Jesus, to one of the criminals crucified with him…     (Luke 23.43)

“…today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Biblical imagery, generally speaking, was very concrete, and grounded in reality…
 – biblical people, generally speaking, didn’t usually go in for ‘airy-fairy’ stuff…
 – collectively they were all Lancashire folk…
  – they liked to call a spade a spade…
  – and certainly didn’t go in for harps and halos, clouds and angels…
   – at least, not angels as we generally regard them…

Take ‘hell’ for instance…

Hell was a real place…
 – called Ge Hinnom – the valley of Hinnom – just south of Jerusalem…
 – it was a rubbish dump…
  – were people dumped and burned their rubbish…
  – and where, too, the unclean dead, were likewise dumped…
 – a real place…
  – a smokey, smelly, horrible place…

Ge Hinnom, a Hebrew name, was know in Biblical Greek as Gehenna…
 – usually translated as the ‘hell of fire’…

So when Jesus, in the New Testament, spoke about hell…
 – which he does only 10 times…
 – everyone knew exactly what he meant…

The bible also talks about another sort of hell…
 – ‘hades’ in Greek, ‘sheol’ in Hebrews…
 – which was the old ancient Greek ‘underworld’…
  – dark and dank, but boring rather than horrible…
 – it was a ‘waiting room’ rather than a final destination…
  – I have been there…
  – Crewe railway station on a very cold Christmas Eve in 1976,
   waiting for the one train through that day…!

Paradise, on the other hand, was also a real place…

The word ‘paradise’, of Persian origin, means a walled garden or park…
 – it was the garden of creation…
 – situated somewhere in the East…
  – or, more precisely, in the ancient ‘fertile crescent’
   between the rivers Euphrates and Tigris…
  – commonly called the Garden of Eden…

Paradise was where the tree of life was located…

Interestingly…
 – the whole biblical story starts in the book Genesis with the Garden of Eden, paradise, containing within it the tree of life…
 – and ends in the Book of Revelation with a city, the new Jerusalem,
  containing, not one, but a whole bunch of trees of life…
  oh, and a THRONE…

Heaven, in Biblical Greek, simply the word for sky, is where God lives…

Heaven is not a place for mortals…
 – although it is the place there our hope is laid up…
  – the place from where our citizenship derives…
  – and the place from where the new Jerusalem descends…

We mortals are to keep our feet firmly planted on the earth…
 – albeit a ‘new’ earth…
 – a redeemed, renewed, and righteous earth…
 – an earth that contains the ‘city’…
  – the ‘come-down-out-of-heaven-from-God’ city…
  – the city with the throne of the Lamb and of God at it’s heart…
  – the city with the tree of life, ‘paradise’, within it…

Which all basically means that the Christian hope is not for a ‘pie-in-the-sky’, fairy tale, escapism from reality into a wonderland of angels and harps…
 – but the establishment of the rule of Christ…
  – in our hearts…
  – in the here and now…
  – and in the realities of our own lives…

Jesus’ words to the crucified criminal:
“…today you will be with me in Paradise.”
 – come in response to the crucified criminal’s request to Jesus
to “…remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

This exchange happens at the place “that is called the Skull”…
 – not, I suspect, ‘a green hill far away, without a city wall’…
 – no one would use a prime piece of real-estate for an execution site…!

It was, more probably, maybe, a rubbish dump…!
 – a gehenna of sorts…

And it’s from within the heart of that hell, that the promise of the kingdom is proclaimed…
“Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

About these ads