|Posted by Donna Dawson on November 29, 2011 at 3:50 PM|
Of late, I have found myself reading the book of John. It is no coincidence God has led me there. After the death of my mother and now my father, I seem to be getting myself into a number of discussions about Heaven. I have to say, the Bible is probably the best place to go in order to learn about it. There’s nothing like being present during the passing of loved ones to provoke thoughts of eternity—especially when those loved ones have been visited by people I wasn’t able to see.
I used to think that all good people from the Old Testament went to Heaven and all bad people went to hell. Then I read the story of Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31. This story talks of a man named Lazarus who sits at the gate of a rich man’s home begging for food. The story indicates that the rich man didn’t even give Lazarus his scraps—they were for his dogs. Long story short—both men died. Lazarus went to a place called Abraham’s Side. Interestingly enough, the Talmud refers to it as Paradise and/or Abraham’s Bosom. Either way, it was a place reserved for those who had faith in God.
The rich man wasn’t so lucky. He got a one way ticket to hell. No fancy or secondary name for this place. Hell. Plain and simple, and the man was in torment.
I was taught that when we died we either went to Heaven where there would be no more pain or suffering, or hell and punishment. Heaven was supposed to be a place where we would find ourselves with God. Where the confusion came for me was in the understanding of God’s character. He cannot abide sin. He cannot allow himself to be in the presence of it. Yet, the story of Lazarus clearly indicates that hell and this place where Lazarus went to were within sight of each other—divided by a chasm only. This was a place where God didn’t reside—couldn’t reside—because hell bears those condemned by their sin. So was the Bible contradicting itself? Was God there or wasn’t He?
After studying my way through the Bible several times I came to the realization that this Paradise—this Abraham’s Bosom—couldn’t be Heaven but is, as the Talmud suggests, a waiting place of bliss—a holding cell of sorts. Not purgatory where we are expected to wait in torment until our loved ones can bail us out here on earth. No. A place where the righteous were kept safe from punishment as they waited for something—or someone.
In Luke where Jesus is crucified, he tells the one criminal that he will join him that day in paradise. He didn’t say Heaven. He said paradise. The second place that verifies that Heaven and paradise were two different locations is in the book of John.
Jesus is speaking in this portion of scripture—John 3:10-15 and specifically 13. He says, “No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man.” That verse, just yesterday, jumped out at me. All this time I had wondered about Heaven and Hell and paradise and couldn’t seem to find the answers. It was right there—right before the most well read verse in the Bible—John 3:16. Jesus said that no one has ever gone into heaven. No one. Not Abraham. Not Moses. No one. So where were they? You guessed it—Abraham’s Bosom ie: paradise.
So wait! Does that mean no one goes to Heaven? That’s not at all what this means. Jesus spoke about souls going to paradise or Abraham’s Bosom during his time on earth. Right up until his death he talked about this mysterious waiting place for those who believed in God and His Son. But a change comes in the book of Acts.
Jesus rises from the dead and is seen by many witnesses. After a short time in his resurrected body, he prepares to ascend to the Father. As he rises into the clouds, two angels speak to the disciples and tell them Jesus is ascending into Heaven—not paradise—not Abraham’s Bosom. Heaven.
What did Jesus tell his disciples? “I go to prepare a place for you that where I go, you may also come.” It is from the resurrection on that those who believe in Christ are allowed into Heaven—into the presence of God.
We are given yet another clue in Ephesians 4:7-10. The writer of Ephesians states that Jesus ascended on high and led captives in his train. It goes on to say that if he ascended, he also descended to the lower earthly regions. So let’s do a bit of putting-together of the puzzle.
Mankind, from the point of creation on, goes either to Abraham’s Bosom or hell when he/she dies. Then Jesus comes from Heaven, lives and dies, descends into the lower regions of the earth. Could that be where Abraham’s Bosom is? Alongside hell? In the lower regions? So—Jesus descends and frees the captives—those bound to Abraham’s Bosom—leading them in his train as he is resurrected. He is not wrong when he tells the thief on the cross that ‘today you will be with me in paradise’. This man’s faith gives him the right to go to Abraham’s Bosom where Jesus will go and set him free so he can enter the presence of God—in Heaven.
It is Jesus’ death—his sacrifice—that covers the horror of our sin-state. Without Jesus’ death, we would still be condemned to either Abraham’s Bosom or hell—depending on our faith in God. We would still be unable to enter the presence of God. But now, because Jesus paid our debt for being imperfect, we have the privilege to be with God the Father—in Heaven—where we can worship Him forever. He doesn’t see our sin. He sees the debt that Jesus paid. Wow huh?!