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.”