Humans think of Paradise in physical terms because God created man to live upon the earth and to enjoy earthly things. (Psalm 115:16) This raises questions. For example, when Jesus promised the evildoer who died alongside him, “You will be with me in Paradise,” where will that Paradise be?—Luke 23:43.
What Paradise Promised to the Evildoer?
One of the evildoers hanging next to Jesus said: “You are the Christ, are you not? Save yourself and us.” Yet the sympathetic evildoer rebuked him. Then, turning to Jesus, he said: “Remember me when you get into your kingdom.” At that Jesus made the remarkable promise: “Truly I tell you today, You will be with me in Paradise.”—Luke 23:39-43.
Where is this promised Paradise? The way this verse is rendered in numerous Bible translations has influenced the view of many people regarding this. Most Bibles read as does the Revised Standard Version: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Thus, according to such translations, on the very day that Jesus and the evildoer died they went to Paradise. Yet, how could that be, since the Bible says that Jesus went to Hades, or Sheol, at death? The apostle Peter, in telling about His resurrection from there three days later, said: “Neither was he forsaken in Hades [Sheol, in Hebrew] . . . This Jesus God resurrected.”—Acts 2:31, 32; Psalm 16:10.
Since Jesus clearly was in Sheol, or Hades (the common grave of mankind), prior to his resurrection, the Commentary on the Holy Scriptures by J. P. Lange says: “We have, however, by this Paradise to understand not the heavenly Paradise . . . but that part of Sheol which is opposed to Gehenna, and which was also named Paradise.”
D. D. Whedon in his Commentary on the Gospels provides some background regarding this view of Paradise, explaining: “The name [Paradise] was transferred by the Jewish Church [from the original Paradise in Eden] to the blessed section of Hades, or the intermediate state between death and the resurrection. Beyond all doubt it was the intention of Jesus to designate this, by the term Paradise, to the dying thief.”
Paradise a “blessed section of Hades”? This was apparently a view that originated with Jewish teachers; it certainly is not something taught in the sacred Hebrew Scriptures. Most churchmen today do not accept the view that Paradise is a section of Hades. The Catholic Encyclopedia notes: “According to the prevailing interpretation of Catholic theologians and commentators, paradise in this instance is used as a synonym for the heaven of the blessed to which the thief would accompany the Saviour.”
Many Protestant writers agree with this view held by Catholics. J. G. Butler, in his commentary The Bible-Work, exclaims: “What a day to that dying man! Its morning saw him a culprit condemned before the bar of earthly judgment; before evening shadowed the hill of Zion he stood accepted at the bar of heaven.”
But wait! We have seen that, according to the Bible, Jesus went to Sheol, or Hades, when he died, not to heaven. He was dead for three days, unconscious in the common grave of humankind. (Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10) So he could not have gone to heaven. The Bible says that Jesus returned to heaven 40 days after his resurrection.—Acts 1:3, 6-11.
Clearly, Jesus was promising the evildoer simply that he would be resurrected into Paradise; Jesus was not saying he would live in Paradise that very day. Therefore the correct translation of Jesus’ words is: “Truly I tell you today, You will be with me in Paradise.” A number of Bible translations read this way, one of which (Lamsa) says in its footnote: “Ancient texts were not punctuated. The comma could come before or after today.”
So where will the Paradise be that Jesus promised the evildoer? And when will it be enjoyed?
An Earthly Paradise
Remember, we spoke earlier about God’s creation of the original Paradise in Eden right here on earth. Obviously it was God’s purpose to have an earthly Paradise in which humankind would enjoy everlasting life in peace and security. Do you think that God will permit this purpose of his to go unfulfilled? Never! “Everything that is my delight I shall do,” he says. “I have even spoken it; I shall also bring it in.” (Isaiah 46:10, 11) Yes, God will do what he purposes! And his promise is: “The righteous themselves will possess the earth, and they will reside forever upon it.”—Psalm 37:29.
So when we read Jesus’ promise of Paradise to the evildoer, we should picture in our minds this entire earth made into a beautiful place in which to live, like a fruitful garden, for that is what the word “paradise” means. Will Jesus be right here on earth with the former evildoer in Paradise? No, Jesus will be in heaven ruling as King over the earthly Paradise. He will be with that man in the sense that He will raise him from the dead and care for his needs, both physical and spiritual.
The evildoer obviously was not a faithful Christian conqueror who qualified for life as a coruler in heaven with Christ. He did wicked things, even as did millions of other people whom Jesus will resurrect. (Acts 24:15) But they did these wicked things because they were ignorant of God’s will. So in Paradise they will be taught what God’s will is, and they will have the opportunity to prove that they really do love God by doing his will.