Q: In Luke 23:43, Jesus tells the thief- “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” Yet on his rising from the dead, he states to Mary in John 20:17– “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father.” One passage says he’s going up to Paradise the same day, the other states that he has not yet ascended. Which is it? Also, what and where is paradeisos (original Greek). -D.O.
A: Jesus tells the repentant thief- “…today you will be with me in paradise.”-NIV
Years ago (20+ yrs) when I was taking a coarse in Jewish theology and Rabbinical studies, I did a major theological paper on ancient Jewish teachings on the afterlife. According to the prevailing understanding in first century Judea (based upon the Older Testament), when one died, the body was to be buried in a grave but the soul went ‘down’ to ‘Sheol’ and waited for the end of time and final judgment.
‘Sheol’ (or ‘Hades’ in Greek), was not the abode of God or Heaven, but a holding place for the dead. It was divided into two major areas–a place for the unbelieving wicked, & ‘Abrahams Bosom’ or ‘Paradise’ (paradeisos-Greek) -for the righteous believers. The dead were to stay in this holding place until the end of time and the Final Judgment.
Another tradition based upon the OT prophecy, was that the righteous of Israel would be Resurrected when the Messiah came, and would live in peace and prosperity for a long period of time–at the end of which would come the Final Judgment. Of coarse, we are off of point at this juncture, but it is helpful I believe, to see the full soteriological progression. Some of what I speak of, is recorded in the story of ‘the rich man and the beggar named Lazarus’ (See: Lk 16:19-31). Note in the story that Abraham is in charge of the ‘Paradise’ side of Sheol. This is not the abode of God or Heaven.
Now back to your question–when Jesus died on the cross, he went ‘down’ into Abraham Bosom or Paradise for three days. After he was resurrected, he spoke to Mary in the garden (John 20:17), and then ascended to his Father in Heaven. Therefore, the two accounts are not contradictory. One of the earliest Christian creeds–“The Apostles Creed”, which is said to preserve some ‘Apostolic’ traditions, records this progression of events:
…He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the lower world. (‘inferna’)
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into Heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I add the following at no extra charge!–To complete the eschatological picture. According to early ‘Apostolic’ tradition–Jesus also returned to Abrahams Bosom/Paradise and led the righteous believers into Heaven where they now reside with him. Now when ‘believers’ die today, they immediately ascend into the presence of the Lord Jesus in Heaven (See: II Cor. 5:8). At the Second Coming, believers will come back to earth with Jesus, and live & reign with him. Later comes the Final Judgment and our final assignments–the wicked to ‘Gehenna’ or ‘outer darkness’, and the believers to ‘a new creation’–an eternal abode with God (See: Rev. 20:5).