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As Jesus’ Spirit ebbed out with His lifeblood on the cross, it touched the lives of both criminals crucified on either side of him: one to a heart of flesh that was softened from stone by receiving Jesus’ Spirit of sacrifice, but one to an even greater hardness of heart by resisting that same Spirit.  Such were a type of the sheep and the goats who would be sorted into, or out of, Christ’s kingdom as that kingdom would spread forth over the whole world after the day of Pentecost when that Spirit was poured out as a river of life for the salvation of the world; cf. Mat 3:11-12.  After rebuking the hardened criminal, which demonstrated His penitence, the other criminal asked Jesus to remember him when He came in His kingdom, which also demonstrated a great faith that saw through death, and that came only through Christ’s Spirit since both were about to die.  To his request Jesus responded that on that very day he would be with him in Paradise.

What exactly did Jesus mean by Paradise, and where is it?  Is it synonymous with Abraham’s bosom, a blessed place in Sheol, the realm of the dead, to where Lazarus was carried?  Cf. Luk 16:22,25.  Is it equivalent to the third heaven, presumably where God dwells, or to be distinguished from it, as some have proposed?  See 2Cor 12:2-4.  What does Jesus specifically say is in the Paradise of God?  See Rev 2:7, which is the only other occurrence of Paradise in the New Testament.  What location does the mention of the tree of life associate with Paradise?  See Gen 2:8-15 and note that although Paradise only occurs three times in the New Testament, it occurs over forty times in the LXX with the meaning of a forest (Neh 2:8), park (Ecc 2:5) or orchard (Sol 4:13), i.e., a garden, and especially the garden of God that He planted in Eden (Gen 2 and 3; cf. Gen 13:10, Joe 2:3, Isa 51:3).

In answer to the man’s petition that He remember him when He came in His kingdom, what does Jesus’ response that he would be with Him that day in Paradise indicate about death being the door through which one enters into Paradise, where because of death to sin one is able to finally and fully be restored to the fellowship with God that was lost in the original Paradise of Eden, where access to the tree of life is restored and one can live forever in the eternal life of knowing the only true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent (Joh 17:3)?  How does this accord with the rest of Jesus’ teachings that the way to life is through death?  Cf. Mat 16:25, Joh 12:24-26.  How does it also accord with what Paul taught in 1Co 15:50?  How does it also help us to understand the “now and not yet” aspect of God’s kingdom (1Jo 3:2), that we may participate in now to the extent that we daily take up our cross to mortify our flesh, but that will not be fully realized until the time of our physical death when we finally put off the last vestiges of our sinful nature?

Although the Genesis account gives every indication that the Paradise of Eden was a real, physical place upon the earth, what evidence does Scripture also give—in addition to Jesus’ answer to the dying criminal that he would be with Him in that Paradise on that day—that it was more than just a physical place, but in some way also a spiritual place, which aspect was clearly lost due to man’s fall into sin, but which aspect may also be regained at physical death?  See again Rev 2:7 as well as Gen 3:24 and think: are the cherubim God stationed to guard the way to the tree of life physical or spiritual creatures?  Note also that in Gen 3:24 that the LXX[1] reads that God cast Adam out and caused him to dwell over against the garden (i.e., paradise), where “over against” translates the adverb ἀπέναντι.  This word is formed from the three Greek prepositions ἀπό (separation, away from), ἐν (in, with or by), and ἀντί (against, opposite, in place of).  Although it is frequently used in a geographical sense and is usually translated as before or opposite (cf. Gen 21:16[2], 49:30[3]) it is often used in the sense of being in the presence of another, i.e., before them, but at the same time also separated from them in some way, as Hagar was from Ishmael, and the field of Machpelah was from Mamre; see also Exo 30:6[4], Deut 32:52[5], Jon 4:5[6] (Heb east of it), Mat 27:61[7].  This sense is often used of being before the Lord, i.e., in His presence, and yet also separated from Him as a consequence of the fall, thus giving the fullest sense of its meaning from its roots; see Jos 24:1[8], 1Ch 13:10[9], 17:16[10], 2Ch 2:4[11], Isa 1:16[12], Hos 7:2[13].  We understand then from this use a sense in which there is another realm, near to this one, spiritual in nature yet just as real, but from which we are separated and opposite to or against, so that we should not be so surprised to learn that Paradise has always been there, before us, but at the same time off limits to us and separated from us because of our sin.  Notice especially Num 20:9-10[14] where Moses took the rod that was before (ἀπέναντι) the Lord and gathered the congregation before (ἀπέναντι) the rock, which Paul says was a spiritual rock that followed them, and that rock was Christ (1Co 10:4).  See also Deut 28:66[15] and Dan 10:16[16] for other examples of ἀπέναντι to describe one’s physical relation to that spiritual realm, as well as 2Ki 6:14-17 for the reality of this spiritual realm and its closeness but separation from it at the same time.  How does this help us to better understand Jesus’ words in Luk 17:20-21 about the kingdom of God not coming with signs to be observed, for it is already in our midst?  Cf. Rom 14:17.

In light of this spiritual aspect of the Paradise of Eden that was lost when man fell, but that can be regained immediately at the death of our physical bodies, is it unreasonable to suppose that its physical aspect shall also ultimately be regained after the resurrection of those bodies when God makes all things new?  Cf. Rev 21:5, 22:1-2.  How does understanding this spiritual aspect of the Paradise of Eden also help us to better understand the prophecy in Eze 28 about the king of Tyre that seems also to be talking about the spiritual force in the heavenly places that empowered him, which most have come to associate with Satan?  See Eze 28:13-15 and think: considering the spiritual aspect of Eden that has continued to exist since man’s fall that the dying thief was able to enter into with Jesus that day, should we necessarily assume that because it speaks of an anointed cherub who was blameless but was cast from the mountain of God, and says, “You were in Eden, the garden of God,” that it must be referring to Satan as the serpent who was in the physical Eden?  See also Eze 31:8-9[17] that speaks similarly of Assyria as a cedar in God’s garden that all the trees of Eden were jealous of, as well as the Psalms of Solomon 14:3-5[18], that speaks of God’s saints as being trees of life in the Lord’s paradise; cf. Deut 32:8 where the Dead Sea Scrolls read “sons of God” and the LXX “angels of God rather than the Masoretic text “sons of Israel.  See also Eph 1:18, Rev 3:12 and think: if proud, evil people are empowered by fallen, evil spirits who once walked in God’s garden, is it not also reasonable to suppose that the righteous may be similarly empowered or protected by righteous spirits who walk there?  See Mat 4:6, 18:10, Luk 22:43, Act 12:15, Heb 1:14; cf. Dan 10:12-13,18-19.

Should we assume that because this criminal found repentance and was received at the very last hour of his life that it is therefore safe to put off a decision to follow Christ until the very end of our lives?  Or rather, from the example of the other criminal, as well as that of the religious leaders, who had resisted His Spirit and put off sincere repentance so their hearts became so hardened that repentance could no longer be found by them, should we not understand the great danger of putting off a decision for Christ when we have the opportunity to do so?  See 2Co 6:1-2 and note[19].

Excellent retelling of the penitent thief on the cross in song: Too Small a Price Don Francisco

[1] LXE Genesis 3:24 And he cast out Adam and caused him to dwell over against the garden of Delight, and stationed the cherubs and the fiery sword that turns about to keep the way of the tree of life.

[2] LXE Genesis 21:16 And she departed and sat down opposite him at a distance, as it were a bow-shot, for she said, Surely I cannot see the death of my child: and she sat opposite him, and the child cried aloud and wept.

[3] LXE Genesis 49:30 in the double cave which is opposite Mambre, in the land of Chanaan, the cave which Abraam bought of Ephron the Chettite, for a possession of a sepulchre.

[4] LXE Exodus 30:6 And thou shalt set it before the veil that is over the ark of the testimonies, wherein I will make myself known to thee from thence.

[5] LXE Deuteronomy 32:52 Thou shalt see the land before thee, but thou shalt not enter into it.

[6] LXE Jonah 4:5 And Jonas went out from the city, and sat over against (i.e., in front of; Heb = east of) the city; and he made for himself there a booth, and he sat under it, until he should perceive what would become of the city.

[7] NAS Matthew 27:61 And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the grave.

[8] LXE Joshua 24:1 And Joshua gathered all the tribe of Israel to Selo, and convoked their elders, and their officers, and their judges, and set them before God.

[9] LXE 1 Chronicles 13:10 And the Lord was very angry with Oza, and smote him there, because of his stretching forth his hand upon the ark: and he died there before God.

[10] LXE 1 Chronicles 17:16 And king David came and sat before the Lord, and said, Who am I, O Lord God? and what is my house, that thou hast loved me for ever?

[11] LXE 2 Chronicles 2:4 behold, I also his son am building a house to the name of the Lord my God, to consecrate it to him, to burn incense before him…

[12] LXE Isaiah 1:16 Wash you, be clean; remove your iniquities from your souls before mine eyes; cease from your iniquities;

[13] LXE Hosea 7:2 that they may concert together as men singing in their heart: I remember all their wickedness: now have their own counsels compassed them about; they came before my face.

[14] LXE Numbers 20:9-10 And Moses took his rod which was before the Lord, as the Lord commanded.  And Moses and Aaron assembled the congregation before the rock, and said to them, Hear me, ye disobedient ones; must we bring you water out of this rock?

[15] LXE Deuteronomy 28:66 And thy life shall be in suspense before thine eyes; and thou shalt be afraid by day and by night, and thou shalt have no assurance of thy life.

[16] LXE Daniel 10:16 And, behold, as it were the likeness of a son of man touched my lips; and I opened my mouth, and spoke, and said to him that stood before me, O my lord, at the sight of thee my bowels were turned within me, and I had no strength.

[17] LXE Ezekiel 31:8-9 8 And such cypresses as this were in the paradise of God; and there were no pines like his shoots, and there were no firs like his branches: no tree in the paradise of God was like him in his beauty,  9 because of the multitude of his branches: and the trees of God’s paradise of delight envied him.

[18] LXE Psalms of Solomon 14:3-5 3 The Lord’s saints will live by it (the law) forever; his saints are the Lord’s paradise, the trees of life.  4 Their planting is rooted forever; they will not be plucked out all the days of the heavens.  5 For Israel is the portion and inheritance of God.

[19] This malefactor, when just ready to fall into the hands of Satan, was snatched as a brand out of the burning, and made a monument of divine mercy and grace, and Satan was left to roar as a lion disappointed of his prey. This gives no encouragement to any to put off their repentance to their death-bed, or to hope that then they shall find mercy; for, though it is certain that true repentance is never too late, it is as certain that late repentance is seldom true.  Matthew Henry.

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