Monday, September 8, 2014

The Mystery of God and Heaven

We were discussing the differences between Abraham's Bosom, Paradise and Heaven the other evening. The concept of these are truly a "mystery of God".
Luke 23:43 "And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise."
The tradition origins of the word "paradise" is "garden". It's not meant to be the proper name of a place and as such is not capitalized. Hence, what Jesus was saying is that today all things will just as the Essenes described paradise:
 "habitations beyond the ocean, in a region that is neither oppressed with storms of rain, or snow, or with intense heat, but that this place is such as is refreshed by the gentle breathing of a west wind, that is perpetually blowing from the ocean" (Josephus, BJ, II, viii, 11).
Josephus was a historian, not a prophet nor a Christian, but he accurately described the concept of "paradise" as understood by those of his time! Jesus was consoling the thief that today that he will be in a place where suffering doesn't exist. This definition of "paradise" agrees with the same concept in Genesis. The "Garden of Eden" fits the definition of " paradeisos". The word is used in Hebrew Scripture three times, all of which it's translated "garden":
Genesis 2:15 "And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it."
The "Garden of Eden" was paradise and is a "picture" of the paradise called the "Land of Milk and Honey" (Canaanland) and a place of eternal solace, the garden above the worldly heavens. Jesus referred to the latter when he said "today you will be with me in paradise".

Let us not even consider "Abraham's Bosom". Some believe that Abraham was in  a part of Hades with a chasm between that part and the place of rest.  The term is used one time and if it's read carefully, no where does scripture say that "Abraham is in Hades". From his vantage point the rich man in Hades could see Lazarus by Abraham's side. Where was Abraham? I believe, and that's my prerogative, and many theologians take this position, is that Abraham was in Heaven with Lazarus at his side! Abraham wasn't in Sheol or even Gehenna. He was in Heaven!

This contention is based on:
Romans 4:15 "Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression. 16 Therefore it  (salvation) is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham..."

It appears that Abraham had saving faith! He believed in Jesus. God "spoke" to Abraham seven times. When God is manifested in speech he is called "The Word" and from John Chapter 1 we know that The Word became flesh; he is Emmanuel, God with us.  God was with Abraham. Therefore, "God With Us" was with Abraham and hence, Abraham was speaking to pre-incarnate Jesus and was saved but his faith in Jesus. The entire "story" of Abraham being willing to sacrifice his only Son (recognized as such) to God was a foreshadowing of God's sacrifice of Jesus, his only son. Abraham spoke with The Word. He knew what he was doing and he knew what it meant. He had great faith in Jesus, thus he was "saved", not by the sacrifice of the blood of his only son, but through the faith he had in The Word, the pre-incarnate Jesus! Then to seal his salvation, The Word supplied the blood sacrifice; a kid!

Abraham had faith in The Word and the propitiation of the coming Messiah that he was ready in his heart to make the ultimate sacrifice; his only son. Paul used Abraham as an example of great faith in Jesus and by grace, and that salvation is available to all  the seed of Abraham which is to say "all Jew and Gentile" (everyone). If "to his seed" why would Abraham not receive the same reward? He did! It would appear to me that Lazarus was at the side of Abraham in Heaven. Where is heaven? From Deuteronomy it's a place above the worldly heavens where God abodes. It's the same place as is "paradise". It's that Garden that the thief on the cross was promised!
Revelation 2:7 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.
This "paradise" is a garden. It's not the Garden of Eden which was a picture of heaven, but another garden where God abodes. The "Tree of Life" is Jesus. He stands in the paradise of heaven just as he did in the Paradise (Garden) of Eden. Just as salvation is by grace for us and is only by the :Tree of Life, it was the same grace available to all mankind even before God became incarnate. Abel's salvation was by grace and so was Abraham's! They both spoke with The Word and believed in The Word!

The above passage was spoken to Christians (the churches). It was spoken after the death of Jesus. The one who "overcometh" is saved and his home shall be in "paradise". Paradise is by definition a noun which describes the solace of Heaven!

The concept of Heaven is a mystery of God in that Christ as savior was a mystery to all:
1 Corinthians 2:7 "But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: 8 Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory."
God had a plan all along. It was planned from the beginning of the world. Few understood that hidden wisdom, but Abraham was one who did! God's mystery was revealed to him. Abraham had faith in Jesus who was yet to be manifested, but Abraham knew him before he was!
1 Timothy 3:16 "And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory."
Paul described in his letter very well the mystery of the ages. God was not the God of the Jews alone, but is the savior of mankind; that the Hebrew God of the Old Testament is Jesus! Those who had faith received grace through faith, not by The Law, which was only a way for the faithful to demonstrate their faith, as Abraham did!

Note that Jesus was "received up into glory". Like "paradise", "glory" is another noun used to describe Heaven. Glory is not another storage place for Christians to abode, it's the same as "paradise"; it's descriptive of heaven!

Understanding the mystery of God is paramount in understanding the faith of our patriarchs. The mystery is that The Word was Jesus and Jesus was revealed to the entire world by being manifested in the flesh. Before that time only the faithful, even Hebrews, understood the Way to salvation, and they even knew that salvation was for all of Abraham's seed, both Jew and gentile!

Lazarus was with Abraham in Heaven! He was at his side, in his bosom, according to Hebrew custom. The thief on the cross was to be with Jesus in Heaven, a "paradise" a perfect "garden". This garden in Heaven is described in a vision by John:
Revelation 22:2 "In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations."
Guess what? John had the same vision of Abraham as did Ezekiel. The vision of Heaven before Jesus was born is the same as after:
Ezekiel 47:12 "Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear fruit, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing."
Ezekiel is describing his view of Heaven! He describes the fruits of that "Tree", being the "Tree of Life":

Here are the fruits as described in the New Testament: hope,  love, faith, gentleness, temperance, truth, joy, meekness, long-suffering, peace, goodness, and modesty.

"Faith" is one of the fruits! Faith leads to salvation and salvation is by Jesus alone. The fruits in Ezekiel's pre-Christ days were the same fruits as in the post-crucifixion times!  Yes, it's a mystery and that mystery requires discernment!
Colossians 2:2 "That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ..."
Understanding Jesus (and Heaven) is understanding the mystery. It's our inspired vision of truth and why God even made The Law! It was so that we see the need for grace! Jesus was as real for our patriarchs as he is for us. They spoke with The Word and he spoke to them. They audibly heard God and we "hear" him through the Spirit speaking to our soul and revealed to our mind!

My belief is that those saved by faith in the coming Christ have the same hope as those saved by faith in the risen Christ. Abraham, as does Paul, resides in Heaven and when Paul got there he was too in Abraham's Bosom!

Now let's look at "heaven". I have been capitalizing that noun as a proper place because modern theology speaks of heaven as a place. Actually it means "sky" or "firmament", but God doesn't dwell in the sky.
Deuteronomy 26:15a " Look down from thy holy habitation, from heaven..."
Here again, God's holy place is "heaven", uncaptialized, meaning from the sky. God is God of heaven and Earth, but neither is the name of his place. What is? Perhaps the "Kingdom of God".
Matthew 6:33 "But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you."
 Now the truth of the matter is that "the kingdom of God" is not capitalized, but neither are references to the kingdom of England. The word "kingdom" merely states that there exists a monarchy. For the people who were Angles, their land was called "Angleland" or as we know it in modern times, "England". At one time England did not have a kingdom and was merely Angleland. Now it has a monarchy and is described as a kingdom.

Therefore, the abode of God seems to be without name. But, some say it is "the kingdom of heaven". Again, heaven is not capitalized as a named place:
Matthew 3:2 And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. 
We do know that Paul referred to the "third heaven":
 2 Corinthians 12:2 I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven."
Neither is "third heaven" capitalized. (Now I realize that to some capitalization doesn't mean much, but to the translators of the Bible it meant much. For instance the One True God is always capitalized whereas "god" means pagan deities. There is a great difference and a capital letter makes the difference!)

Then immediately Paul said:
2 Cor 12:4 "How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter."
Jesus was already crucified at the time this was said.   Paul made the equivalency between "third heaven" and "paradise", but neither a formal name, these names both being the traditional name we capitalize and call "Heaven" and is the eternal home of Christians.

Why third heaven? Because the firmament or sky is made up of our immediate atmosphere (first heaven),  outer space, consisting of the the Cosmos (second heaven) and the home of God (third heaven). It's easy to see why that "heaven" is not traditionally capitalized because it's not the name of God's kingdom either!

The kingdom of Satan is this world. He's called the "Prince of the Air". However, Satan is what's called a "pretender to the throne". Oftentimes, there are two heirs to the throne, one legitimate the other a fraud. The fraudulent "king" is called "The Pretender" because he's not legitimate! Hence, God is the rightful king of the Earth since he is the Creator. It's his by design. He's being challenged by Satan and the pretender will be thrown into a fiery pit and destroyed as most pretenders are!

Therefore, God is monarch of the Earth and of heaven. I capitalized only one here because Earth is more than the ground on which we exist, but is the name of the planet. Heaven is not capitalized because there are three and neither three is a proper noun. God's realm includes all three heavens and the Earth inclusive! His is the "kingdom of God". That describes God's realm and is the same as paradise or heaven. Since God is omniscience his kingdom doesn't need a proper name because his kingdom is everything!

Those who have not been "born again" are stuck in the kingdom of the Earth; that kingdom with a pretender. By being saved through the King, Jesus, the born-again person becomes a "New Person" and their residence is still the kingdom of Earth; but with Jesus on the throne. Since God's realm is a "United Kingdom" just as Scotts are residents of Scotland and Great Britain, born-again Christians are subjects of the kingdom of Earth and the Kingdom of God! Upon salvation we don't wait to be citizens of God's kingdom, but we become citizens immediately! We no longer bow to Satan, but bow to Jesus, the King! As Christians we are citizens of the kingdom of God, but we're not yet in a place described as paradise or heaven.

As with most pretenders, Satan plots to overthrow the king at all times, hoping to make the subjects of the kingdom disloyal. Since the pretender to God's throne knows that he will lose in the end, he's satisfied with establishing what's called a "rump" government; a government that's illegitimate and has an illegitimate king. That's the kingdom of Satan!

Therefore, when I die I will give up this worldly kingdom of Earth and become a citizen of the kingdom of God!  It doesn't have an official name because it's all about God and doesn't need further description. "Heaven" makes do for us as does "Paradise", but both are descriptions of the kingdom of God; that part in the heavens anyway.  As a citizen I will be there at the side of Abraham. As they said in biblical times "I will be in Abraham's bosom!"

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