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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

After Death, Paradise!

One of the thieves crucified with Jesus asked Jesus to remember him. In so doing, the thief confessed that Jesus was both a king and would soon inherit a kingdom. To this strange confession Jesus replied, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43). What and where is this Paradise?

Early church fathers used Paradise with a variety of meanings. Since the word itself refers to a beautiful garden, most of these exegetes understood it to refer to the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2-3). Since Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden, they pointed to the work of Christ, the new Adam who has regained it for believers.
Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. —Rom. 5:14-16 ESV
Thus it is written, "The first man Adam became a living being"; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. - 1Cr 15:45-48 ESV
The Apostle Paul spoke obliquely about himself being caught up to Paradise. He called it the third heaven.
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-- - 2Cr 12:2-3 ESV
In the light of this the teachers of the church claimed that Paradise has once again become accessible. In his Catchesis lectures Cyril explained to the newly baptized:
"When therefore thou renouncest satan, utterly breaking all thy covenant with him, that ancient league with hell, there is opened to thee the paradise of God, which He planted towards the east, whence for his transgression our first father was banished . . ." (Catechesis XIX.9)
Garden of Eden - Wonder of Creation 

What a beautiful picture, one among many presented to us in Holy Scripture. It is my favorite. I love thinking about what awaits us as we move from this life to the next. I love the thought of the Garden of Eden, a word that in Hebrew refers to delight and pleasure. The prophet comforts us all in this way:
For the LORD comforts Zion; he comforts all her waste places and makes her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the LORD; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song. - Isa 51:3 ESV