will give its yield.” “There will come to be plenty of grain on the earth; on the top of the mountains there will be an overflow.” “They will not lift up sword, nation against nation, neither will they learn war any more. And they will actually sit, each one under his vine and under his fig tree, and there will be no one making them tremble.”—Ps. 67:6; Ezek. 34:27; Ps. 72:16; Mic. 4:3, 4.
How clearly these words told of a coming time when earth would become a glorious place! And this not only because its inhabitants would have all their material needs fully satisfied, but also by reason of the great change that the inhabitants would make in their mental attitude. They would be ‘transformed by making their minds over,’ just as the apostle Paul admonished all of Christ’s followers. (Rom. 12:2) No more selfish competitions. No more vying with one another for fame and reputation. No more warring with one another for commercial or political ends. And no more anxieties about the future to mar the continuous happiness.
That evildoer would have no thought of heaven as his destiny, even as faithful Job had no such thought. Even the disciples of Jesus did not really understand the heavenly hope until God’s holy spirit came upon them at Pentecost of the year 33 C.E. Note, for instance, the words they used when asking Jesus about his kingdom: “Lord, are you restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?” (Acts 1:6) Manifestly, they were expecting an earthly kingdom, one that would restore to this earth paradisaic conditions of peace and happiness in harmony with the prayer Jesus taught them, “Let your kingdom come. Let your will take place, as in heaven, also upon earth.”—Matt. 6:10.
When Jesus and that evildoer died that day, they both went to Sheol, mankind’s common grave. On the third day Jesus was raised from the dead, but not so the evildoer. In fact, to this day he remains in the death state, not to be aroused from that prolonged sleep until the time spoken of by Jesus: “The hour is coming in which all those in the memorial tombs will hear [the Son of man’s] voice and come out.”—John 5:28, 29.
When that former evildoer steps out of the grave in response to the command of Christ the King, the earth will already have become a place of peace and prosperity, a place of holiness and godliness, a veritable paradise. No longer will selfish men be able to intimidate and oppress others. The heavenly kingdom will enforce peace on earth and see to it that no one has to be anxious about the necessities of life. No false religious teaching will be permitted, for the accurate knowledge of God and his purposes will spread earth wide.—Hab. 2:14.
A SPIRITUAL PARADISE
In addition to the heavenly paradise to which the “little flock” of Jesus’ anointed followers are called, and the earthly paradise that will provide an everlasting home for the majority of humans who will live after God brings to its end the present wicked system of things, the Scriptures also refer to a spiritual paradise. Speaking to Jesus’ followers on earth, the apostle Paul said: “You people are God’s field under cultivation.” (1 Cor. 3:9) So a body of Christians who yield themselves to the cultivation and training by God, and produce the fruitage of good works and good behavior, may well be said to form a spiritual garden or paradise. This has been the experience of Jehovah’s witnesses ever since the year 1919, when God began to liberate them from bondage to this wicked system of things and its false religions, and to enlighten them as to their proper worship and service. Peace reigns in their midst. They suffer no lack of spiritual nourishment. They have, by God’s favor, developed into a spiritual paradise, into which lovers of God and of righteousness delight to come.
Nineteen hundred years ago the apostle Paul was granted an advance vision of that spiritual paradise at a time when it was not permissible for him to reveal its full significance. He wrote: “I know such a man . . . [who] was caught away into paradise and heard unutterable words which it is not lawful for a man to speak.” (2 Cor. 12:1-7) Now, however, it is lawful to speak about the matter, for we are now living at the time when Jehovah’s people on earth are enjoying the blessedness of that spiritual paradise.
Though the evildoer in Jesus’ time did not have opportunity to enter into a spiritual paradise, multitudes of people of all nations and races have such an opportunity today. They can do so by associating themselves with the congregation of Jehovah’s witnesses. That evildoer took his stand on Christ’s side during the last moments of his life. Persons who love righteousness today can range themselves alongside Christ’s spiritual brothers and the organization of which they form the nucleus, doing so for whatever time yet remains before this wicked system of things is swept to its destruction. Doing so, they not only will enjoy spiritual blessings now with Jehovah’s people, but may also survive unscathed into the righteous new order wherein the earthly paradise is to be restored.
So, even if your sins against God and against men may have been great, or even if you have heretofore merely ignored God and his purposes, there is now time for you to observe the critical time in which we live and then show by your course of action where you stand in relation to your Creator. Associating in the spiritual paradise of God’s people on earth today, you can learn how to make over your life and your personality so as to obtain God’s favor and be able to apply to yourself the wonderful promise by Christ Jesus: “You will be with me in Paradise.”