We have covered the words that were used to picture the place or state of the dead as concerns punishment. However, there are other words used in the scriptures to describe the place or state of the dead as it concerns those who have been in a covenant relationship with God. Now is the time to look at some of these.
As noted in the first essay, there is a place of peace in opposition to that place of torment.
There are two words in the Old Testament and four used in the New Testament, to indicate the expanse beyond the earth. These words translate into English as heaven. Sometimes these words are employed to indicate the sky overhead or simply what lies beyond the earth. Yet these particular words are not anywhere employed to indicate a place of reward or peace. The typical usage is to indicate a general though far removed location away from this earth, a point of origin, a place from which good (or even bad) things emanate.
The disciples were told to seek first the “Kingdom of heaven.” The Christians in Ephesus were told of things held for them in the “heavens” or more correctly, as it is rendered in many versions, in “heavenly places.” They were told that all spiritual blessings are held “…in the heavenly places in Christ.” Christ is sitting “…at His (God’s) right hand in the heavenly places.”
“He has raised us up together and made us to sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” “That the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places.” Too bad “heavenlies” is not a word; it would allow for the correct impression. The word of God conveys that the heavenly places also contain the repository of the powers of darkness and the god of this world, but it is noted that the two are separated by “a wide gulf.”
There are other words. Although there are several words used to convey the place or state of peace, some carry a more impressive meaning than others do. One such word is paradise. Paradise comes from the Persian word translated into English as the Garden of Eden. It occurs in some form six times in the New Testament. The import with it is that there is a place of rest and peace with God present that is likened to the picture of the Garden of Eden of the creation. This is a symbol then of the paradise of God.
Christ told the thief at Calvary, “Today you shall be with me in Paradise.” I suspect that the Lord did not invent the concept of paradise only for that single occasion and for that one person. Also he was not tricking a dying man. And as the Christ is not a liar, then paradise is as real as Hades and Hell are real. That all are spiritual abodes must apply.
Probably the most significant word that is used to indicate a place of peace and reward is the word that translates out of the Greek as life. According to the scholars, this particular word means “quickened as respects the spirit, endued with new and greater powers of life.” It is used as if describing “seeds quickening into life.” It indicates “changing or fashioning anew of the bodies of the living, which corresponds with, and takes place at the same time as the resurrection of the dead in Christ …of the impartation of spiritual life and the communication of spiritual sustenance generally.” That has the meaning of love incorporated within it — love and life, sustenance and renewal.
In opposition to “everlasting fire,” and usually in near proximity to it within the text, is often found the phrase “everlasting life.” One identifies Gahenna while the other indicates a condition of continued life and spiritual renewal. While both are in the heavenly places, one lends to thoughts of everlasting good and the other is indicative of a place and condition of everlasting torment.
“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows that will he also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.”
Therefore, we have promises maintained in heavenly places where the Christ sits on the throne at the right hand of the Lord of Hosts. As Christians we have hope both to be caught up to the paradise of God and of being made “like the angels in heaven.” We have hope of eternal life.
Your mercy, O Lord, is in the heavens, and your faithfulness reaches to the clouds. Your righteousness is like the great mountains; your judgments are a great deep; O Lord, You preserve man and beast. How precious is your loving kindness, O God!
Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of your wings. They are abundantly satisfied with the fullness of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your pleasures. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.
Oh, continue your loving kindness to those who know you and your righteousness to the upright in heart. Let not the foot of pride come against me, and let not the hand of the wicked drive me away. There the workers of iniquity have fallen; they have been cast down and are not able to rise.
The end point of the thoughts in Psalm 36 and the end product of these thoughts here is that there is hope only while we yet walk this earthly pale. As long as we sojourn here, we can turn our inward thoughts to God to doing his will and to his Word and its redeeming quality. We can save ourselves from the wrath to come and drink freely of the flowing fountain of life. We can set ourselves to be partakers of the spiritual blessings in Christ held for us in the heavenlies. We can be partakers of his loving kindness. If we but put our trust in the shadow of his wings, we will never need fear. “For thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”
The Psalmist said, “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.” Finding and getting into the light and coming to the fountain of life to drink freely of it should be our highest priority — the goal set before all who seek and wish to hold to the truth of God. As Jesus is “the captain and finisher of our faith” so we must seek to do his will and to follow his instructions in all things whatsoever we may do. For without that, the end of all men would be to land squarely in the burning fires of Hell.
Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except by me.” If there is life and light set before us juxtaposed against destruction and burning, why then would we not choose life?