Eschatology

 

 

Paradise is not Heaven

 

 

 

John Wesley taught that paradise is not heaven. In his sermon The Rich Man And Lazarus he said: ‘Paradise is not heaven. It is indeed (if we may be allowed the expression) the antechamber of heaven, where the souls of the righteous remain till, after the general judgment, they are received into glory’. And in his sermon The Important Question he said that when a good man dies he is conducted safe ‘into Abraham's bosom, into the delights of Paradise; the garden of God, where the light of his countenance perpetually shines. It is but one of a thousand commendations of this antechamber of heaven that "there the wicked cease from troubling, there the weary are at rest." For there they have numberless sources of happiness which they could not have upon earth. There they meet with "the glorious dead of ancient days." They converse with Adam, first of men; with Noah, first of the new world; with Abraham, the friend of God; with Moses and the Prophets; with the Apostles of the Lamb; with the saints of all ages; and, above all, they are with Christ.’ And in his sermon Of Hell he said: ‘But as happy as the souls in paradise are, they are preparing for far greater happiness. For paradise is only the porch of heaven; and it is there the spirits of just men are made perfect. It is in heaven only that there is the fullness of joy, the pleasures that are at God’s right hand for evermore’

In the light of this teaching, therefore, the souls of the righteous at death do not go immediately to heaven, but to another place called paradise (or Abraham’s bosom).

 

Confutation

 

Now, the above mentioned doctrine, which was taught by John Wesley and is still taught by some Christians, is based on the story of the rich man and Lazarus, told by Jesus Christ, according to which when Lazarus died he was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom (or paradise), which was not located in heaven but in the heart of the earth somewhere above the place where the souls of the wicked were tormented (which was separated from the bosom of Abraham by a great gulf). However, this doctrine – from the resurrection of Jesus Christ on - cannot be upheld any longer, for after Jesus’ resurrection the bosom of Abraham, which was located above hell and into which the righteous descended after death, is no longer the intermediate place for the righteous dead. Let me explain to you why.

Paul wrote to the Ephesians: “Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.)” (Ephesians 4:8-10). The captives whom Jesus carried from the lower parts of the earth to heaven were the righteous who had died in the faith prior to the resurrection of Christ. For prior to the resurrection of Christ all the righteous who died descended into a place of comfort which was located in the lower parts of the earth (or in the heart of the earth), that is to say, into the abode of the dead which had been prepared for the righteous, which was called Abraham’s bosom, which – as I said before - was separated from the abode of the wicked by a great gulf. This is what we learn from the apparition of Samuel to Saul and from the story of the rich man and Lazarus told by Jesus.

As for the apparition of Samuel, it must be said that when Saul went to consult the medium of En-Dor so that she might bring up Samuel for him, that medium – through her evil powers - caused Samuel to ascend out of the earth, for she said to Saul: “I saw a spirit ascending out of the earth” (1 Samuel 28:13 – NKJV), and Samuel himself said to Saul that he had been brought up, as it is written: “Now Samuel said to Saul: ‘Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” (1 Samuel 28:15 – NKJV). Therefore, since the kingdom of heaven is not under the earth and Samuel had been an upright man in his days who pleased God, we conclude that Samuel was brought up out of Abraham’s bosom, which was under the earth, in the lower parts of the earth.

As for the story of the rich man and Lazarus, Abraham said to that man who was in torments in Hades and who pleaded with him to send Lazarus that he might dip the tip of his finger in water and cool his tongue: “And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us” (Luke 16:26 – NKJV). Therefore the two places – that is, the one who contained the souls of the wicked and the other who contained the souls of the righteous - were separated from each other by a great gulf. Furthermore, those who were in hell (or hades) could see those who were in Abraham’s bosom and vice versa, for it is written: “And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom” (Luke 16:23 – NKJV).

So prior to the resurrection of Jesus, both the righteous and the wicked descended into the abode of the dead (which was called ‘Sheol’ in Hebrew and ‘Hades’ in Greek) which was located in the lower parts of the earth. However, while the righteous descended into a place of rest called Abraham’s bosom, the wicked descended into a place of torment. We may affirm that the abode of the dead was divided in two different compartments; one for the righteous and the other for the wicked, which were separated from each other by a great gulf which prevented those who were in them from passing from one place to another.

In the light of what I have said, therefore, the captives whom Jesus after His resurrection led to heaven were the souls of those who had died in faith, which at the time of His death were in the bosom of Abraham.

You will ask me then: ‘Which is the intermediate place for the righteous dead from that time on? Well, according to the Scripture, it is heaven. That’s the place where the righteous go when they die. That heaven is the intermediate place for the righteous dead is evident from the following words written by John and Paul.

● John said: “When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held” (Revelation 6:9 – NKJV). Where is the altar? It is before the throne of God (cf. Revelation 8:3), therefore in heaven.

● Paul said: “For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better” (Philippians 1:23), and again: “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). Therefore if to be absent from the body means to be present with the Lord, this is tantamount to saying that when the righteous departs from the body he goes to heaven for Jesus is in heaven at the right hand of God, as it is written that Jesus “was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God” (Mark 16:19). This heaven, which is the highest heaven, is called also paradise, for Paul says to the Corinthians: “I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter” (2 Corinthians 12:2-4). Notice that Paul did not make any difference between paradise and the third heaven, for he called the place where he was caught both ‘paradise’ and ‘the third heaven’. Therefore when we say that when the saints die they go immediately to heaven we mean that they go immediately to paradise, and when we say that they go immediately to paradise we mean that they go to heaven.

That’s why we can say confidently that “if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1 – NKJV), and that we are well pleased rather to be absent from the body, for we know that to depart means to go to be with the Lord in the heavenly glory. To God be the glory forever. Amen.

 

 

 

 

Back