Why Foreign Missions? 22a The Good News: A Personal Hope of Life in Heaven?
Much of the present focus in New Testament studies is on understanding the Gospel message in terms of prophetic passages in the Old Testament that speak of Israel restored from captivity and entering God’s rule. Well and good—this has been a needed correction to our understanding of many New Testament passages. Also, much of the present focus in mission studies has been on the social dimension of missions—not simply ‘pie in the sky’ but also and emphatically ‘steak on the plate.’ Thus we speak now of a ‘holistic Gospel,’ one that is not only about spiritual matters but also about making a difference in people’s lives and communities here and now. Both the focus on Israel’s story and the focus on a holistic Gospel emphasise the social, corporate, and community focus of the Gospel—and this is Scriptural.
However, one result of these emphases in Biblical studies and mission studies is that a question arises: is the Good News, the Gospel, really about a personal (not simply social) hope of life after death in heaven? Were the personal call to give my life to Jesus and the personal hope of life in heaven when I die off base?
What follows are texts that highlight the first century context and New Testament texts that direct our faith to a personal hope that those faithful to God—those in Christ—will not die but will go to heaven to be with Jesus. The focus in these texts is not the resurrection hope per se. Indeed, it is very important to state that the Christian hope is not simply to go to heaven after we die but to be resurrected from the dead. Christians have taught both that there is a final day of resurrection in the future and that, in the interim, those who die in Christ will go to heaven until that day of resurrection. Most of the New Testament focus is on the future resurrection, but the New Testament also gives us a firm hope that, until that day, we will not cease to exist upon death or enter a soul sleep but, in fact, find a more wonderful life in heaven. Here, in what follows, is the evidence for this hope, a hope that develops from the Old Testament to Intertestamental Judaism and is fully represented in the New Testament. If so, then part of our mission proclamation must remain offering individuals in Christ Jesus the hope of life after death and, ultimately, of resurrection from the dead. The next post will focus on Biblical texts mentioning 'heaven'; this post examines what is said of 'Sheol' and 'Paradise.'
The Evidence for Life After Death Before the Resurrection
1. In the Old Testament, ‘Sheol’ is the place of the dead:
a. ‘Sheol’ often implies a place where existence continues after one dies.
A mistaken perspective in some scholarship on this issue states that ancient Judaism did not have a notion of life after death. The idea that is presented is that, for Jews, a person did not consist of parts—a body and soul, e.g.—but was a whole being. Thus, the reasoning goes, ancient Judaism could not entertain the notion of disembodied existence.
Yet this neither fits expectations in surrounding cultures (think of the pyramids in Egypt, e.g., or the burial practices of the Canaanites and Israelites that showed care for the dead) nor texts that speak of going somewhere after death. To be sure, ‘Sheol’ can be a way of speaking of death:
2 Samuel 22:5-6 For the waves of death encompassed me, the torrents of perdition assailed me; 6 the cords of Sheol entangled me, the snares of death confronted me.
Yet, while the following texts do not represent the place of the dead as ‘paradise,’ most of them do show a belief that there is life after death—disembodied existence. Not all do: some simply equate ‘Sheol’ with death. Some suggest Sheol as a place of punishment for sin (e.g., Prov. 9.16-18; 15.24). Some speak of deliverance from Sheol in the sense of deliverance from death. Yet those passages, when read with a belief in the resurrection, can take on added hope in deliverance from death even after one dies. Thus they can be understood as a hope beyond the grave. The New Testament, of course, brings much more hope that is based not only on a theological development in Judaism about Paradise and the resurrection from the death but also on the fact that Jesus was raised from the dead and conquered death. The fact of the resurrection—our future resurrection assured because of Jesus’ past resurrection—gives us assurance that upon the death of our bodies we are in some sense still alive between this life and the resurrection life to come. As we shall see, there is much more to this belief by the time of the New Testament, but a study of ‘Sheol’ in the Old Testament alone does offer some belief in life after death, no matter how shadowy. (Thus, there is not a discontinuity between the OT and the NT in the belief in life after death, only a development that, for the godly or those in Christ, this life after death is positive and not merely a shadowy existence apart from God.)
Genesis 37:35 All his sons and all his daughters sought to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted, and said, "No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning." Thus his father bewailed him.
Genesis 42:38 But he said, "My son shall not go down with you, for his brother is dead, and he alone is left. If harm should come to him on the journey that you are to make, you would bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to Sheol." [So also Gen. 44.29, 31.]
Numbers 16:30 But if the LORD creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up, with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, then you shall know that these men have despised the LORD." [Here, Sheol is pictured as below the earth. Also v. 33. Hence the expression, ‘the depths of Sheol,’ Dt. 32.22.]
Psalm 139:7-8 7 Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
1 Kings 2:6 Act therefore according to your wisdom, but do not let his gray head go down to Sheol in peace.
1 Kings 2:9-10 9 Therefore do not hold him guiltless, for you are a wise man; you will know what you ought to do to him, and you must bring his gray head down with blood to Sheol." 10 Then David slept with his ancestors, and was buried in the city of David. [‘Sleep’ is a euphemism for death from the perspective of what the living see when a person dies; it is not a statement of what happens to the person who dies—who has descended to Sheol.]
Job 11:7-8 Can you find out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limit of the Almighty? 8 It is higher than heaven-- what can you do? Deeper than Sheol-- what can you know?
Job 14:10-22 10 But mortals die, and are laid low; humans expire, and where are they? 11 As waters fail from a lake, and a river wastes away and dries up, 12 so mortals lie down and do not rise again; until the heavens are no more, they will not awake or be roused out of their sleep. 13 Oh that you would hide me in Sheol, that you would conceal me until your wrath is past, that you would appoint me a set time, and remember me! 14 If mortals die, will they live again? All the days of my service I would wait until my release should come. 15 You would call, and I would answer you; you would long for the work of your hands. 16 For then you would not number my steps, you would not keep watch over my sin; 17 my transgression would be sealed up in a bag, and you would cover over my iniquity. 18 "But the mountain falls and crumbles away, and the rock is removed from its place; 19 the waters wear away the stones; the torrents wash away the soil of the earth; so you destroy the hope of mortals. 20 You prevail forever against them, and they pass away; you change their countenance, and send them away. 21 Their children come to honor, and they do not know it; they are brought low, and it goes unnoticed. 22 They feel only the pain of their own bodies, and mourn only for themselves."
Job 17:13-16 13 If I look for Sheol as my house, if I spread my couch in darkness, 14 if I say to the Pit, 'You are my father,' and to the worm, 'My mother,' or 'My sister,' 15 where then is my hope? Who will see my hope? 16 Will it go down to the bars of Sheol? Shall we descend together into the dust?"
Job 21:13 They [the wicked who live on into old age] spend their days in prosperity, and in peace they go down to Sheol. [Yet ‘Sheol’ is said to ‘snatch away’ sinners, Job 24.19.]
Job 26:6 Sheol is naked before God, and Abaddon has no covering. [Here is hope because God is greater than Sheol, death.]
Psalm 6:5 For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who can give you praise? [Here, the place of death is separation from God—a different notion from Ps. 139. The focus in Ps. 6 is on death, whereas Ps. 139 or Job 26.6 express a hope about Sheol that is based rather on God’s greatness.]
Psalm 9:17 The wicked shall depart to Sheol, all the nations that forget God.
Psalm 31:17 Do not let me be put to shame, O LORD, for I call on you; let the wicked be put to shame; let them go dumbfounded to Sheol.
Psalm 55:15 Let death come upon them; let them go down alive to Sheol; for evil is in their homes and in their hearts.
Psalm 86:13 For great is your steadfast love toward me; you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.
Psalm 88:1-7, 10-12 O LORD, God of my salvation, when, at night, I cry out in your presence, 2 let my prayer come before you; incline your ear to my cry. 3 For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol. 4 I am counted among those who go down to the Pit; I am like those who have no help, 5 like those forsaken among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, like those whom you remember no more, for they are cut off from your hand. 6 You have put me in the depths of the Pit, in the regions dark and deep. 7 Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves. Selah…. 10 Do you work wonders for the dead? Do the shades rise up to praise you? Selah 11 Is your steadfast love declared in the grave, or your faithfulness in Abaddon? 12 Are your wonders known in the darkness, or your saving help in the land of forgetfulness?
Psalm 89:48 Who can live and never see death? Who can escape the power of Sheol? Selah
Psalm 116:3 The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish.
Psalm 141:7 Like a rock that one breaks apart and shatters on the land, so shall their bones be strewn at the mouth of Sheol.
Proverbs 1:10-12 10 My child, if sinners entice you, do not consent. 11 If they say, "Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood; let us wantonly ambush the innocent; 12 like Sheol let us swallow them alive and whole, like those who go down to the Pit.
Proverbs 5:3-5 3 For the lips of a loose woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil; 4 but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. 5 Her feet go down to death; her steps follow the path to Sheol.
Proverbs 7:27 Her house is the way to Sheol, going down to the chambers of death.
Proverbs 9:16-18 16 "You who are simple, turn in here!" And to those without sense she says, 17 "Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant." 18 But they do not know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol.
Proverbs 15:24 24 For the wise the path of life leads upward, in order to avoid Sheol below.
Proverbs 23:14 If you beat them with the rod, you will save their lives from Sheol.
Ecclesiastes 9:10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do with your might; for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going. [Unlike Prov. 15.24 and 23.14, here ‘Sheol’ is unavoidable.]
Isaiah 5:14 Therefore Sheol has enlarged its appetite and opened its mouth beyond measure; the nobility of Jerusalem and her multitude go down, her throng and all who exult in her.
Isaiah 7:11 Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. [Here is an interesting contrast between heaven and Sheol.]
Isaiah 14:15 But you are brought down to Sheol, to the depths of the Pit. [See Is. 14.9-15. The ruler is brought low, down to Sheol.]
Isaiah 28:18 Then your covenant with death will be annulled, and your agreement with Sheol will not stand; when the overwhelming scourge passes through you will be beaten down by it. [See Is. 28.15-18.]
Isaiah 38:10 I said: In the noontide of my days I must depart; I am consigned to the gates of Sheol for the rest of my years. [This appears to offer a belief that there is life after death, not annihilation.]
Isaiah 38:18 For Sheol cannot thank you, death cannot praise you; those who go down to the Pit cannot hope for your faithfulness. [Cf. Pss. 6 and 88.]
Isaiah 57:9 You journeyed to Molech with oil, and multiplied your perfumes; you sent your envoys far away, and sent down even to Sheol. [Note communication with the dead implies a belief in life after death. Cf. 1 Sam. 28.7’s medium at Endor.]
Ezekiel 31:14-18 14 All this is in order that no trees by the waters may grow to lofty height or set their tops among the clouds, and that no trees that drink water may reach up to them in height. For all of them are handed over to death, to the world below; along with all mortals, with those who go down to the Pit. 15 Thus says the Lord GOD: On the day it went down to Sheol I closed the deep over it and covered it; I restrained its rivers, and its mighty waters were checked. I clothed Lebanon in gloom for it, and all the trees of the field fainted because of it. 16 I made the nations quake at the sound of its fall, when I cast it down to Sheol with those who go down to the Pit; and all the trees of Eden, the choice and best of Lebanon, all that were well watered, were consoled in the world below. 17 They also went down to Sheol with it, to those killed by the sword, along with its allies, those who lived in its shade among the nations. 18 Which among the trees of Eden was like you in glory and in greatness? Now you shall be brought down with the trees of Eden to the world below; you shall lie among the uncircumcised, with those who are killed by the sword. This is Pharaoh and all his horde, says the Lord GOD. [Note: ‘the world below,’ Sheol (vv. 14, 18). Cf. Ez. 32.21, 27.
Hosea 13:14 Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol [LXX: Hades, death]? Shall I redeem them from Death? O Death, where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your destruction [LXX: kentron, sting]? Compassion is hidden from my eyes. [The text refers to being saved from death, but read in light of the resurrection, the passage is applied to a doctrine of life after death—so Paul in 1 Cor. 15.55-56.]
Amos 9:2 Though they dig into Sheol, from there shall my hand take them; though they climb up to heaven, from there I will bring them down.
Jonah 2:2 saying, "I called to the LORD out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice. [The belly of the fish that swallowed Jonah is called ‘Sheol,’ death. Jesus applies this to his own death—and resurrection: Mt. 12.39-41, par. Lk. 11.29-32; Mt. 16.4.]
Habakkuk 2:5 Moreover, wealth is treacherous; the arrogant do not endure. They open their throats wide as Sheol; like Death they never have enough. They gather all nations for themselves, and collect all peoples as their own.
b. Two Places of the Dead:
‘Abaddon’ is mentioned with ‘Sheol’ as a place of the dead. Abaddon can simply be a reference to the place of the dead—or a place of the dead—and so function as a reference to death (as can ‘Sheol’). Yet it more specifically appears to be the place of sinners, as Rev. 9.11 states explicitly. Of course, a separation of places means continued existence for those who have died.
Job 26:6 Sheol is naked before God, and Abaddon has no covering.
Job 28:22 Abaddon and Death say, 'We have heard a rumor of it with our ears.'
Job 31:12 for that would be a fire consuming down to Abaddon, and it would burn to the root all my harvest.
Psalm 88:11 Is your steadfast love declared in the grave, or your faithfulness in Abaddo
Proverbs 15:11 Sheol and Abaddon lie open before the LORD, how much more human hearts!
Proverbs 27:20 20 Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied….
Revelation 9:11 They have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit; his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he is called Apollyon.
c. Life after ‘Sheol’:
Job 7:9-10 As the cloud fades and vanishes, so those who go down to Sheol do not come up; 10 they return no more to their houses, nor do their places know them any more.
1 Samuel 2:6 The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up. [Unlike Job, 1 Samuel offers hope beyond Sheol.]
Psalm 16:10 For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit. [What is an expression of deliverance from death in this life in this psalm becomes a hope of life beyond death as this Psalm is read in the light of Jesus’ resurrection—Peter quotes this psalm in Acts 2.25-28.]
Psalm 30:3 O LORD, you brought up my soul from Sheol, restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit. [Again, being saved from death is expressed in a way that could be applied differently when the hope of resurrection is in view.]
Psalm 49:14-15 Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol; Death shall be their shepherd; straight to the grave they descend, and their form shall waste away; Sheol shall be their home. 15 But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me. Selah.
2. The Septuagint (LXX) uses ‘Paradise’ (paradei,soj) to refer to a garden and, at times, to the Garden in Eden = Garden of God. The ‘Garden of God’ becomes a notion that is, in time, applied to a heavenly place.
a. Garden: For example:
Ecc 2:5 I made myself gardens (paradei,souj) and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees.
b. The Garden of God:
Gen 2:8 And the Lord God planted a garden (para,deison) in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed.
Isaiah 51:3 For the LORD will comfort Zion; he will comfort all her waste places, and will make her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the LORD; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song.
Eze 31:8 The cedars in the garden (paradei,sw) of God could not rival it, nor the fir trees equal its boughs; the plane trees were as nothing compared with its branches; no tree in the garden (paradei,sw) of God was like it in beauty [also v. 9].
Ezekiel 28:13 13 [To the king of Tyre] You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering….
3. Late Judaism (the Second Temple period in particular) uses the term or idea of the Garden of Eden to refer to where the righteous dead go:
a. Paradise Regained:
Eze 36:35And they will say, `This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden; and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are now inhabited and fortified.' [Jeremias, "Paradei,soj", Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT), Vol. V, p. 767: Ezek. is the first "explicitly to compare the expected time of salvation with the Paradise of the first age".]
Song of Solomon 14.1-5 (LXX addition): ‘The Lord is faithful to those who love him in truth, to those who endure his discipline, to those who proceed in the righteousness of his commandments in the Law which give direction to us for our life. The Lord’s devout ones will live in it forever; the paradise of the Lord, the trees of life, his devoted ones, their planting is rooted in eternity, they will not be uprooted all the days of heaven, for Israel is a portion, an inheritance of God [my translation].
TLevi 18.2, 3c, 6-12: Then will the Lord raise up a new priest, To whom all the words of the Lord will be revealed; And he will execute true judgement on earth for many days...And he will rank as great in the world until he is taken up....The heavens will be opened, And from the temple of glory will come his call to his sacred office With the Father's voice, as from Abraham Isaac's father. And the glory of the Most High will be uttered over him, And the spirit of understanding and holiness will rest upon him in the water. He will declare the majesty of the Lord to his sons in truth for evermore, And there will be no successor to him from generation to generation for ever. And in his priesthood the Gentiles will increase in knowledge on the earth, And be enlightened through the grace of the Lord; But Israel will be weakened through ignorance, And plunged into darkness by sorrow. In his priesthood will all sin come to an end, And the lawless cease to do evil; And the righteous will rest in him. And he will open the gates of Paradise, And destroy the power of the sword that threatened Adam. And he will give the saints the right to eat from the tree of life, And the spirit of holiness will be on them. And Beliar will be bound by him, And he will give power to his children to tread the evil spirits underfoot. (Trans. M. DeJonge, Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, The Apocryphal Old Testament, Ed. H. F. D. Sparks (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984).)
1Enoch 51.3-5: And in those days the Chosen One will sit on his throne, and all the secrets of wisdom will flow out from the counsel of his mouth...the mountains will leap like rams, and the hills will skip like lambs satisfied with milk, and all will become angels in heaven. Their faces will shine with joy, for in those days the Chosen One will have risen; and the earth will rejoice, and the righteous will dwell upon it, and the chosen will go and walk upon it. (Trans. M. A. Knibb, Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, The Apocryphal Old Testament, Ed. H. F. D. Sparks (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984).)
2 Baruch 4.1-7: And the Lord said to me, This city [Zion] shall be given up for a time, and for a time the people shall be chastened; yet the world will not be consigned to oblivion....This building [the Temple], which now stands in your midst, is not the one that is to be revealed, that is with me now, that was prepared beforehand here at the time when I determined to make Paradise, and showed it to Adam before he sinned (though when he disobeyed my commandment it was taken away from him, as was also Paradise). And after this I showed it to my servant Abraham by night among the divided pieces of the victims. And again I showed it also to Moses on mount Sinai when I showed him the pattern of the tabernacle and all its vessels. And now it is preserved with me, as is also Paradise. Go, then, and do as I command you. (Trans. R. H. Charles, rev. trans. by L. H. Brockington, The Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch, The Apocryphal Old Testament, Ed. H. F. D. Sparks (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984).)
b. Paradise Hidden:
1. Where the souls of the departed patriarchs are:
1 Enoch 70.1-4: And it happened after this that his living name was raised up before that Son of Man and to the Lord from among those who dwell upon the earth; it was lifted up in a wind chariot and it disappeared from among them. From that day on, I was not counted among them. But he placed me between two winds, between the northeast and the west, where the angels took a cord to measure for me the place for the elect and righteous ones. And there I saw the first (human) ancestors and the righteous ones of old, dwelling in that place. (Trans. E. Isaac, "1 (Ethiopic) Enoch", The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments, Vol. 1, ed. J. Charlesworth (New York: Doubleday, 1983).)
Apc. Mos. 37.3-5: When the angels had shouted out these things, one of the six-winged seraphim came and carried Adam off to the Lake of Acheron and washed him three times in the presence of God. He lay three hours, and so the LORD of all, sitting on his holy throne, stretched out his hands and took Adam and handed him over to the archangel Michael, saying to him, 'Take him up into Paradise, to the third heaven, and leave (him) there until that great and fearful day which I am about to establish for the world.' (Trans. M. D. Johnson, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments, Vol. 1, ed. J. Charlesworth (New York: Doubleday, 1983).)
T.Abr. 20A:9-15: For Death deceived Abraham. And he kissed his hand and immediately his soul cleaved to the hand of Death. And immediately Michael the archangel stood beside him with multitudes of angels, and they bore his precious soul in their hands in divinely woven linen...while the angels escorted his precious soul and ascended into heaven singing the thrice-holy hymn to God, the master of all, and they set it (down) for the worship of the God and Father. And after great praise in song and glorification had been offered to the Lord, and when Abraham had worshiped, the undefiled voice of the God and Father came speaking thus: 'Take, then, my friend Abraham into Paradise, where there are the tents of my righteous ones and (where) the mansions of my holy ones, Isaac and Jacob, are in his bosom, where there is no toil, no grief, no moaning, but peace and exultation and endless life. Let us, too, my beloved brothers, imitate the hospitality of the patriarch Abraham and let us attain to his virtuous behaviour, so that we may be worthy of eternal life, glorifying the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit; to whom be the glory and the power forever. Amen.' (E. P. Sanders, "Testament of Abraham", in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments, Vol. 1, ed. J. Charlesworth (New York: Doubleday, 1983).)
2. Where the souls of the righteous are:
1 Enoch 60.7f, 23: On that day, two monsters will be parted--one monster, a female named Leviathan, in order to dwell in the abyss of the ocean over the fountains of water, and (the other), a male called Behemoth, which holds his chest in an invisible desert whose name is Dundayin, east of the garden of Eden, wherein the elect and the righteous ones dwell, wherein my grandfather was taken, the seventh from Adam, the first man whom the Lord of the Spirits created....All these things I saw as far as the garden of the righteous ones. (Trans. E. Isaac, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments, Vol. 1, ed. J. Charlesworth (New York: Doubleday, 1983).)
1 Enoch 61.12: All the vigilant ones in heaven above shall bless him; all the holy ones who are in heaven shall bless him [the Lord of the Spirits]; all the elect ones who dwell in the garden of life (shall bless him (every spirit of light that is capable of blessing, glorifying, extolling, and sanctifying your blessed name (shall bless him).... (Trans. E. Isaac, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments, Vol. 1, ed. J. Charlesworth (New York: Doubleday, 1983).)
2 Enoch 9.1: "This place, Enoch, has been prepared for the righteous, who suffer every kind of calamity in their life and who afflict their souls, and who avert their eyes from injustice, and who carry out righteous judgment.... 10.4: "...This place, Enoch, has been prepared for those who do not glorify God, who practice on the earth the sin which is against nature, which is child corruption in the anus in the manner of Sodom, of witchcraft, enchantments, divinations, trafficking with demons, who boast about their evil deeds.... (Trans. F. I. Andersen, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments, Vol. 1, ed. J. Charlesworth (New York: Doubleday, 1983).)
2 Enoch 42.3A: And from there I went up into the paradise, even of the righteous, and there I saw a blessed place, and every creature is blessed, and all live there in joy and in gladness and in an immeasurable light and in eternal life. (Trans. F. I. Andersen, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments, Vol. 1, ed. J. Charlesworth (New York: Doubleday, 1983).)
2 Enoch 42.3J: And I ascended to the east, into the paradise of Edem, where rest is prepared for the righteous. And it is open as far as the 3rd heaven; but it is closed off from this world. And the guards are appointed at the very large gates to the east of the sun, angels of flame, singing victory songs, never silent, rejoicing at the arrival of the righteous.
Apocalypse of Abraham 21.6f: And I saw there the garden of Eden and its fruits, and the source and the river flowing from it, and its trees and their flowering, making fruits, and I saw men doing justice in it, their food and their rest.
[Talmud] bTem. 16a: "When Moses departed [this world] for the Garden of Eden he said to Joshua...." (Trans. L. Miller, "Temurah", Babylonian Talmud, Ed. I. Epstein [London: Soncino Press, 1948].)
Apocalypse of Sedrach 16.3-6: "...and whoever remembers your name will not see the place of punishment but he will be with the just ones in a place of refreshment and rest, and the sin of him who copies this admirable sermon will not be reckoned for ever and ever..." And God took him [Sedrach] and put him in Paradise with all the saints.
c. Multiple Layers of Heaven, including Paradise
TLevi 3.1-10: Hear, then, about the seven heavens. The lowest is the gloomiest because it witnesses all the unrighteous deeds of men. The second holds fire, snow, ice, ready for the day which the Lord has decreed in the righteous judgement of God: in it are all the spirits of retribution for vengeance on the wicked. In the third are the warrior hosts appointed to wreak vengeance on the spirits of error and of Beliar at the day of judgement. But the heavens down to the fourth above these are holy. For in the highest of all the Great Glory dwells, in the holy of holies, far above all holiness. And in the heaven next to it are the angels of the Lord's presence, who minister and make expiation to the Lord for all the sins committed unwittingly by the righteous; and they offer to the Lord a soothing odour, a spiritual and bloodless offering. And in the heaven below it are the angels who bear the answers to the angels of the Lord's presence. And in the heaven next to it are thrones and powers, in which praises, are offered to God continually. And when the Lord looks upon us, all of us are shaken; and the heavens and the earth and the abysses are shaken at the presence of his majesty. Yet men do not perceive these things, and they sin and provoke the Most High. (Trans. M. DeJonge, The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, The Apocryphal Old Testament, Ed. H. F. D. Sparks (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984).)
TLevi 5.1: And the angel opened to me the gates of heaven, and I saw the holy temple, and the Most High sitting on a throne of glory. (Trans. M. DeJonge, The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, The Apocryphal Old Testament, Ed. H. F. D. Sparks (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984).)
b.Sanh. 110a: A Tanna taught: It has been said on the authority of Moses our Master: A place was set apart for them in the Gehenna, where they sat and sang praises [to God]. (Sanhedrin, trans. ed. I. Epstein, Babylonian Talmud, vol. 12 (London: Soncino Press, 1935).)
d. New Testament References
1. Places using the actual term:
Luke 23:43 He replied, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise."
2 Corinthians 12:2-4 2 I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven-- whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. 3 And I know that such a person-- whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows-- 4 was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat.
[There is some connection between the "third heaven"--v. 2--and Paradise--v.4-- in Slav. En. 42.3A: "the intervening Paradise is in the East, but is opened to the third heaven" (Jeremias, "Paradeisoj", TDNT, Vol. 5, p. 768 n.31--but cf. Jeremias' uncertainty on p. 770 about whether v. 2 and v. 4 of 2 Cor. refer to the same thing.]
Revelation 2:7 Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. To everyone who conquers, I will give permission to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God.
2. Other references to Paradise without term used in the NT:
The notion that at death the believer goes to be with Jesus is elsewhere taught in the NT:
(It is not a new teaching, since in Eth. En. 39.4ff; 70.1-4 the Son of Man is with the righteous dead.)
Luke 16:22-26 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24 He called out, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.' 25 But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.'
Jn. 14.2-3: In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.
Acts 7.59: Stephen says "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."
2 Cor. 5.8: the intermediate state is one in which the believer is with Jesus: "We are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord."
Phl. 1.23: "I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better."
Jn. 12.25-6: 25 He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
26 If any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if any one serves me, the Father will honor him.
2 Tim. 4.18: The Lord will rescue me from every evil and save me for his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Hebrews 12:22-24 [comparing the covenant of Moses to the covenant of Christ] 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
Rev. 22.1: Then he showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3 There shall no more be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and his servants shall worship him; 4 they shall see his face, and his name shall be on their foreheads. 5 And night shall be no more; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they shall reign for ever and ever.
This study has presented evidence in the Old Testament, Intertestamental Judaism, and the New Testament for a belief in life after death—before the day of resurrection. This is a developing notion—the New Testament presents a much clearer and more positive view than the shadowy existence in Sheol of the Old Testament. The positive view of life after death is described in terms of ‘Paradise,’ which is described in terms of the Garden of Eden. It entailed in Judaism being in the bosom of Abraham, and in Christianity being in the presence of Jesus. While we lack a literal description of this after-death existence, we are assured by Paul that it is a better existence than the present one.
My purpose in exploring this theology is to suggest that this hope is an important part of the hope to be offered believers. It is not the full hope that those who die in Christ will be raised from the dead in the future. But this positive, intermediate state between death and resurrection is a part of the hope that Christians have regarding what it means to be Christians.