Shelby G. Floyd
Good morning. It is a beautiful day. We are glad that spring has finally sprung! It is good to see your smiling faces and we have a good number present today. We appreciate you coming out to worship our God on the Lord’s day. How many have been out playing golf already? I see several hands. That is a good thing to do, especially when the weather is really nice.
When my wife passed away recently somebody said that she had gone to paradise. That word paradise stuck in my mind, so I started thinking about paradise and it has been very therapeutic for me to work on this sermon that I am presenting today. And the title of it is The Paradise of God. The word paradise is a Persian word spelled pardes. The Greek word for paradise is paradeisos. Paradise refers to a beautiful garden, a park, orchard, and a pleasure ground. And that word paradise is used in both the Old Testament and the New Testament.
I searched the Internet for the best icon that I could find that might represent what paradise might look like and I think the best place that I produced would be the Masters Golf Tournament course down in Augusta, Georgia. It is so beautiful and the only thing it would lack to be paradise as I picture it in the Bible would be some fruit trees and fruit bushes for food. Therefore a photo of the Masters Golf course is the first picture you see today.
This introduces our subject today, The Paradise of God. The word paradise occurs three times in the New Testament, and we are going to look at each one of those and make application to what the Bible says about the departed spirits of those who are the children of God. Paradise is found in Luke 23:43, 2nd Corinthians 12:4, and Revelation 2:7. And we will examine each one of those and make the proper application.
One time Jesus encountered a group of Jewish people called Sadducees and they did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, neither did they believe in spirits. When he confronted them he said do you not remember the episode with Moses that took place at the burning bush? When Moses saw the burning bush that was not consumed, he stepped aside to take a closer look at it. And God said take your shoes off for the ground you stand on is holy ground. God said that he was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jesus then said that God is the God of the living not the dead. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had been dead a long time as to their earthly body, but they were still alive in another place (Exodus 3:6; Luke 20:38).
THE ORIGIN, DEFINITION, AND APPLICATION OF THE WORD “PARADISE”
I want us first to look at the origin, the definition, and the application of the word paradise. Paradise is a word of Persian origin and is spelled pardes. It found its way also into many of the languages of neighboring countries. Pardes even found its way into the Hebrew language! The English language is the greatest language because we have the most words to describe every shade of meaning. We borrow from other languages and make it part of our language. Likewise the Hebrews brought that Persian word pardes over and made it a part of the Hebrew language. Pardes is found three times in the Hebrew Old Testament. In Nehemiah 2:8 it is used to refer to the king’s forest or royal park. Solomon referred to his Royal Garden, “I made myself gardens (Heb. gan) and orchards (pardes), and I planted all kinds of fruit trees in them” (Ecclesiastes 2:5). And in the third usage the Persian word refers to an orchard (pardes) of pomegranates (Song of Solomon 4:13).
When it is all said and done, The Garden of Eden was the architype of all the beautiful places called paradise. All other gardens, parks, forests, and orchards were but feeble imitations:
The Lord God planted a garden (Heb. gan) eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden (Heb. gan), and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:8-9 NKJV).
Therefore, the Garden of Eden is where the concept of paradise came from, and it is so amazing that throughout the Middle East and throughout Asia every language had a word like pardes to represent the ultimate paradise garden!
THE STORY OF LAZARUS
Now I want to relate the story of Lazarus that leads into our theme today as to where the spirits of God’s faithful children go after the death of the physical body (Luke 16:19-31). The Bible says there was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day. There was also a beggar named Lazarus. He was flung down in front of the gate of the rich man’s estate. He was full of sores and the dogs came and licked his sores. This poor man was in bad shape, and nobody cared. And the man living in luxury only thought about himself. All the beggar had to eat were the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table.
According to the story both men died. The beggar died and was tenderly carried to Abraham’s bosom or side. The record says the rich man lifted up his eyes in torment and he could see Lazarus a far off. Both of these men were in hades, an unseen place where all departed spirits go after death. But Lazarus is in a different world, and he is at peace. The rich man is in a place separated by a great gulf that is fixed. It is “a far off“ from where Lazarus is at peace. The Bible says that the rich man could see Lazarus and he begged Abraham to send Lazarus back to earth to warn his five brothers so they could avoid the awful place. But Abraham emphasized to him that his brothers had the written word of Moses and the prophets. They should listen and live by the revelation of the word given to them.
Lazarus is in a beautiful peaceful place called hades. The wealthy man is also in hades, but it is separated by a great fixed gulf that no one can cross over to the other side. All departed spirits go to hades, either to Abraham’s side or where the indifferent wealthy man went. To make sure you will go where Lazarus is, you must become a child of God and be faithful unto death! “HADES” is the first word that we need to fix in our minds as we progress in this lesson on “the paradise of God.”
THE THIEF ON THE CROSS
Next, we come to a conversation that Jesus had at the very end of his life as recorded in Luke 23:32-43. What is your concept of carrying the cross to the place of crucifixion? I used to think that they had to carry the entire cross out to where they were going to be crucified, but now I do not think that is the case. It is more likely that the Romans would set the upright in the ground at the place of the crucifixion. Then the person to be crucified would carry their own cross beam to the place of crucifixion. And then the executioners would fasten the person to the upright post and crucify them publicly.
And so Jesus and two thieves were to be crucified at the same time. Jesus was the sinless son of God, and the other two men were criminals or felons. Both criminals were crucified along with Jesus. He was right in the middle of one on his right hand and one on his left hand. And one of them started bad mouthing Jesus, saying you claim to be the Messiah and if you are the Messiah come down off of that cross and save us. But the other criminal who had been quiet said to his fellow criminal, “what are you talking about, we deserve what we are getting because we have done the bad things in life, but this man has not done anything worthy of death. And then the penitent thief said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” I think all of us would feel that way when we get ready to draw our last breath. “Lord, I am getting ready to go into another world, remember me as I depart!”
Do you remember what Jesus said to that penitent thief?
“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
Today you shall be with me in paradise, not yesterday, not tomorrow, not next week, but TODAY! Therefore, we can draw from this that paradise and the saved in hades are the same place! Why? Because Lazarus went to the good place in hades, and because Jesus said to the thief on the cross that he would be with him even that very day in paradise. And also because the scripture teaches us that the spirit of Jesus was brought out of hades after three days and united with his resurrected body. You might say, “where does it teach that?”
The biblical record teaches us this on the day of Pentecost, the day that the Church of Christ had its beginning. Peter along with the other apostles stood up and began to preach the good news about the resurrection of Christ from hades:
25 For David says concerning Him:
‘I foresaw the Lord always before my face,
For He is at my right hand, that I may not be shaken.
26 Therefore my heart rejoiced, and my tongue was glad;
Moreover my flesh also will rest in hope.
27 For You will not leave my soul in Hades,
Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.
28 You have made known to me the ways of life;
You will make me full of joy in Your presence.’
29 “Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne, 31 he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption. 32 This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses (Acts 2:25-32 NKJV).
To summarize, Jesus said to the penitent thief that this very day you are going to with me in paradise. But Peter says God brought Jesus out of hades. So the conclusion is paradise is in hades or hades and paradise are the same place! Therefore, I think so far we could say that “Abraham’s side,” “paradise,” and “hades” all refer to the same place!
A MAN WAS CAUGHT UP TO THE THIRD HEAVEN / A MAN WAS CAUGHT UP TO PARADISE
Before we actually digest the text in 2nd Corinthians 12, it is necessary to go back to 2nd Corinthians 11. There were some preachers and teachers that came in after Paul had spent a year and a half establishing the church at Corinth. These preachers and teachers came along, and were trying to tear up the work that Paul had done. There are some preachers and members that love to tear down the work that others have done. Some people are narcissistic and use the pronoun “I” all the time. They usually boast and brag about themselves and enjoy pulling someone else down. That is what these teachers were doing to Paul.
That background gives us the clue about what Paul has to say to the Corinthian church in 2 Corinthians 12:1-7). Therefore, Paul is saying that he could also boast about his position as an apostle of Christ:
It is doubtless not profitable for me to boast. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord: 2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a one was caught up to the third heaven. 3 And I know such a man—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— 4 how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. 5 Of such a one I will boast; yet of myself I will not boast, except in my infirmities. 6 For though I might desire to boast, I will not be a fool; for I will speak the truth. But I refrain, lest anyone should think of me above what he sees me to be or hears from me.
7 And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure (2 Corinthians 12:1-7 NKJV).
What Paul is saying here is if you want to boast about what you have been doing, I will boast just a little. But God is going to give me a “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7) to keep me humble lest I exalt myself like these false teachers who are troubling you Corinthians.
But having now explained the context of his remarks, it is important to examine what he said in connection with our topic on The Paradise of God! He says I know a man in Christ who 14 years ago– whether in the body or out of the body, I do not know, God knows—such a one was caught up into the third heaven. And I know such a man—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows–how he was caught up into paradise and heard in expressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.
What conclusion can we draw from a man who was caught up to the third heaven and he was also caught up to paradise? Would it not be safe to say that the third heaven and paradise are the same place? Therefore, we can add “the third heaven” to the other words we have noticed that describe where the spirits of God’s faithful children go when they die. So we conclude that paradise and the third heaven are the same place. Let us then put all of these words together that we have noticed during this lesson: “Abraham’s side,” “Paradise,” “Hades,” and “The Third Heaven” obviously all refer to the same place.
“The third heaven” is a new concept that we need to explain and add to our vocabulary as it relates to our topic, “The Paradise of God.” The Jewish people had the concept of “the first heaven” as the place where the birds fly. We enjoy the first heaven every day and try to identify all the birds, hawks, eagles, dragonflies, and butterflies. The second heaven is farther out where the sun, moon, and stars are located. But “the third heaven” is where God dwells.
When we stand on the earth all around the globe and look down, we are looking into the heart of the earth. But likewise when we human beings are standing up all around the globe and we look up—up is 360’ and expanding forever into space. Buzz Lightyear was right when he said, “To infinity and beyond!” Therefore, “paradise” is in “the third heaven” where God dwells. Hence, when faithful Christians die they definitely will be in a close relationship with the Lord. Paul described our intermediate state like this: “We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:8-10).
Now, let us notice the last reference in the New Testament to the place called “Paradise!”
THE PARADISE OF GOD
Our text for this lesson was read in your hearing and now we will read it again to bring to our attention what Jesus revealed to John the Revelator about this place called the Paradise of God:
“To the angel of the church of Ephesus write,
‘These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands: 2 “I know your works, your labor, your [b]patience, and that you cannot [c]bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; 3 and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. 4 Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent. 6 But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
7 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.” ’ (Revelation 2:1-7 NKJV).
Seven is a number that stands for a complete unit, like seven days in a week forms a week. So the seven churches represent the church that Jesus built (Matthew 16:18-19). So the message to each of the seven churches was really a message to the church period! It was a message to the individual congregations, but it could be applied to all congregations throughout the world and to the congregations today!
You Have Left Your First Love
The church at Ephesus had some good things they were doing, that was favorable. They had tested some teachers who claimed to be apostles, and found them to be liars. Paul in the Roman letter taught the same thing. The Roman congregation was to put a tag on those who sowed discord and avoid them (Romans 16:17). The Ephesians would not tolerate these false apostles and that was a good thing!
But the Lord held one thing against them because they had left their first love. How many times do we see that happen today in marriages where a couple has been married for many years and then one lost that “first love” and breaks up the family relationship. Perhaps that illustrates what had happened to the members at Ephesus. That is what happens to some members of the church today. Their early love and enthusiasm for Christ and the church grows cold and they lose their first love.
What is the remedy for this spiritual condition? If you have experienced losing your first love of Christ and the church, occasionally you may remember how good your spiritual Christian life was back then, and perhaps deep-down desire to have it back in your life. If so, take heed to the warning of the messenger to the church at Ephesus:
“Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent” (Revelation 2:5).
“Memory is the lever of repentance!
Now I want to emphasize this word “overcomers.” Are you an overcomer or a backslider? There are a lot of backsliders today. At one time there were many faithful members of the church, but now they have become backsliders. If you have been a backslider, why not repent and become an overcomer! We all need to be overcomers, so when we come to the last breath in our body, we can exclaim, “I have overcome the temptations and allurements of this world and now Lord take me to your loving arms in the Paradise of God.
And so the messenger to the church at Ephesus made this promise to all the overcomers:
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God” ’ (Revelation 2:7).
In the beginning “the tree of life” was in the garden of Eden. But because of sin mankind was separated from God (Isaiah 59:1-2) and separated from the tree of life. But now in Christ Jesus the “overcomers” are promised to eat from the tree of life. Where is this tree of life? According to the apostle John, it is in the midst of the “paradise of God” (Revelation 2:7).
Now let us summarize what we have learned about where the spirits of God’s faithful children who have overcome this world go when they shed off the mortal coil. They go to Abraham’s bosom or side, they go to paradise like Jesus and the penitent thief, they go to hades where the spirit of Jesus was for three days (Acts 2:27), they go to “paradise” which is in “the third heaven” (2 Corinthians 12:2, 4), and they go to “the paradise of God” where they can eat from “the tree of life” (Revelation 2:7).
Then at the end of the human drama, Christ will come back and raise the dead (John 5:28-29), judge the world, deliver up the kingdom to God (1 Corinthians 15:24), and destroy the earth and the work therein (2 Peter 3:5-7).
Now, you are invited to accept the invitation of Christ to come to him in faith, and be baptized for the forgiveness of sin, be added to his church, live the new life in Christ and be an “overcomer.” Heaven will then be your eternal home. It is your choice.
Copyright © 2022 Shelby G. Floyd, All Rights Reserved
Shelby G. Floyd delivered the essence of this sermon April 24, 2022, at the Heartland Church of Christ, 1693 West Main Street, Greenwood, Indiana 46142