What Did Jesus Mean By, “Today You will Be With Me in Paradise?” + Should Christians Insult the Devil? 348

 

A happy and blessed Wednesday to you, friends! Today we read 2nd Chronicles 9, Zephaniah 1, Luke 23 and the epistle of Jude. Two questions today, one of which represents one of the greater mysteries of the Bible. Let’s tackle the shorter question first and read the letter of Jude, where we will find out the tiniest bit about a dispute that the archangel Michael had with Satan over the body of Moses, which is itself quite the mystery, but we aren’t covering it today because the Bible says very, very little about this incident beyond what Jude has for us.

In the same way these people—relying on their dreams—defile their flesh, reject authority, and slander glorious ones. Yet when Michael the archangel was disputing with the devil in an argument about Moses’s body, he did not dare utter a slanderous condemnation against him but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” 10 But these people blaspheme anything they do not understand. And what they do understand by instinct—like irrational animals—by these things they are destroyed. 11 Woe to them!

Jude 8-11

Jude is warning the church about a certain group of …people. Maybe false pastors (he calls them shepherds once) or leaders. These people act very spiritual, but don’t have the Holy Spirit, and they talk a big game. In fact, they talk such a big game that they slander the devil and other angels – a practice that Jude warns us is very dangerous and inappropriate. I have been in a few churches and at a few conferences where they have sang songs about the devil being under our feet, and people would stamp about and act like the devil is some sort of wimp that cowers in the presence of true Christians. That, dear friends, is not true – even the archangel Michael, as vast as his power is, does not bring slanderous accusations against the devil, but relies on the power of God. So too should we. Let us not blaspheme that which we don’t understand and that which dwarfs our on power. Let the Lord rebuke the enemy of our souls, and let us rest and hide in the shadow of the Almighty.

Next topic: Luke 23 depicts the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus, and we see here that Jesus is suffering ignominy upon insult upon torture. Passersby wag their tongues at the King of Kings, as does the Roman executors and one of the thieves, himself rightly being executed for his crimes. The other thief, however, does not join in the railing against Jesus, and thus Jesus pronounces an amazing promise to that thief. Let’s read the passage

39 Then one of the criminals hanging there began to yell insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”40 But the other answered, rebuking him: “Don’t you even fear God, since you are undergoing the same punishment? 41 We are punished justly, because we’re getting back what we deserve for the things we did, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Luke 23:39-43

‘Paradise’ is a most curious word that our Lord uses here on the cross. Is this simply another word for ‘Heaven,’ or is Jesus saying something different? This is a question that has been discussed and debated for almost 2000 years! Ephrem the Syrian, a church father from the 300s, seems to equate Paradise with the Garden of Eden:

Adorned in the robe of Christ, the thief is now welcomed into the garden in Adam’s place…Jesus has restored the Paradise lost by Adam by stretching out his arms on the cross and defeating Satan. From the tree of the cross, Adam hears of his return to Eden

Arthur A. Just, ed., Luke, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 360.

And there might be reason for that, as the Greek word here seems to mean something akin to a park or garden.
Augustine takes a bit more of a nuanced view:

It remains, then, that if the words, ‘This day thou shalt be with me in paradise,’ were spoken in a human sense, paradise would be understood to be in hell, where Christ was to be that day in His human soul…

However, Christ may be assumed to have said: ‘This day thou shalt be with me in paradise,’ in a much easier sense and one free of all these subtleties, if He said it not as man but as God. Manifestly, the man Christ was to be that day in the tomb as to His body, in hell as to His soul, but as God, Christ Himself is always everywhere present. For He is the light which shines in the darkness although the darkness does not comprehend it.1 He is the strength and wisdom of God of which it is written that ‘it reacheth from end to end mightily and ordereth all things sweetly,’2 and that ‘it reacheth every where because of its purity and nothing defiled cometh to it.’3 Therefore, wherever paradise may be, whoever is blessed is there with Him who is everywhere.

Augustine of Hippo, Letters (165–203), ed. Hermigild Dressler, trans. Wilfrid Parsons, vol. 30, The Fathers of the Church (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1955), 226.

Clear as mud, right? Well – fortunately our word used here for Paradise, ‘παράδεισος parádeisos‘ is used in two other biblical passages:

I know that this man—whether in the body or out of the body I don’t know; God knows— was caught up into paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a human being is not allowed to speak. 2 Corinthians 12:4 

and

“Let anyone who has ears to hear listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. Revelation 2:7

This gives us a bit more clarity. ‘Paradise’ refers to the place that Paul was caught up to (and can’t really talk about…)  and also to the place where the tree of life is currently – which is not the earthly Garden of Eden, but the Heavenly Garden. Perhaps the Edenic garden, like the tabernacle on earth, also has a parallel in Heaven? Regardless, it would seem that Jesus is simply saying to the thief that he would wake up next in paradise and that the presence of Jesus would be there. How that would happen in a time-space sense, given that Jesus was buried in the ground for three days and descended into Hades is quite beyond me, but I believe it to be truth.
We’ll close with some words from another 4th century church father, Ambrose of Milan:

If paradise, then, is of such a nature that Paul alone, or one like Paul, could scarcely see it while alive and still was unable to remember whether he saw it in the body or out of the body, and moreover heard words that he was forbidden to reveal—if this be true, how will it be possible for us to declare the position of paradise which we have not been able to see and, even if we had succeeded in seeing it, we would be forbidden to share with others? And again, since Paul shrank from exalting himself by reason of the sublimity of the revelation, how much more ought we to strive not to be too anxious to disclose that which leads to danger by its very revelation! The subject of paradise should not, therefore, be treated lightly.

Andrew Louth and Marco Conti, eds., Genesis 1–11, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 54.

 


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