PARADISE, NOT A HEAVENLY MANSION
According to the Scriptures, when a believer dies, he goes to Paradise. Paradise is not a place of labor; it is a place of rest, where believers wait for the physical resurrection. As believers, we have already experienced a spiritual resurrection at the time of our regeneration. When we were regenerated, we participated in a divine resurrection, a spiritual resurrection (John 5). In Paradise the believers rest and wait for their physical resurrection, when their spirit will come out of Paradise and enter into their resurrected body, and they become resurrected persons.
It is wonderful to be saved. Today we have the church life as a miniature of the New Jerusalem. If we die before the Lord’s coming, we shall go to Paradise and wait there for our physical resurrection. As saved ones, we may enjoy the church life today and have the assurance of going to Paradise if we die before the Lord’s coming.
Because so many believers are influenced by traditional concepts, we need to talk about these matters in a careful, sober way. We definitely do not teach that there is no heaven. If people receive this impression concerning our teaching, trouble will be caused unnecessarily. There certainly are the heavens. However, according to the Bible, there is no such thing as a heavenly mansion. Furthermore, when a believer dies, he does not go to heaven or to a mansion in heaven; he goes to Paradise to await the coming resurrection.
PARADISE AND THE THIRD HEAVEN
In 2 Corinthians 12:2-4 Paul says, “I know a man in Christ…such a one was caught away to the third heaven. And I know such a man…that he was caught away into paradise.…” As we have indicated, it is commonly thought that these verses reveal that the third heaven in verse 2 is the same as Paradise in verse 4. This understanding, however, is not correct. The third heaven is a Hebrew expression denoting the highest heaven. The clouds may be regarded as the first heaven, and the sky above the clouds as the second. The third heaven, therefore, must be the heaven above the sky, in biblical terms, the heaven above the heavens, the highest heaven (Deut. 10:14; Psa. 148:4). Today the Father and the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, are in this highest heaven (Eph. 4:10; Heb. 4:14; 1:3). According to 2 Corinthians 12:2, Paul was caught away to this highest heaven.
Those interpreters of the Bible who regard the third heaven and Paradise as the same place think that Paul was caught away to Paradise when he was caught away to the third heaven. However, Paradise is not synonymous with the third heaven. We have seen that the conjunction “and” at the beginning of verse 3, an important word here, indicates that Paul is describing two different experiences. First, Paul was caught away to the third heaven. Then he was caught away to Paradise. Hence, Paradise is not synonymous with the third heaven. Instead, it refers to a place other than the third heaven; it refers to the pleasant section of Hades.
Recently a sister said to me, “I heard a tape in which you said that a certain brother is now with the Lord. The Lord Jesus is in the third heaven, and the dead saints are in Paradise. If this brother is in Paradise, which is far away from the third heaven, where the Lord is, how can you say that he is with the Lord?” This question is related to Paul’s word in Philippians 1:23: “But I am constrained by the two, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for it rather is much better.” To be with Christ is a matter of degree, not of place. While Paul was desiring to be with Christ in a higher degree, he was already with Him continually. Through his physical death, he would be with Christ to a fuller extent than he already enjoyed in this earthly life. When Paul wrote these words in Philippians 1:23, he was in bonds suffering mistreatment. Under those circumstances, we would expect him to long to be with Christ. Any believer in Paul’s situation would have the same desire.
To be with Christ is not an absolute matter; it is a relative one. Even now, we are with Christ. Wherever we are, we are with Him. Of course, while we are in this physical body, we are not as close to Christ as we shall be when we die, pass out of this world, and enter into another realm. But this does not mean that believers are taken to the heavens when they die. That will not occur until the day of resurrection and rapture.
No doubt, Paul was with Christ in prison. The fact that he was already with Christ indicates that being with Christ is not a matter of place. But although Paul was with Christ to a certain degree, he desired to be with Him into a higher degree. Paul knew that as a result of physical death he would be with Christ to a fuller extent than in his earthly life. For this reason, he could desire to depart and to be with Christ, regarding this as much better. If we understand this, we shall realize that to speak of a brother as being with the Lord does not mean that the brother is now in the third heaven instead of Paradise.
(The Fulfillment of the Tabernacle and the Offerings in the Writings of John, Chapter 49, by Witness Lee)