Questions From Readers
■ Why do Jehovah’s Witnesses say that there will be a future Paradise on earth, since 2 Corinthians 12:1-4 links “paradise” with “the third heaven”?
The context indicates that the “paradise” mentioned at 2 Corinthians 12:1-4 is not a physical paradise on earth. However, many passages in the Bible prove that God will restore a literal Paradise to our earth.
The fact is that the first Paradise humans experienced was literal. Adam and Eve lived in a beautiful park, or garden, which is the basic meaning of the Hebrew, Greek and Persian words rendered paradise. They had the prospect of endless life in happiness and good health in that Paradise. Yet they lost that earthly Paradise when they rebelled and sinned, leading God to expel them from the garden of Eden.
Where does that leave us, now and for the future? There certainly is no evidence of our planet’s now being turned into a paradise. Rather, pollution and destruction abound. (Revelation 11:18) Still, it is inconceivable that God’s purpose for the earth to be a global Paradise will fail; what he starts, he finishes. To this end he sent his Son to provide a ransom, thus laying the groundwork for our sins to be forgiven and the imperfection we have inherited from Adam to be overcome. (1 Timothy 2:5, 6; Romans 5:18) When that is accomplished, humans will be able to enjoy what was set before Adam and Eve, endless life. Where?
God’s original purpose for humans was endless life in a Paradise on earth, and God’s purpose cannot fail or be thwarted. (Isaiah 55:11) So can we not look forward to that endless life being enjoyed right here on planet Earth, with the earth then restored to a paradisaic condition? There are numerous proofs in the Bible that this is the proper view, that God’s will yet will “take place, as in heaven, also upon earth.” (Matthew 6:10; Revelation 21:4, 5) For a more extensive discussion of the Biblical support for this, see “Does the Bible Promise an Earthly Paradise?” in The Watchtower of October 15, 1983.
Still, what about the apostle Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 12:1-4? He pointedly said there that he was dealing with “supernatural visions and revelations of the Lord.” And evidently he was the one who received a special vision or rapturous insight into something that was future from his time. He spoke of being “caught away into paradise.” But since he also mentioned a “third heaven,” it seems he was referring to something spiritual, as distinct from a literal garden paradise. There was precedent for his doing so.
Many prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures foretold that the Jews who were exiled in Babylon would be restored to their homeland. In addition to indications that the land and literal environmental condition would improve, these prophecies indicated that there would be a change in the people, the restored Jews. For instance, Isaiah wrote that Jehovah would ‘invigorate their very bones, and they would become like a well-watered garden’ and be “called big trees of righteousness, the planting of Jehovah, for him to be beautified.” (Isaiah 58:11; 61:3; compare Psalm 1:3.) Using similar imagery about an earlier period, Isaiah wrote that when the Israelites were faithful to Jehovah they were like his vineyard or planting; when unfaithful, they were vines producing wild grapes and destined for burning down, with thornbush and weeds growing in their place.—Isaiah 5:1-7.
Hence, there is Biblical reason to understand Paul’s visionary reference in 2 Corinthians 12:4 to be about a future restoration of spiritual prosperity among God’s worshipers. He himself foretold that a falling away from true Christianity would occur before the “presence” of the Lord. (Acts 20:29, 30; 2 Thessalonians 2:3-8) However, that would not be the permanent situation. The true Christian congregation, “God’s field under cultivation,” would again flourish and be fruitful. (1 Corinthians 3:9) We understand that this is the paradise that Paul saw in vision. His reference to such a spiritual paradise, though, in no way takes away from the many Biblical promises of an approaching earthly Paradise, a Paradise restored in accord with God’s original purpose for the earth.