So, for the past several days we’ve been following Jesus around in His last week on earth as an earthly human. Most days were chock full of teaching, healings, and confrontation of enemies. Thursday, yesterday, was likewise full, but in a different way — both profoundly tragic and eternally significant.
But on Friday, a Passover Sabbath, Jesus’ body lay in a borrowed tomb. Jesus’ spirit on the other hand was in Paradise. As I was trying to speak of the major events of Jesus’ crucifixion yesterday, I skipped over the incident of Jesus’ conversation with the two thieves crucified on either side of Him. Other Gospels reference the other thieves, but only Luke tells us how one of the thieves repented of the mocking things they had said to Him earlier and asked Jesus to remember him in Christ’s kingdom. In response to this repentance, Jesus famously told him, “This day will you be with Me in Paradise.”
Some may be wondering, “What and where is Paradise?”
When a person dies (any person) their soul (the spiritual substance of who they really are) are taken to a place called Sheol (Hebrew name) or Hades (Greek name), the realm of all the dead. A thorough study of Luke 16:19ff could be done for more detailed information (or I’ve written a book on the topic entitled “What Comes Next?”). The “where” is probably not findable by GPS, but was often (probably metaphorically) located deep in the earth. In Hades (Sheol) there are two sections divided by a deep chasm. In one section the souls of the sinful and unrepentant are tormented (called Tartarus); in the other section, the souls of the righteous and saved are comforted (called Paradise by Jesus as He spoke with the thief on the cross).
We do not know for certain what Jesus did in Paradise. There is one New Testament statement that alludes to some activity, “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water” (1 Peter 3:18-20). However, knowing more is apparently not to our advantage, so we know no more (Deuteronomy 29:29 ““The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law”).
Jesus’ disciples, on the other hand, found themselves deeply grieved, confused, and disappointed on this Passover. The only statement made in Scripture that speaks to their hearts’ thoughts is found in Luke 24:18-22 as part of the story of two of Jesus’ disciples walking on the way to Emmaus pondering the reports of Christ’s resurrection. A “stranger” joins them and starts asking questions, “One of them, named Cleopas, answered and said to Him, ‘Are You the only one visiting Jerusalem and unaware of the things which have happened here in these days?’ And He said to them, ‘What things?’ And they said to Him, ‘The things about Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word in the sight of God and all the people, and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to the sentence of death, and crucified Him. But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, it is the third day since these things happened. ‘But also some women among us amazed us. When they were at the tomb early in the morning,’” His disciples relate their high hopes about Jesus as the Messiah, the wonderful signs and miracles He performed, and how they had hoped that He would be the one to redeem Israel — but how He had been tragically condemned and crucified. And all Passover (the first time that Israel had been redeemed), they had probably tried to make some sense out everything they had seen and heard — all in the midst of their shock and grief.
What can we learn?
When bad, shocking, grief inducing, inexplicable tragedy occurs in our lives — as they often do — instead of letting it weaken our faith; maybe what we need to is take a step back. Although we can occasionally make some sense of events in our lives, we also need to realize that God may be doing something wonderful that we may not be able to make sense of in our wildest imagination. Instead, we need to trust the Lord to work things out in His own time, while we just do what we ought to be doing.
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.