KEY THOT: One of the two criminals crucified with Jesus railed against Jesus. But the other rebuked this first criminal for doing so, for he knew that the Man crucified between them was innocent, unlike them. The second criminal knew that they deserved what they got but this Jesus “has done nothing wrong.” Faith was rising in him that perhaps the Man hanging between the two of them was the only hope left for him in the last few hours of his earthly life. He turned to him and said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” By his confession, he acknowledged Jesus as the Christ who would usher in the kingdom when he returns in glory. And he wanted to be in that coming kingdom. Instead, Jesus turned to him and said, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” In a few hours' time, one criminal would be taken up with Jesus to Paradise while the other criminal would be left behind in Hades. But what exactly is Paradise?
Looking at the conversation between Jesus and the second criminal, it would seem that the kingdom and Paradise were two distinct aspects of Jesus’ coming kingdom. Paradise was described by Jesus in the present tense: “today you will be with me in Paradise.” On the other hand, Kingdom was something that was coming in the future: “Remember me when you come into your kingdom”. They are related but not exactly identical.
Paul gives us a description of his own experience of Paradise in 2 Corinthians 7:2-4, “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.” From this description, Paul identifies Paradise with what he calls the “third heaven”. The first heaven is our sky. The second heaven is outer space of stars and galaxies. Both the first and second heavens belong to the physical realm. But the third heaven is out of this space-time reality—it is the spiritual and eternal realm of God’s dwelling place, of angelic beings, of all believers who have departed from this earth before us.
So Paul has this understanding that departure from this earthly life means being in Paradise with Christ: “I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account” (Philippians 1:23-24). As believers, death is no longer the dead-end but the door: eternal life is not "life after death," but "life after life."
But for people like the first criminal who have chosen to deride and mock Christ, there is no Paradise awaiting them, only Hades, the holding place for all departed souls awaiting the final judgment. These will be raised to face the throne of judgment: “And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:13-15). This will be a final separation of all that is of God from all that is not of God. All that is not God will be consigned to the eternal lake of fire known as the Second Death, forever separated from Paradise and Christ's kingdom.
So, with Death and Hades out of the way, Jesus will return to establish a new heaven and a new earth and all who are now in Paradise will come out of the “third heaven” to this new fusion reality of heaven and earth to re-establish Eden 2.0, the new Paradise of God on earth: “To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (Revelation 2:7). And Jesus as the Last Adam would come with his new Bride (the church) to restore the new Paradise of God on earth that the first Adam has lost: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:1-4).
The kingdom of God would have finally arrived. It would encompass a new physical reality of the new heaven and new earth where God would be dwelling among His people in Paradise, also called the holy city and the new Jerusalem. This kingdom of God on the new earth will be so glorious that this old earthly life would taste like milk and water compared with it: “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).
And it shall signal the beginning of a new book about Christ and his Bride that will only get better and better as the chapters are opened and read through eternity. To God be the glory! Great things He has done!
Father, what a glorious vision of Paradise You have given to us through Your Son. For we know that if we were to die today, we shall be with You in Paradise forever. Amen.