“You will be with me in Paradise.”—LUKE 23:43.
1, 2. What are some differing ideas about paradise?
IT WAS a very emotional scene. As foreign delegates left the stadium after a convention in Seoul, Korea, local Witnesses crowded around. Many of them waved, calling out, “See you in Paradise!” What paradise do you think they meant?
2 Paradise means different things to different people. Some say that paradise is a fantasy. Others say that paradise is wherever they find joy and satisfaction. A starving man sitting at a banquet might feel that he is in paradise. On seeing a glen full of wildflowers, a 19th-century visitor cried out, “Oh, what a paradise!” That site is still named Paradise, though it receives over 50 feet (15 m) of snow yearly. What does Paradise mean to you? Do you hope for it?
3. How does the Bible get us thinking about a paradise?
3 The Bible speaks of both a paradise that once existed and a paradise still ahead. The idea of Paradise arises early in the Bible. In the Catholic Douay Version, which was translated from Latin, Genesis 2:8 reads: “The Lord God had planted a paradise of pleasure from the beginning: wherein he placed [Adam] whom he had formed.” (Italics ours.) The Hebrew text speaks of the garden of Eden. Eden means “Pleasure,” and that garden was indeed pleasant. There was ample food, beautiful scenery, and delightful interaction with many animals.—Gen. 1:29-31.
4. Why can we refer to the garden of Eden as a paradise?
4 Pa·raʹdei·sos is the Greek term that translates the Hebrew word for “garden.” The Cyclopaedia by M’Clintock and Strong says about pa·raʹdei·sos: “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.”—Compare Genesis 2:15, 16.
5, 6. How was Paradise lost, leading to what question?
5 God put Adam and Eve in such a paradise, but they did not remain in it. Why? They disqualified themselves by disobeying God. Thus, Paradise was lost for them and their offspring. (Gen. 3:23, 24) Though without human occupants, that garden apparently remained until the Deluge of Noah’s day.
6 Some may wonder, ‘Will any man, woman, or child ever be able to enjoy Paradise on earth?’ What do the facts show? If you hope to live with your loved ones in Paradise, do you have a valid basis for your hope? Could you explain why Paradise is sure to come?
INDICATIONS OF PARADISE TO COME
7, 8. (a) God made what promise to Abraham? (b) God’s promise might have led Abraham to think of what?
7 The logical place to find answers is in the book inspired by the Creator of the original Paradise. Consider what God told his friend Abraham. God said that he would multiply Abraham’s offspring “like the grains of sand on the seashore.” And Jehovah made this meaningful promise: “By means of your offspring all nations of the earth will obtain a blessing for themselves because you have listened to my voice.” (Gen. 22:17, 18) God repeated that basic promise to Abraham’s son and grandson.—Read Genesis 26:4; 28:14.
8 There is no indication in the Bible that Abraham thought that humans would get a final reward in a heavenly paradise. So when God spoke of “all nations of the earth” as being blessed, Abraham would reasonably think of blessings on earth. The promise was from God, so it suggested better conditions for “all nations of the earth.” Did further developments among God’s people support such thinking?
9, 10. What later promises provided a basis for expecting coming blessings?
9 David, one of Abraham’s descendants, pointed to a future time when “evil men” and “wrongdoers” would pass away. The result? “The wicked will be no more.” (Ps. 37:1, 2, 10) Instead, “the meek will possess the earth, and they will find exquisite delight in the abundance of peace.” David was also inspired to predict: “The righteous will possess the earth, and they will live forever on it.” (Ps. 37:11, 29; 2 Sam. 23:2) What effect do you think those assurances had on people who wanted to do God’s will? They would have a basis for expecting that if only righteous people were living on earth, in time a paradise like the garden of Eden would be restored.
10 Over time, most Israelites claiming to serve Jehovah turned their backs on him and on true worship. So God let the Babylonians conquer his people, ruin their land, and carry many of them into exile. (2 Chron. 36:15-21; Jer. 4:22-27) Still, God’s prophets foretold that after 70 years, his people would return to their homeland. Those prophecies were fulfilled. But they also have meaning for us. As we consider some of them, bear in mind our focus—a coming paradise on earth.
11. Isaiah 11:6-9 had what fulfillment, but what question remains?
11 Read Isaiah 11:6-9. God foretold through Isaiah that after His people returned to their homeland, they would not have to struggle against harsh, dangerous elements; nor would they need to fear attacks from animals or beastlike men. Young and old would be safe. Does that not bring to your mind conditions such as those God provided in the garden of Eden? (Isa. 51:3) That prophecy through Isaiah also said that the whole earth—not just the nation of Israel—would “be filled with the knowledge of Jehovah as the waters cover the sea.” When will that happen?
12. (a) Those returning from exile in Babylon experienced what blessings? (b) What indicates that Isaiah 35:5-10 has another fulfillment?
12 Read Isaiah 35:5-10. Isaiah further emphasized that the returnees would not be threatened by animals or humans. Their land would produce abundant fruit, made possible by an ample supply of water, even as the garden of Eden was well-watered. (Gen. 2:10-14; Jer. 31:12) Would that be the only fulfillment? There is no evidence that those returning from exile were miraculously cured. For example, the blind did not regain their sight. So God was indicating that literal healings would yet occur.
13, 14. How did former exiles see the fulfillment of Isaiah 65:21-23, but what part of that prophecy yet needs fulfillment? (See opening picture.)
13 Read Isaiah 65:21-23. The Jews did not return to comfortable houses; nor did they find cultivated fields and vineyards. But that would change as God blessed them. What a joy for them to build houses and live in them! They could plant crops and enjoy the healthful fruitage.
14 Notice an important detail of that prophecy. Will the time come when our days “will be like the days of a tree”? Some trees live thousands of years. Humans would have to be healthy in order to have lifespans of such length. If they could live in the conditions that Isaiah foretold, it would be a dream come true, a paradise! And that prophecy will be fulfilled!
15. How would you summarize some of the blessings mentioned in the book of Isaiah?
15 Reflect on how the promises just discussed point to a future paradise: People of the whole earth will be blessed by God. No one will face danger from animals or beastlike humans. The blind, deaf, and lame will be cured. People will be able to build their own homes and enjoy growing wholesome food. They will live longer than trees. Yes, we find indications in the Bible that such a future is ahead. Still, some might claim that we are reading more into those prophecies than is justified. How would you answer? What solid reason do you have to look forward to a real paradise on earth? The greatest man who ever lived provided a solid reason.
YOU WILL BE IN PARADISE!
16, 17. In what situation did Jesus speak about Paradise?
16 Though he was innocent, Jesus was condemned and hung on a stake to die, with a Jewish criminal on each side of him. Before dying, one of them acknowledged that Jesus was a king and made the request: “Jesus, remember me when you get into your Kingdom.” (Luke 23:39-42) Your future is involved in Jesus’ reply, found at Luke 23:43. Some modern scholars give this word-for-word rendering: “Truly I say to you, today with me you will be in Paradise.” Note the word “today.” What was Jesus indicating? There are different views.
17 In many modern languages, commas are used to convey or clarify the meaning of a sentence. But in the earliest available Greek manuscripts, punctuation was not consistently used. Thus, the question arises: Was Jesus saying, “I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise”? Or was he saying, “I tell you today, you will be with me in Paradise”? Translators may insert a comma according to what they think that Jesus meant, and you can find either rendering in common Bible versions.
18, 19. How can we reason on what Jesus must have meant?
18 However, recall that Jesus had earlier told his followers: “The Son of man will be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.” He also said: “The Son of man is going to be betrayed into men’s hands, and they will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised up.” (Matt. 12:40; 16:21; 17:22, 23; Mark 10:34) The apostle Peter reports that this happened. (Acts 10:39, 40) So Jesus did not go to any Paradise on the day he and that criminal died. Jesus was “in the Grave [or “Hades”]” for days, until God resurrected him.—Acts 2:31, 32; ftn.*
19 We can thus see that Jesus’ promise to the criminal was introduced with the words: “Truly I say to you today.” That manner of expression was common even in Moses’ time. He said: “These words that I am commanding you today must be on your heart.”—Deut. 6:6; 7:11; 8:1, 19; 30:15.
20. What supports our understanding of what Jesus said?
20 A Bible translator from the Middle East said of Jesus’ reply: “The emphasis in this text is on the word ‘today’ and should read, ‘Truly I say to you today, you will be with me in Paradise.’ The promise was made on that day and it was to be fulfilled later. This is a characteristic of Oriental speech implying that the promise was made on a certain day and would surely be kept.” Accordingly, a fifth-century Syriac version renders Jesus’ reply: “Amen, I say to thee to-day that with me thou shalt be in the Garden of Eden.” We should all be encouraged by that promise.
21. What did not happen to the criminal, and why?
21 That dying criminal did not know that Jesus had made a covenant with his faithful apostles to be with him in the heavenly Kingdom. (Luke 22:29) Furthermore, that criminal had not even been baptized. (John 3:3-6, 12) We can thus understand that what Jesus promised must be an earthly paradise. Years later, the apostle Paul related a vision of a man “caught away into paradise.” (2 Cor. 12:1-4) Unlike the dying criminal, Paul and the other faithful apostles were selected to go to heaven to share with Jesus in the Kingdom. Still, Paul was pointing to something to come in the future—a future “paradise.”* Would that involve the earth? And can you be there?
WHAT YOU CAN EXPECT
22, 23. What can you hope for?
22 Bear in mind that David foresaw the time when “the righteous will possess the earth.” (Ps. 37:29; 2 Pet. 3:13) David was referring to a time when people on earth would live according to God’s righteous ways. The prophecy at Isaiah 65:22 says: “The days of my people will be like the days of a tree.” This implies that people will live for thousands of years. Can you expect that? Yes, for according to Revelation 21:1-4, God will turn his attention to mankind, and one of the promised blessings is that “death will be no more” for people serving God in his righteous new world.
23 The picture is thus clear. Adam and Eve lost Paradise back in Eden, but it was not lost forever. As God promised, people on earth are yet to be blessed. Under inspiration, David said that the meek and righteous will inherit the earth and live on it forever. The prophecies in the book of Isaiah should whet our appetite for the delightful conditions that will prevail. When? When Jesus’ promise to the Jewish criminal comes to pass. You can be in that Paradise. At that time, the exclamation made to those delegates in Korea will be realized: “See you in Paradise!”
Professor C. Marvin Pate wrote: “Traditionally, the word ‘today’ has been understood to be a chronological reference to a twenty-four-hour period. The difficulty with this view is its apparent conflict with biblical teaching elsewhere which suggests that Jesus first ‘descended’ to hades after His death (Matt. 12:40; Acts 2:31; Rom. 10:7) and then afterward ascended to heaven.”
See “Questions From Readers” in this issue.