Where is Paradise Located?
The name, “Paradise” is a direct “transliteration” of a Greek word. The word itself actually would be better translated “a garden or a royal park”. When the Greek armies traveled to the regions of the ancient city of Babylon, they found awe-inspiring gardens unlike anything they had ever experienced. However, the New Testament gives a different interpretation of this word. Usage by Jesus, by the Apostle Paul, and in the Book of Revelation designates it as the present abode of God Himself—the Third Heaven.
In order to have a better understanding of “Paradise” let me review the Biblical picture of what the Old and New Testaments reveal.
The scriptural understanding of the “abode of the dead” by the Old and New Testament people was vastly different from that of the Egyptians, Greeks, or Romans. The Israelis of the Old Testament and the Christians of the New Testament held a view of “death” that included a continuing existence. But, unlike the other main cultures of the time, it was not a continuation of life with all of its pleasures, trials, and possessions. The “afterlife” was a non-defined place of peace for the righteous, and torment for the ungodly.
The Old Testament Realm: Sheol
The Hebrew people had only one word to refer to the place of the “departed dead”. Sheol, “the grave”, was that place. Unlike the “underworld” of the Egyptians of the time (and the Greeks later), Sheol was a place of mystery, not a reflection of this world. The name really means the “unseen” and is, therefore similar to the meaning of the Greek word Hades. The Hebrew concept of death did not allow for the cessation of being after death, but neither did it provide a detailed picture of where the dead “existed”. From the limited passages that mention Sheol and the existence of the dead, a few concepts can be determined. It was considered to contain two compartments within the Earth, each based upon the “faith-condition” of the person while they were upon the earth.
1. The Righteous Dead
This was considered to be a place of peace and blessing. It was the region where the godly and believing waited for the consummation of the ages—the establishing of the Kingdom of the Messiah. At that future time, the ones who died believing in the hope of the Messiah would be raised to reign with Him. Before the time of the giving of the Law, this was based upon a simple hope in the Redeemer, the Promised Seed. After the Law, it was also a matter of accepting the demands of the Law—submitting to the offering of a sacrificial substitute.
By the time of Jesus, this region was also known to the Jewish people as Abraham's Bosom (Luke 16:22, 23). This title reflected the belief that Abraham, considered their “father”, was the chief authority there, and the one who welcomed all who had accepted the “faith” he had first expressed.
2. The Unrighteous Dead - also referred to as “the Wilderness”
This was recognized as a place of torment, suffering, thirst, loneliness, and fear. It was also the habitation of demons and all manner of dreadful creatures. From this awful place, there was no escape, nor end of torment—the ultimate destination, the Lake of Fire was not revealed in Old Testament.
Overall, the understanding of “Sheol” was indefinite. Although in many passages it is seen as dark, foreboding, and isolated, there are other verses which present hope, peace, the presence of loved ones, and the promise of resurrection.
New Testament Realms
The dead were believed to exist in one of several realms
A) Hades - This was similar in concept to “Sheol” of the Old Testament, except that it contained 3 compartments which can be identified by their references in scripture. The word, Hades, also means “the unseen” and is sometimes indefinite in its reference as to the place of the righteous, or unrighteous—only the context can help to clarify the meaning.
The King James Version has unfortunately assigned the word “Hell” as the most frequent translation for this word. This adds to the confusion of thinking of Hades as the place of “eternal damnation” instead of the “temporary abode” of the dead.
1) Paradise – This is the place of the Righteous dead—both Old and New Testament Saints (those who “Sleep” or “Died in the Lord”) A study of the New Testament passages which refer to this subject reveals several keys to help our understanding on this subject. The best passages for study are: Luke 16:19–31; 2 Cor 12:1–4; Eph 4:8; and Luke 23:42–43.
As stated above, this is the same as Abraham's Bosom. Until the “resurrection of Jesus” it was considered to be located “in the earth”. When Jesus ascended to the Father, “...he led captivity captive...” transferring those in Abraham’s Bosom / Paradise to the 3rd Heaven.
The concept of, “in the earth” should not be seen as literally “underground” but as a dimension of existence that is not physical, but not the same as the “abode of God—Heaven.
It was a place of supreme peace, in the very presence of the righteous dead—Abraham was seen as the host and leader. It is clearly contrasted with the realm of the unrighteous dead where there was torment, fear, and an awesome foreboding of suffering without relief.
Even the “Thief on the cross” projected a “theology” that was common to the Hebrews, that the Messiah would “one day” establish His heavenly Kingdom, and welcome all the righteous dead into His presence—Paradise. This “righteousness” was not gained from “keeping the Law” but from believing in the Promise of the Messiah—the Redeemer of all their sins.
Therefore, the idea of “Paradise” was of a temporary residence awaiting the manifestation of the Kingdom of the Messiah.
After the resurrection, the New Testament writers describe Paradise as located in one of three realms of the Heavens:
1st Heaven = the Atmosphere where the birds fly
2nd Heaven = the Universe—the Planets and Stars
The 3rd Heaven (2 Cor 12:2; 4).
When Paul refers to the “death of the saints” in his Letters, he doesn’t mention the term Paradise. Yet, he speaks of immediate presence with the Lord following death, and the continuation of existence. He speaks of a future appearance of the Lord Jesus upon the earth, and the gathering together of all of the believers, living and dead, to himself. The spirits of the “dead in Christ” will come with Him (from Heaven), and their bodies will be raised in an incorruptible state. Those “believers” who are alive on the earth at that time will receive an immediate transfiguration into a “resurrection body” and all will then be in His glorious presence for all Eternity.
(See: 2 Cor 5:1–9; 1 Thess 4:13–18; 1 Cor 15:35–58)
2) Torment / Hell – As gained from the passages above, this was a place of suffering, similar to the Old Testament concept, except that by the time of the New Testament it was clearly seen as temporary, awaiting the White Throne Judgment when all those therein will be dismissed to Gehenna.
It contains all the “Unbelieving Dead” since the time of Creation. This status was not the result of breaking the Law, for all men had broken the Law, but of not believing in the Promised Messiah.
This was the designated place for all mankind since the fall of Adam, were it not for the promise of the Redeemer—mankind’s substitute in death.
As mentioned above, “hell” is not the best translation of the word Hades. However, most of the references that use this term do refer to this place of “temporary” torment.
3) Tartarus - The “prison-house”; also translated occasionally as “Hell” (2 Peter 2:4).
This was a specific place assigned to the Fallen Angels who, since the flood, are kept in chains of darkness (1Peter 3:19; Jude 6, 7). It also is a temporal place—they are also awaiting the time of the Final Judgment.
The Abyss, or Bottomless Pit, is a part of Tartarus, in which one very powerful angel is confined. He is Abaddon (Hebrew) or Apollyon (Greek.), “the Destroyer; the Angel of Death” (Rev. 9:1-11; Isaiah 54:16). During the last half of the “great tribulation,” this “being” will be released along with a great mass of demonic spirits to rule over death and bring destruction on the earth.
B) Gehenna – “Eternal Hell”—the name is derived from the “Valley of Hinnom” (the place where the ancient people offered human sacrifices to the god, Molech)—a place of Unquenchable Fire—The Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:14, 15).
This is the place of Eternal Death: eternal and absolute separation from GOD. There is no cessation of existence—only eternal suffering and anguish. Although there are many who doubt the “eternal” quality of this place, it is clearly presented in scripture—the same word, “eternal” is the one used in reference to the believer’s life in the presence of God and His very existence. As abhorrent as it is to us, if the believer’s future is eternal life—absolute and sublime presence with God, then the unbeliever’s future is eternal existence in the absolute horror of separation from God.
There is no one—neither the unrighteous dead; Satan; Fallen Angels; nor Demons—in this place at the present.
This is the final depository prepared for Satan, his angels, and the demons.
It is also the ultimate destination for all the Unrighteous Dead.
At the White Throne Judgment (Rev 20:11–15), Death, Hell, and the Grave will give up their dead and they will all be thrown into the Lake of Fire.
So, “Where is Paradise?” It is in the glorious presence of God. Paradise is not the “New Heaven” which will be created after the Great White Throne Judgment. Yet, it is a place of absolute peace and rest. There are no scriptures that really give us a clear picture of what is happening there presently, but it is certainly timeless and pleasant. In our “temporal” understanding, we relate to it as being “above the earth”. Only when we have a resurrection body, and a soul made whole will we be able to fully conceive of the glory of that place. Until then, “we see through a glass darkly” (1 Cor 13:10–12).