Today you will be with me in Paradise...

Tomorrow is Good Friday, when Jesus died and was put in the tomb, where he also "rested from all his labors" on Holy Saturday before rising on the First Day of the new week - Resurrection Sunday.

Thanks to N.T. Wright and other Bible teachers, many Christians are re-discovering the Bible's complicated teachings on what happened to Jesus and the thief on the cross after they died and this gives us insight into what happens to us after we die as well. We follow where Jesus went before us: a period of restful waiting and then a glorious resurrection.

While many people simply think of going immediately to Heaven or Hell forever (maybe with Purgatory thrown in there for some), the Bible promises us bodily Resurrection to eternal life (or eternal condemnation) after a period of 'disembodied' waiting in Paradise.

Here are some of the relevant passages:

The thieves on the crosses next to Jesus.
One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!" But the other rebuked him saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong." Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." He replied, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise." - Luke 23:39-43

Paradise is a word used to describe beautiful gardens in the ancient world; Jesus' promise suggests a return to an Eden-like place. In my mind this evokes a recent experience: my wife and I laying on a blanket in the grass, watching sunlight pour through the Spanish moss and great Oak trees above us. Peace, rest, but not quite "sleep."

In speaking of Christ's death and then Resurrection, Peter quotes Scripture naming the "place" where Christ went after death as "Hades" (or "Sheol") in Acts 2:24-27:
But God raised him [Jesus] up, having freed him from death because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. For David says concerning him, "I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover my flesh will live in hope. For you will not abondon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption..."

However as you can see when reading this passage, "Hades/Sheol" might simply be a poetic way to say "death/the grave" - that is Jesus was 'under' the power of death, in it's grip. So Hades may not necessarily be (as it is in Greek mythology, and in the parable of Luke 16) a 'place' where souls are consiously present and capable of interacting. Certainly, though, some level of spiritual interaction within the abode of the dead (Hades) seems to be implied in the next passage:

For Christ also suffered for sins, once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which he also went and made proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you... - 1 Peter 3:18-21

Wright's approach seems to me to be the simplest one: the followers of Jesus will go where he went before us - first through death and a state of "resting" in Paradise in his presence, before final Resurrection and the New Creation that God promises in Revelation 19-21, when he shall wipe away our tears and make all things new.

Interestingly St. Paul also equates "Paradise" with "the third heaven" when speaking of his own mystical experience in 2 Corinthians 12. For the Christian then, when we die we go to be "at home with the Lord" (2 Cor. 5:8; perhaps also John 14) in Paradise, which we might (as N.T. Wright says) also refer to as "Heaven" (supported by 2 Cor. 12), so long as we don't forget that this is a temporary state, where we await the New Creation and the final Resurrection to Life eternal (as pictured in Rev. 21 & 22 - which is the eternal "heavenly" Kingdom for which we are waiting).

This is the way I attempt to preach the Christian Hope (especially at funerals), because I believe it is deeply Biblical and avoids reinforcing the "resurrection-less" popular image of going straight to a disembodied heaven/hell upon death. How do you tend to talk or think about these things?

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Anonymous Todd A. Stepp said...

This is helpful, I think. - I speak at funerals in a similar, though, perhaps, not as "clear" way. - I have talked about "mystery." I have talked about the promise of the resurrection and, in the mean time, "to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord." - Essentially, I think, the same thing, but what you have said seems a bit more clear in my mind.


12:11 PM, April 05, 2012  
Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

Well, as even Wright (who is very particular about how we say these things) acknowledges - it is a "bit complicated" - it is a mystery into which we have only a couple of glimpses in Scripture (plus the interesting testimony of so many near-death experiences - at least some of which I believe should be taken as credible).

2:42 PM, April 05, 2012  
Anonymous Todd A. Stepp said...

So, lets take this in a new direction . . . do you have a theology that could include ghosts? It is my understanding that the Roman Catholics (at least some) have thought in terms of the possibility that Pergatory could include such a possibility. Since I don't believe in P., that leaves me out. - On the other hand, there is "Old Geoffery" at Epworth. - What do you think? (Perhaps not worthy of an Easter conversation!)

3:48 PM, April 05, 2012  
Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

Todd that is a fascinating question;

I guess I would want to clarify what we mean by "ghosts." On the one hand, from the view I'm taking the spirits of the Christian dead won't normally be "hanging around" for long periods of time after death (I am assuming that such "haunting" about in the attics and spare bedrooms of this world is incompatible with their also being "in" Paradise with the Lord).
Yet on the other hand I certainly believe there is a whole spiritual dimension (what the Creed calls God's "unseen" creation) and it may contain a great diversity of life that, by interacting with the earthly dimension, may have contributed to the apparently universal and cross-cultural experience of and belief in ghosts.

Biblically, I would also wonder about the appearances of Moses and Elijah on the Mount of transfiguration with Jesus - were they ghosts? Elijah seems never to have physically died; Moses' case is a bit uncertain; but if we assume Moses did in fact die, then I suppose what we have at the Transfiguration is a ghost?

What do you think?

12:27 PM, April 10, 2012  
Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

Here is a good blog post on a related theme (the Harrowing of Hell on Holy Saturday):


10:15 AM, April 14, 2012  

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