In Luke 23:43 Jesus says, "surely you will be with me today in Paradise...". This would have been after the Lord's death, not before. It has always been my understanding that we will not be in heaven until after Christ's return and that when we die we go to be with the Lord in Paradise. This is also where Paul was caught up to in II Cor 12:4. Many have theorized what Paul experienced was what those who are alive at the return of Christ will experience; they will be Raptured to Paradise. In one commentary I have read it said something to the effect that in Rev 2:7 where the word paradeisos is mentioned again it is in an eschatological sense as being a gift to be given to the one who overcomes. It is evidently the place where the disembodied personalities as spirits or souls of the believers go immediately after death to be with Christ. Is this inaccurate?
Paradise is understood to be a separated place in Hades or Sheol, the waiting place of the dead, from the place of torment called hell. (Luke 16:26) This place is also called the Busom of Abraham. (Luke 16:22) This understanding exists under the law and when the Lord uttered the statement which you cite. Hell's location is in the earth at the time, and I believe its location is still there for the present. I do not know if the statements of people that claim at certain points of the earth they have recorded groaning and screams coming from out of the bowels of the earth are true or not, but I do not consider it to be out of the realm of possibility because the place of torment is known to reside there till a specific time when it will go into the Lake of Fire, which I speculate is located in some place like a black hole. It is certainly not in the earth.
An important passage is in Ephesians 4:
8. Wherefore He saith, When He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.
9. (Now that He ascended, what is it but that He also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?
10. He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, the He might fill all things.)
At the time of the Lord's sacrifice for sin, the direction toward Paradise is down.
Another point we have to consider is that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord:
6. Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord.
7. (For we walk by faith, not by sight;)
8. We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.
(2Corinthians 5: 6 thru 8.)
Since Christ arose we cannot be present with Him in a Paradise in the earth, and there would be no further reason for believers who died in faith to remain there since He has come as Messiah to Israel according to promise.
We must, if we are to keep faithful to Scripture, obey a certain principle of Bible interpretation which is that Scripture is literally true. That is, it means exactly what it says it means unless it says something is a allegory, type or shadow in some manner. Therefore when Paul says he was caught up to Paradise, and we recognize the Scripture as literally true, it follows that the direction of Paradise is no longer down but up.
Let us look at Paul's statement in 2Corinthians 12:
1. It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory, I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord.
2. I knew a man in Christ avove fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven.
3. And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;)
4. How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words , which it is not lawful for a man to utter.
Paul is saying the third heaven is where Paradise is at the time he (or the man he refers to) is taken up there.
Coming to the statement in Revelation 2:7: He that hath an ear, let him hear, what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.
The statement in the commentary that those who overcome out of the Ephesian churches reward is correctly said to be an eschatological statement. That does not detract from its literal meaning. The tree of life is located in the midst of Paradise. This does not detract from the fact its literal meaning is still true.
We can turn to other passages that makes it plain there is still a period of waiting between the ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ to the right hand of the Father, and the status of believers, though not greatly elaborated on are clearly not come into the fullness of their inheritance though the Scripture makes it plain they are also with Christ. The plainest explanation of this consistent with all that I can find in Scripture is that Paradise has been relocated and perhaps changed in character from how it was before He rose from the grave.
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