Paradise or Sleep?

Today’s Journey Through Scripture Readings: 1 King 21-22; Luke 23:26-56

39 One of the criminals hanging next to Jesus insulted him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”

40 Responding, the other criminal spoke harshly to him, “Don’t you fear God, seeing that you’ve also been sentenced to die? 41 We are rightly condemned, for we are receiving the appropriate sentence for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

43 Jesus replied, “I assure you that today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43, Common English Bible).

As many of us are apt to do at times, I entered into a theological debate (some might have called it an argument but he and I both preferred referring to it as a debate) with one of my preacher friends. The debate circled around today’s lesson. He asked the question, “What happens when a believer dies?”

My immediate answer went to quote Luke 23:43, “Jesus replied, “I assure you that today you will be with me in paradise.” It is what I have always believed. Why would Jesus tell the thief on the cross that he would be with Jesus that day if it were not true?

My friend pointed to Revelation 6 and read this “When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar those who had been slaughtered on account of the word of God and the witness they had given. 10 They cried out with a loud voice, “Holy and true Master, how long will you wait before you pass judgment? How long before you require justice for our blood, which was shed by those who live on earth?” 11 Each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to rest a little longer, until their fellow servants and brothers and sisters—who were about to be killed as they were—were finished.” Other translations, instead of saying “rest,” use other terms.

We both walked away from the debate agreeing that whether we go to paradise immediately upon death or we go to sleep for an unspecified period of time, we wouldn’t know the difference when we actually do enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

Since then, I have come to understand something more. There is no Scripture that indicates the soul sleeps. The body sleeps, but not the soul. I know my friend still might not agree, but as I think about it, that would mean we were both partly right. The body sleeps the sleep of the dead but the soul moves on to what Jesus called the Kingdom to come with the thief on the cross, “Paradise.”

As I think back on it, I think I have said something similar at most every funeral service I have led. In most cases, the body of the deceased has been right there. It is obvious this person is not conscious. It is equally obvious, this person’s soul is no longer present. It has moved on. And, we who believe take comfort in the knowledge that, like the promise Jesus made to the thief on the cross, the person we love may have a body that is asleep, but a soul that is with Jesus in paradise.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

With Joy and Thankfulness,

Copyright 2018, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

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