Q. Thank you for taking time to answer my question. I am gentile searching my Jewish roots. Recently I have attended a Messianic congregation with mainly gentiles.
At one of the Shabbats the subject of life after death came up. I was shocked to find that the majority believed the spirit stays in the grave. Any scripture I quoted they had an answer for it. The answer that shocked me most was that of Yeshua’s reply to the thief on the cross. Here are some of their replies as follows:” 1. There is no punctuation in Greek of the NT. The comma was placed by translators according to a source book and changed the meaning of “today you will be with me in paradise”. 2. Yeshua went to the grave and stayed three days and nights and that paradise didn’t mean heaven, but garden.3. The word for paradise was in the future.
Needless to say I was left reeling for it seems there was a response for all of the theology I was taught about life after death as related to the spirit. I honestly don’t know if this is a Messianic belief. I still believe the spirit goes somewhere to heaven or hell. Please help me get some understanding. I will greatly appreciate your response.
A. Having led a Messianic congregation for a time, I’ve come to the sad realization that there’s a fair amount of error being taught in the movement. Most of it involves some form of legalism. But this one is fairly common through out the Church.
The Greek word for paradise does mean garden and was meant to recall the Garden of Eden to mind. Before the cross, no one could enter Heaven because the perfect sacrifice had not yet been made. Both believers and unbelievers who died went to a place called “Sheol” in Hebrew and “Hades” in Greek. Both words mean “abode of the dead.” Sometimes these words are translated “grave” but that’s only accurate as far as the body is concerned. For the spirit, Sheol was a place of waiting divided into two sections with a wide gulf between them. One section was for the faithful and was called Paradise, or Abraham’s Bosom. It was a place of rest and comfort. It’s where both Jesus and one of the thieves went upon dying.
But after Jesus came out of the tomb, He brought the spirits in Paradise with Him (Matt. 27:52-53) and since that time the spirits of believers who die go straight to be with the Lord. (2 Cor 5:6-10) Paradise has been empty since the Resurrection.
Some teach that the word body in 2 Cor. 5 means the Church, but it can’t be so because the passage says that when we leave the body we’ll be judged for the things we did while in the body. It’s a reference to the Bema Seat judgment of 1 Cor. 3:10-15 that takes place in Heaven. If in fact the word for paradise in Luke 23:43 is future it’s because when Jesus spoke their arrival in Paradise hadn’t happened yet.
The other section of the Abode of the Dead was a place of torment. Unbelievers who die have aways gone there to await judgment and still do. It’s where the spirit of the other thief went. They’ll be brought to life at the end of the Millennium for their final judgment. (Rev. 20:11-15) You can get an understanding of Sheol straight from the Lord by reading Luke 16:19-31, the story (not a parable) of the rich man and Lazarus.