“You will be with me in Paradise.”—LUKE 23:43.
1, 2. What different ideas do people have about paradise?
MANY brothers and sisters from different countries had come to Seoul, Korea, for a convention. As they were leaving the stadium, the local Witnesses gathered around them. It was a very emotional scene as many of them waved and called to one another: “See you in Paradise!” What paradise do you think they were talking about?
2 People today have different ideas about paradise. Some say that paradise is just a fantasy. Others say that paradise is any place where they are happy. A starving man who sits at a large table full of food may feel that he is in paradise. Many years ago, a woman who saw a beautiful valley full of wildflowers was so impressed that she exclaimed, “Oh, what a paradise!” That place is still called Paradise today, even though it gets more than 15 meters (50 feet) of snow each year. What do you think Paradise is? Do you hope that it will come?
3. When is Paradise first mentioned in the Bible?
3 The Bible talks about a paradise that existed in the past and a paradise that will exist in the future. We read about Paradise for the first time in the very first book of the Bible. In the Catholic Douay Version, which was translated from Latin, Genesis 2:8 says: “The Lord God had planted a paradise of pleasure from the beginning: wherein he placed man whom he had formed.” (Bold ours.) The Hebrew text says the garden of Eden. The word “Eden” means “Pleasure,” and that garden truly was a pleasant place. It was absolutely beautiful, with plenty of food and peace between humans and animals.—Genesis 1:29-31.
4. Why can we refer to the garden of Eden as a paradise?
4 The Hebrew word for “garden” is translated pa·raʹdei·sos in Greek. The Cyclopaedia by M’Clintock and Strong says that when a Greek person heard the word pa·raʹdei·sos, he would imagine a beautiful, spacious park protected from anything that could cause harm, with impressive trees producing a variety of fruit and clear streams with grassy banks where herds of antelope and sheep could graze.—Compare Genesis 2:15, 16.
5, 6. Why did Adam and Eve lose the privilege of living in Paradise, and what may some wonder?
5 Jehovah put Adam and Eve in that kind of garden, a paradise. But because they disobeyed Jehovah, they lost the privilege of living in Paradise, both for themselves and for their children. (Genesis 3:23, 24) Even though there were no longer any humans living in that Paradise, it seems that it still existed until the Flood of Noah’s day.
6 Some may wonder, ‘Will there ever be Paradise on earth again?’ What do the facts show? If you hope to live with your loved ones in Paradise, do you have good reasons for your hope? Can you explain why we can be sure that there will be a paradise in the future?
EVIDENCE OF A FUTURE PARADISE
7, 8. (a) What promise did God make to Abraham? (b) What might God’s promise have caused Abraham to think about?
7 The best place to find the answers to questions about Paradise is in the Bible, because this book comes from Jehovah, the one who created 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.” Then Jehovah made this very important promise to Abraham: “By means of your offspring all nations of the earth will obtain a blessing for themselves because you have listened to my voice.” (Genesis 22:17, 18) Later, God repeated that same promise to Abraham’s son and grandson.—Read Genesis 26:4; 28:14.
8 Nothing in the Bible suggests that Abraham thought that humans would get a final reward in a paradise in heaven. So when God promised that “all nations of the earth” would be blessed, Abraham would have thought that these blessings would be on the earth. But is this the only evidence in the Bible that shows that there would be a paradise on earth?
9, 10. What later promises give us a reason to expect that there will be a future paradise?
9 God inspired one of Abraham’s descendants, David, to speak about a time in the future when “the wicked will be no more.” (Psalm 37:1, 2, 10) Instead, “the meek will possess the earth, and they will find exquisite delight in the abundance of peace.” David also foretold: “The righteous will possess the earth, and they will live forever on it.” (Psalm 37:11, 29; 2 Samuel 23:2) How do you think these promises affected people who wanted to do God’s will? They had a reason to expect that someday only righteous people would be on the earth and that it would again become a paradise like the garden of Eden.
Prophecies that came true give us reasons to expect a future paradise on earth
10 Over time, most Israelites who claimed to serve Jehovah rejected him and true worship. So God allowed the Babylonians to conquer his people, ruin their land, and take many of them captive. (2 Chronicles 36:15-21; Jeremiah 4:22-27) But God’s prophets foretold that his people would return to their homeland after 70 years. And those prophecies did come true. But they also have meaning for us today. As we discuss some of them, notice how they give us reasons to expect a future paradise on earth.
11. How was Isaiah 11:6-9 first fulfilled, but what question may we still ask?
11 Read Isaiah 11:6-9. God foretold through the prophet Isaiah that when the Israelites returned to their homeland, the land would be peaceful. No one would have to be afraid of being attacked by animals or people. Young and old would be safe. Does that remind you of the peaceful conditions that existed in the garden of Eden? (Isaiah 51:3) Isaiah also foretold 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 would that happen? Clearly, this refers to the future.
12. (a) What blessings did those returning from exile in Babylon experience? (b) What shows that Isaiah 35:5-10 would also be fulfilled in the future?
12 Read Isaiah 35:5-10. Notice that Isaiah again foretold that the Israelites returning from Babylon would not be attacked by animals or people. He said that their land would produce plenty of good food because there would be an abundance of water, just as there was in the garden of Eden. (Genesis 2:10-14; Jeremiah 31:12) Would the prophecy be fulfilled only in the time of those Israelites? Note that the prophecy also said that the blind, the lame, and the deaf would be cured. But this did not happen to the Israelites who returned from Babylon. Rather, God was indicating that he would heal all sickness in the future.
13, 14. How was Isaiah 65:21-23 fulfilled when the Israelites returned from Babylon, but what part of that prophecy still needs to be fulfilled? (See opening picture.)
13 Read Isaiah 65:21-23. When the Jews returned to their homeland, they did not find comfortable houses or cultivated fields and vineyards. But because God blessed them, things changed in time. Imagine how happy the people were when they built houses and lived in them and when they enjoyed the delicious food they had grown!
14 Notice that according to this prophecy, our days “will be like the days of a tree.” Some trees live for thousands of years. To live that long, humans would have to be very healthy. And if they could live in the peaceful, beautiful environment that Isaiah foretold, it really would be wonderful, a paradise! And that prophecy will be fulfilled!
15. What are some of the blessings mentioned in the book of Isaiah?
15 Think about how the promises that we have just discussed show that there will be a future paradise. The whole earth will be full of people blessed by God. No one will have to worry about being attacked by animals or violent people. The blind, deaf, and lame will be cured. People will build their own homes and enjoy growing their own food. They will live longer than the trees. Yes, the Bible provides evidence that such a paradise is coming. But some people we speak with might say that these prophecies do not really mean there will be a paradise on earth. What would you tell them? What valid reason do you have to look forward to a real paradise on earth? The greatest man who ever lived, Jesus, gave us a valid reason.
YOU WILL BE IN PARADISE!
16, 17. When did Jesus speak about Paradise?
16 Although Jesus was innocent, he was convicted and hung on a stake to die, with a Jewish criminal on each side of him. One of them realized that Jesus was a king and said: “Jesus, remember me when you get into your Kingdom.” (Luke 23:39-42) The promise that Jesus made to that criminal affects your future. Jesus’ words are recorded at Luke 23:43. Some scholars put a comma before the word “today” and translate these words: “Truly I say to you, today with me you will be in Paradise.” There are different opinions about where the comma should be placed in that sentence. But what did Jesus mean when he said “today”?
17 In many modern languages, commas are used to help make the meaning of a sentence clear. But in the earliest available Greek manuscripts, punctuation was not always used. So we may wonder: 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 place the comma either before or after “today” according to what they think Jesus meant, and you can find either rendering in Bibles today.
18, 19. What helps us understand what Jesus meant?
18 However, remember what Jesus told his followers about his death. He said: “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.” (Matthew 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 Paradise on the day he and that criminal died. The Bible says that Jesus was “in the Grave” for parts of three days, until God resurrected him.—Acts 2:31, 32.* (See footnote.)
19 So Jesus used the expression “Truly I say to you today” to introduce his promise to the criminal. That was a common way of speaking even in Moses’ time. Moses once said: “These words that I am commanding you today must be on your heart.”—Deuteronomy 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: “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.” That translator also said that this is how people speak in that area and implies that “the promise was made on a certain day and would surely be kept.” A Syriac version from the fifth century translates this verse: “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 that criminal, and why?
21 When Jesus spoke to that criminal about Paradise, he did not mean a heavenly paradise. How do we know that? One reason is that the criminal did not even know that Jesus had made a covenant with his faithful apostles to rule with him in heaven. (Luke 22:29) Also, the criminal had not even been baptized. (John 3:3-6, 12) So when Jesus made this promise to the criminal, he must have been talking about an earthly paradise. Years later, the apostle Paul spoke about a vision of a man “caught away into paradise.” (2 Corinthians 12:1-4) Even though Paul and the other apostles were chosen to go to heaven and rule with Jesus, Paul was talking about a future paradise.* (See footnote.) Would that paradise be on earth? Can you be there?
WHAT YOU CAN EXPECT
22, 23. What can you hope for?
22 Remember that David spoke about a time when “the righteous will possess the earth.” (Psalm 37:29; 2 Peter 3:13) David was referring to a time when all people on the earth would obey God’s righteous principles. The prophecy at Isaiah 65:22 says: “The days of my people will be like the days of a tree.” This shows that people who serve Jehovah in his new world will live for thousands of years. Can you expect that? Yes, because according to Revelation 21:1-4, God will bless mankind, and one of those blessings is that “death will be no more.”
23 What the Bible teaches about Paradise is clear. Adam and Eve lost the privilege of living forever in Paradise, but the earth will be a paradise again. As God promised, he will bless the people on the earth. David said that the meek and the righteous will inherit the earth and live forever on it. And the prophecies in the book of Isaiah help us to look forward to the time when we will enjoy life on a beautiful paradise earth. When will that be? When Jesus’ promise to the criminal is fulfilled. You can be in that Paradise. At that time, what the brothers and sisters said at the convention in Korea will come true: “See you in Paradise!”
Professor C. Marvin Pate wrote that many scholars believe that when Jesus said “today,” he meant that he would die and be in Paradise on that day, or within 24 hours. Professor Pate added that the problem with this view is that it does not agree with other facts in the Bible. For example, the Bible says that Jesus was in the Grave after he died and that he later went to heaven.—Matthew 12:40; Acts 2:31; Romans 10:7.
See “Questions From Readers” in the standard edition of this issue.