Heaven: The Paradise of God
The word "paradise" stirs our highest hopes. "Paradise" is an Anglicized form of the Greek word paradeisos. It is used in English to refer to the Garden of Eden and then to the eternal bliss of which that Garden is a type - heaven. The word appears but these three times in the English Bible:
And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise (Lk. 23:43).
How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter (2 Cor. 12:4).
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 (Rev. 2:7).
The word "paradise" originated in Persian use where it referred to a garden or park. The Hebrew word pardes occurs in three places to refer to a garden (Neh. 2:8; Eccl. 2:5; Song of Sol. 4:13). The Greek word paradeisos was used in the Septuagint translation (LXX) to refer to the garden of Eden (Gen. 2:8-10; 13:10; etc.). Hence, in later Jewish thought and through a natural process, the word was transferred to a higher meaning to refer to "happiness of the righteous in a future blissful state." McClintock and Strong's Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature (VII:652) states, "The origin of this application (of paradise to a future place of bliss, mw) must be assigned to the Jews of the middle period between the Old and New Testament . . . Hence, we see that it was in the acceptation of the current Jewish phraseology that the expression was used by our Lord and the apostles."
McClintock and Strong also commented about the word paradise taking on this higher meaning to refer to one's eternal abode with God. They said,
It was natural that this higher meaning should at length become the exclusive one, and be associated with new thoughts. Paradise, with no other word to qualify it, was the bright region which man had lost which was guarded by the flaming sword. Soon a new hope sprang up. Over and above all questions as to where the primeval garden had been, there came the belief that it did not belong entirely to the past. There was a paradise still into which man might have hope to enter (VII:656-657).
In the passages from the New Testament, paradise is used in two senses:
1. To refer to the intermediate state of the righteous dead. When Jesus spoke to the thief on the cross, he said, "Today shalt thou be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43). At his death, he entered the hadean world (Acts 2:27), the abode of the righteous dead, also known as "Abraham's bosom" (cf. Lk. 16:22). That which distinguished "paradise" was that the penitent thief would be with Jesus - he would enjoy the fellowship of God's Son.
This appears to be the sense in which "paradise" is used in 2 Corinthians 12:4. Paul was caught up in the "third heaven" which was described as "paradise." The third heaven or paradise is the abode of the righteous dead.
When Paul speaks of the intermediate state of the righteous dead, fellowship with Christ is its sole content (2 Cor. 5:8; Phil. 1:23; 2 Tim. 4:18; Rom. 8:38-39). There is no speculation about the nature of existence with Christ.
2. To refer to the eternal state of the righteous dead. In Revelation 2:7 paradise is promised to those who overcome the temptations of sin. In the paradise of God one will be able to eat of the "tree of life." The tree of life is elsewhere represented in the book of Revelation as being in the New Jerusalem (22:2,14) where one also has access to the water of life (22: 1), the Old Serpent is destroyed (22:2), and one has freedom from suffering, affliction and death (21:4). H. Bietenhard and Colin Brown commented on this use of Paradise saying,
The thought takes up that of Gen. 3, where after eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, man is barred from the tree of life. Those who overcome the trials and temptations of this world (in particular the opposition of the Nicolaitans) are promised not only restoration of what Adam lost but access to life in a way which Adam never had. Rev. 22:1f., 14 gives a final vision of the tree of life in its final vision of paradise (though it does not use the word) in terms of the new Jerusalem: "And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. . . Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city" (The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology 11:763).
Even in the description of heaven as the Paradise of God the main motif is that one has "fellowship with Christ." Joachim Jeremias wrote about paradise saying, "What really matters is not the felicity of Paradise but the restoration of the communion with God which was broken by Adam's fall" (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament V:773).
Jesus is the one who restores the Paradise of God. He offers to mankind the bread of life (Jn. 6) and the water of life (Jn. 4) in the gospel which grants us entrance into the Paradise of God.
There seem to be several themes emphasized by the word paradise. In the beginning - in the original paradise - man dwelt in perfect peace with God. God was in constant communion with man. Man had access to the tree of life which enabled him to live forever (Gen. 3:22). God provided for man's every physical, social and spiritual need (Gen. 2:9). Paradise was lost to man through sin. When man sinned, he broke his communion with God (3:8), lost access to the tree of life (3:22), was subject to physical death (3:19) and was driven into an environment which was hostile to him (3:18). To prevent his re-entering the garden, the Lord placed an angel with a flaming sword (3:24).
Paradise can be regained through Jesus Christ. Those who overcome sin's temptations through the blood of the Lamb are granted entrance anew into the Paradise of God where they once again have communion with the Lord (Lk. 23:43), access to the tree of life (Rev. 2:7). Everything that was lost through sin is restored through Christ.
The song "Paradise Valley" by Virgil O. Stamps expresses our hope to gain entrance into the paradise which was lost through sin.
As I travel thru life, with its trouble and strife,
I've a glorious hope to give cheer on the way;
Soon my toil will be o'er and I'll rest on that shore
Where the night has been turned into day.
As I roam the hillside, or I list to the tide,
As I pluck the sweet flowers that grow in the dale;
A faint picture is there of a land bright and fair
Where perennial flowers ne'er fail.
Tho' your garden is rare, it is naught to compare
With the flowers that bloom in the garden above,
In the midst of it grows Sharon's perfect sweet Rose
'Tis the wonderful Flower we love.
Up in the beautiful Paradise valley,
By the side of the river of life,
Up in the valley, the wonderful valley,
We'll be free from all pain and all strife;
There we shall live in the rose-tinted garden,
'Neath the shade of the evergreen tree,
How I long for the paradise valley,
Where the beauty of heaven I'll see.
What a blessed hope we have to regain entrance into the Paradise of God.
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 20, pp. 624-625