“I know a man in union with Christ who . . . was caught away into paradise.”—2 CORINTHIANS 12:2-4.
1. What Bible promises do many find appealing?
PARADISE. Do you remember how you felt when you first heard about God’s promise of an earthly paradise? You may recall learning that ‘the eyes of the blind will be opened, the ears of the deaf unstopped, and the wilderness will burst out’ in fruitful beauty. Or what of the prophecy of the wolf with the lamb and the kid with the leopard? Were you not thrilled to read of dead loved ones coming back to life with the prospect of remaining in that Paradise?—Isaiah 11:6; 35:5, 6; John 5:28, 29.
2, 3. (a) Why can it be said that your Bible-based hope is not baseless? (b) What added basis for hope do we have?
2 Your hope is not baseless. You have reason to believe the Bible’s promises about that Paradise. For example, you have confidence in Jesus’ words to the impaled evildoer: “You will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43) You trust the promise: “There are new heavens and a new earth that we are awaiting according to his promise, and in these righteousness is to dwell.” You also trust the promise that God will wipe out our tears; death will be no more; grief, outcry, and pain will end. This means that an earthly paradise will exist again!—2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:4.
3 Yet another basis for this Paradise hope is something Christians around the globe are part of right now. What is that? God has produced a spiritual paradise and has brought his people into it. The term “spiritual paradise” may seem abstract, hard to grasp, but such a paradise was foretold, and it really does exist.
A Vision of Paradise
4. What vision does 2 Corinthians 12:2-4 mention, and who likely had it?
4 In this connection, note what the apostle Paul wrote: “I know a man in union with Christ who . . . 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.” (2 Corinthians 12:2-4) That passage comes right after verses in which Paul defended his apostleship. Moreover, the Bible does not speak of any other person who had such an experience, and Paul is the one who tells us of it. So it was likely Paul who had this vision. In this supernatural experience, what “paradise” did he enter?—2 Corinthians 11:5, 23-31.
5. What did Paul not see, and hence of what sort was “paradise”?
5 The context does not suggest that “the third heaven” refers to the atmosphere around our globe, nor to outer space or to any parallel universes, as postulated by astrophysicists. The Bible often uses the number three to represent emphasis, intensity, or added strength. (Ecclesiastes 4:12; Isaiah 6:3; Matthew 26:34, 75; Revelation 4:8) Thus, what Paul saw in vision was elevated or exalted. It was spiritual.
6. What historical development offers insight into what Paul saw?
6 Earlier Bible prophecies offer us insight. After his ancient people proved unfaithful to him, God determined to let the Babylonians come against Judah and Jerusalem. That culminated in devastation in 607 B.C.E., according to Bible chronology. Prophecy said that the land would lie desolate for 70 years; then God would allow repentant Jews to return and restore true worship. This occurred from 537 B.C.E. onward. (Deuteronomy 28:15, 62-68; 2 Kings 21:10-15; 24:12-16; 25:1-4; Jeremiah 29:10-14) What, though, of the land itself? During those 70 years, it became a place of wild vegetation, of parched areas, the habitation of jackals. (Jeremiah 4:26; 10:22) Still, there was this promise: “Jehovah will certainly comfort Zion. He will for certain comfort all her devastated places, and he will make her wilderness like Eden and her desert plain like the garden [or Paradise, Septuagint] of Jehovah.”—Isaiah 51:3; footnote.
7. What was to occur after the 70-year desolation?
7 That happened after the 70 years. With God’s blessing, conditions changed for the better. Picture this in your mind’s eye: “The wilderness and the waterless region will exult, and the desert plain will be joyful and blossom as the saffron. Without fail it will blossom, and it will really be joyful with joyousness and with glad crying out. . . . The lame one will climb up just as a stag does, and the tongue of the speechless one will cry out in gladness. For in the wilderness waters will have burst out, and torrents in the desert plain. And the heat-parched ground will have become as a reedy pool, and the thirsty ground as springs of water. In the abiding place of jackals, a resting-place for them, there will be green grass with reeds and papyrus plants.”—Isaiah 35:1-7.
A People Restored and Transformed
8. How do we know that Isaiah chapter 35 focused on people?
8 What a transformation! From desolation to paradise. Yet, this and other reliable prophecies showed that there would also be a change in people, comparable to a desolate land becoming fruitful. Why can we say that? Well, Isaiah was focusing on “the very ones redeemed by Jehovah,” who would return to their land “with a joyful cry” and attain to “exultation and rejoicing.” (Isaiah 35:10) That applied, not to the literal soil, but to people. Furthermore, Isaiah elsewhere foretold about the people restored to Zion: “They must be called big trees of righteousness, the planting of Jehovah . . . For as the earth itself brings forth its sprout, . . . Jehovah will cause the sprouting of righteousness and of praise in front of all the nations.” Isaiah also said of God’s people: “Jehovah will be bound to lead you constantly . . . , and he will invigorate your very bones; and you must become like a well-watered garden.” (Isaiah 58:11; 61:3, 11; Jeremiah 31:10-12) Hence, just as environmental conditions of the literal land would improve, there would be changes in the restored Jewish people.
9. What “paradise” did Paul see, and when was the fulfillment?
9 This historic prototype helps us to understand what Paul saw in vision. It would involve the Christian congregation, which he termed “God’s field under cultivation” and which was to be fruitful. (1 Corinthians 3:9) When was that vision to be fulfilled? Paul called what he saw a ‘revelation,’ something future. He knew that after his death an extensive apostasy would develop. (2 Corinthians 12:1; Acts 20:29, 30; 2 Thessalonians 2:3, 7) While apostates prevailed and seemed to overshadow them, true Christians could hardly be likened to a flourishing garden. Yet, the time would come for true worship to be elevated again. God’s people would be restored so that ‘the righteous ones could shine as brightly as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.’ (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43) That actually came to pass a few years after God’s Kingdom was established in heaven. And with the passing of the decades, it becomes very evident that God’s people enjoy a spiritual paradise, which Paul foresaw in that vision.
10, 11. Why can we say that we are in a spiritual paradise despite our being imperfect?
10 Granted, we know that individually we are imperfect, so it does not surprise us that problems occasionally arise, even as they did among Christians in Paul’s day. (1 Corinthians 1:10-13; Philippians 4:2, 3; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-14) However, think of the spiritual paradise that we now enjoy. Compared with the sick condition that we once were in, we have been healed spiritually. And contrast our once-famished state with our present well-fed spiritual state. Rather than struggling as in an arid spiritual land, God’s people have his approval and a downpour of blessings. (Isaiah 35:1, 7) Rather than being blinded in dungeonlike spiritual darkness, we see the light of freedom and of God’s favor. Many who were as good as deaf to Bible prophecies have come to hear with understanding what the Scriptures say. (Isaiah 35:5) For example, millions of Jehovah’s Witnesses around the globe have studied Daniel’s prophecy, verse by verse. Then they considered in depth each chapter of the Bible book of Isaiah. Does not that refreshing spiritual food give evidence of our spiritual paradise?
11 Think, too, of the changes in traits as sincere ones of all backgrounds have striven to understand and apply God’s Word. Basically, they have worked to put away animalistic traits that used to characterize them. Perhaps you have done that with significant results, and so have your spiritual brothers and sisters. (Colossians 3:8-14) Hence, as you associate with a congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, you are with people who have become more peaceable and pleasant. No, they are not yet perfect, but they could hardly be described as ferocious lions or rapacious wild beasts. (Isaiah 35:9) What does this pacific spiritual fellowship indicate? Clearly, we enjoy a spiritual condition that we rightly call a spiritual paradise. And our spiritual paradise foreshadows an earthly paradise that we will enjoy if we remain loyal to God.
12, 13. What must we do to remain in our spiritual paradise?
12 Still, there is something that we must not overlook. God told the Israelites: “You must keep the whole commandment that I am commanding you today, in order that you may grow strong and may indeed enter in and take possession of the land.” (Deuteronomy 11:8) At Leviticus 20:22, 24, that same land is mentioned: “You people must keep all my statutes and all my judicial decisions and do them, that the land to which I am bringing you to dwell in it may not vomit you out. Hence I said to you: ‘You, for your part, will take possession of their ground, and I, for my part, shall give it to you to take possession of it, a land flowing with milk and honey.’” Yes, possession of the Promised Land depended on a good relationship with Jehovah God. It was because the Israelites failed to obey him that God allowed the Babylonians to conquer them and remove them from their place of dwelling.
13 We may be pleased with much about our spiritual paradise. The environment is pleasing to the eyes, soothing to the nerves. We have peace with Christians who have worked to turn from animalistic traits. They are striving to be kind and helpful. Still, remaining in our spiritual paradise requires more than having a good relationship with these people. It requires that we have a good relationship with Jehovah and do his will. (Micah 6:8) We came into this spiritual paradise voluntarily, but we could drift right out—or be put out—if we do not work to preserve our relationship with God.
14. What will be an aid to our staying in the spiritual paradise?
14 An important factor that will help us is that we continue to be fortified by the Word of God. Note the figurative language at Psalm 1:1-3: “Happy is the man that has not walked in the counsel of the wicked ones . . . But his delight is in the law of Jehovah, and in his law he reads in an undertone day and night. And he will certainly become like a tree planted by streams of water, that gives its own fruit in its season and the foliage of which does not wither, and everything he does will succeed.” Additionally, the Bible-based publications of the faithful and discreet slave class provide spiritual food in the spiritual paradise.—Matthew 24:45-47.
Reinforcing Your View of Paradise
15. Why was Moses not able to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land, but what did he see?
15 Consider another foregleam of Paradise. After Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, Moses led them to the Plains of Moab, east of the Jordan River. Because of a past failing on Moses’ part, Jehovah determined that Moses would not lead Israel across the Jordan. (Numbers 20:7-12; 27:12, 13) Moses implored God: “Let me pass over, please, and see the good land that is across the Jordan.” Even if he would not enter it, after ascending Mount Pisgah and seeing various parts of that land, Moses must have realized that it was a “good land.” What do you think that land was like?—Deuteronomy 3:25-27.
16, 17. (a) How did the Promised Land in ancient times differ from the land in more recent times? (b) Why can we believe that the Promised Land was once like a paradise?
16 If you base your view on what much of that region has been like recently, you might imagine an arid land of sand, rocky deserts, and parching heat. However, there is reason to believe that overall the region was quite different in Biblical times. In the journal Scientific American, water-and-soil expert Dr. Walter C. Lowdermilk explained that the land in this region has been “damaged by a millennium of abuse.” This agronomist wrote: “The ‘desert’ that took over the once-flourishing land was the work of man, not of nature.” In fact, his studies indicated that “this land was once a pastoral paradise.” It becomes evident that human abuse has damaged what was “a pastoral paradise.”*
17 Reflecting on what you have read in the Bible, you may see how logical that conclusion is. Recall what Jehovah assured the people through Moses: “The land to which you are crossing to take possession of it is a land of mountains and valley plains. Of the rain of the heavens it drinks water; a land that Jehovah your God is caring for.”—Deuteronomy 11:8-12.
18. How must Isaiah 35:2 have given exiled Israelites an idea of what the Promised Land would be like?
18 The Promised Land’s verdant beauty and fruitfulness was such that merely mentioning certain locales brought to mind paradiselike conditions. That is clear from the prophecy in Isaiah chapter 35, which had an initial fulfillment when the Israelites returned from Babylon. Isaiah foretold: “Without fail it will blossom, and it will really be joyful with joyousness and with glad crying out. The glory of Lebanon itself must be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and of Sharon. There will be those who will see the glory of Jehovah, the splendor of our God.” (Isaiah 35:2) The references to Lebanon, Carmel, and Sharon must have evoked a satisfying and lovely image to the Israelites.
19, 20. (a) Describe the area of ancient Sharon. (b) What is one way to strengthen our hope for Paradise?
19 Consider Sharon, a maritime plain between the hills of Samaria and the Great Sea, or the Mediterranean. (See photo on page 10.) It was noted for its beauty and productivity. Being well watered, it was fine for grazing, but it had forests of oak trees in the northern sections. (1 Chronicles 27:29; Song of Solomon 2:1, footnote; Isaiah 65:10) Thus Isaiah 35:2 was foretelling a restoration and a land blossoming with splendor, becoming like a paradise. That prophecy was also pointing to a delightful spiritual paradise, in line with what Paul later saw in vision. Finally, this prophecy, along with others, strengthens our hope for an earthly paradise for mankind.
20 As we reside in our spiritual paradise, we can strengthen our appreciation of it and our hope for Paradise on earth. How? By deepening our understanding of what we read in the Bible. Bible descriptions and prophecies often mention specific locations. Would you like to get a better grasp of where these were and what their relationship was with other geographic references? In the next article, we will consider how you can do that with benefit.
Denis Baly in The Geography of the Bible says: “The nature of the vegetation pattern must have undergone very great changes since Biblical times.” The cause? “Man had need of wood both for fuel and for building and therefore . . . he started to cut down the trees and thus to expose the land to the onslaughts of the weather. The result of this interference in the environment was that the climate . . . was gradually turned into the most important factor in its destruction.”
Do You Recall?
• What “paradise” did the apostle Paul see in vision?
• Concerning Isaiah chapter 35, what was its initial fulfillment, and how is it connected to what Paul saw in vision?
• How can we strengthen our appreciation of our spiritual paradise and our hope for an earthly paradise?
[Picture on page 10]
The Plain of Sharon, a fruitful area in the Promised Land
Pictorial Archive (Near Eastern History) Est.
[Picture on page 12]
Moses realized that it was a “good land”