The first paradise was the Garden of Eden. In the Septuagint “garden” in Genesis 2:8 appears as “paradise,” the paradise of Eden. The Hebrew word in the original refers to a walled garden of pleasure and delight, where sin cannot enter. It appears that all peoples of the earth have in their traditions a memory of a time when the original inhabitants of the earth lived in some such earthly paradise. There is a longing in all of us to return to this paradise.
When Jesus told the dying thief “Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise,” was He speaking of heaven? Where then would be the judgment of which the Scriptures speak? “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:10); “for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ” (Romans 14:10). This judgment comes at the end of time, after the bodily resurrection. In another place, the apostle Paul warns about those “Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some” (2 Timothy 2:18).
The sequence in the Scriptures is the bodily resurrection, then the final judgment and then the final separation to eternal torment or eternal joy. “When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: and before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats . . . And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal” (Matthew 25:31-46).
It would appear then that when Jesus spoke of paradise He meant the abode of the spirits of the dead before the resurrection. Paradise and “Abraham’s bosom” were both terms used by the Jews to describe the abode of the departed spirits of the righteous. Revelation 6:9 uses the term “under the altar” to describe this place. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:20-25) demonstrates that even here there is a division between the saved and the lost. Yet here it appears that communication is possible between the two parts of the abode of the dead, even though the conditions are quite different. I believe we can infer from the Scripture that in heaven the separation will be of such a magnitude that those in one place will not be aware of those in the other.
Those that have died are thus in an intermediate state and place, awaiting the resurrection and final judgment. Some are in a place of beauty and joy, some in a very unpleasant place, yet not the torments of eternal fire. It would appear from this that those in Matthew 7:22 who came before the judgment throne complaining: “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?” would be those who found themselves shut out of paradise and felt that a horrible injustice had been done. Jesus’ answer is horrible to contemplate: “I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (verse 23).
If we are to enter paradise, and eventually heaven, our works must be the outworking of the Holy Spirit in our lives, not works that are done in an attempt to earn the favour of God or our fellow men.