Q. I have a question about the word “paradise.” I have read that it really means something different from “heaven.” Most people use the words interchangeably, so I’m wondering about the correct meaning. Also, is heaven then in three spheres? I have also read that but need some help comprehending it.
A. The word translated “Paradise” comes from the Persian word for a large park or preserve, and was intended to evoke images of the Garden of Eden. It was thought of as a place of peace and comfort. Before the cross it was widely believed to be the side of Sheol (Hades) where the believing dead went to await the coming Redeemer. For this reason the Jews often called it Abraham’s Bosom (Luke 16:19-26) since Abraham is the father of the faithful.
Paradise is where Jesus went between the crucifixion and the resurrection (Luke 23:43). Once He had completed His work as our High Priest (Hebr. 9:11-12), Heaven’s Gates were opened and since then the spirits of believers who die go straight to be with Him there (2 Cor. 5:8).
The notion of a third heaven is from Greek thinking. They believed the first heaven is what we call the atmosphere, the visible arch of the sky where the clouds drift. The second heaven is the universe beyond, and the third Heaven is where the throne of God is located.
2 Cor. 12:2-4 appears to connect paradise with the third heaven. Some say this is because early Church fathers believed that the original Garden of Eden still exists in a heavenly place near God’s throne. If so, it would mean that like everything else, the Garden of Eden on Earth was a copy of one in Heaven.