The good thief went to “Paradise (Lk. 23:43). Lazarus went to “Abraham’s bosom” (Lk. 16:22NKJV). Are they two different places? Are they intermediate heavens or the real thing? And where do Christians go who die today?
Paul wrote that he had been “caught up to the third heaven”, which was “paradise” (2 Cor. 12:2-4NIV). In the New Testament, the Greek word “ouranos” (Strongs #3772) is translated as “heaven” or “heavens” and is used in three contexts: the earth’s atmosphere (Mt. 6:26), the realm of the stars (Heb. 11:12) and God’s dwelling place (Mt. 6:9; 12:50). So “paradise” is another name for the “heaven” where God is; they are synonyms. Furthermore, the term “third heaven” doesn’t mean that there are three levels or stages of heaven.
When Jesus died He committed His spirit to God the Father who lives in heaven (Lk. 23:46). This was soon after He told the good thief, “today you will be with me in paradise” (Lk. 23:43). So Jesus and the good thief both went to heaven after they died. As their bodies were placed in graves, the part of them that went to heaven was their spirit and soul.
When Lazarus died, “angels carried him to Abraham’s side” (Lk. 16:22). For a Jew to be with Abraham would be a place of bliss. If the setting of the story is after Christ’s resurrection, “Abraham’s side” is synonymous with heaven. If the setting is earlier, then we need to look at the Old Testament. At the end of his life on earth, “Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind” (2 Ki. 2:11). Although Elijah went to heaven without dying, this seems to indicate that at this time heaven would also be the destiny of the soul of the righteous after death, which supports “Abraham’s side” being synonymous with heaven. On the other hand, some say that the righteous of the Old Testament only went to heaven at Christ’s ascension. However, the passages they use to support this view are addressing Christ’s ascension and incarnation (Eph. 4:8-10) and His resurrection (Acts 2:27, 31), not events in the spirit world.
The three phases of the Christian’s life is described in 2 Corinthians 5:1-9. They are:
- When alive on earth, their spirit and soul are united with their body. This phase is ended by death when the spirit and soul separate from the body (Eccl. 12:6-7).
- Between death and the rapture, the spirit and soul are with Christ in heaven and the remains of the body are on earth.
- At the rapture, the body is resurrected and changed and reunited with the spirit and soul in heaven.
For the believer, death is described as being “away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). Paul said that “to die is gain” because it meant being “with Christ” (Phil. 1:21-23). Therefore, when Christians die their spirit and soul immediately go to be with Christ in heaven.
Written, June 2012
Also see: What is paradise?
We are often unaware of the unseen invisible component to our world. I sometimes picture this as being like an extra dimension. For example, if we lived in a flat 2-dimensional world and someone visited us from a 3-dimensional world, then we would only see their footprints.
According to the Bible the unseen world is made up of various personalities: the divine God comprised of Father, Son and Holy Spirit; God’s angels who help believers; Satan who opposes God; and Satan’s demons who are rebellious angels. We are only partially aware of these personalities; like the footprints of a 3-dimensional being in a 2-dimensional world. Let’s look at the human spirit and soul which is another part of the unseen world that can be influenced by these divine and satanic personalities.
The Bible describes human beings as being comprised of spirit, soul and body: “May God Himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Th. 5:23NIV). The meanings of these Greek words are given below and their relationship is shown in the schematic diagram.
‘Pneuma’, which means ‘wind’, something which is invisible, is used to describe the spirit. The human spirit enables our conscience, intuition, God consciousness and communication with God (Mk. 2:8; Jn. 4:24; Rom. 8:16; 9:1). It is the spirit which distinguishes us from animals; they do not have such an eternal spirit. It is a way in which people are “made in the image of God” (Gen. 1:27; Jn. 4:24). We can view the human spirit as our innermost world.
‘Psuche’ (the origin of the English word ‘psyche’), which means ‘breath’, something which is invisible, is used to describe the soul. It is our self consciousness, personality and ego. It includes the mind (our intellect, Acts 14:2, 22), the will (our desires, decisions and morals, Mt. 22:37) and the emotions (our feelings). We can view this as being between our spirit and our body. However, it can be difficult to distinguish between the spirit and the soul (Heb. 4:12).
‘Soma”, which means the body. It is sense consciousness, which relates to the physical world. We can view the spirit and soul as living within the body.
The processes of death and resurrection reveal important aspects of the components of human beings. The Bible describes these aspects as the body (which is visible) and the spirit and soul (which are invisible). At death, the visible and invisible aspects are separated: the spirit and soul leave the body and go to Hades or paradise, while the body decays to dust (Eccl. 12:7; Lk. 23: 43,46; Acts 7:59; 2 Cor. 5;8; Jas. 2:26). After death the spirit and the soul are fully conscious with feelings memories and emotions (Lk. 16:23-31). Also, Paul was fully conscious when he was translated to paradise (2 Cor. 12:2,3). So death is not the end of a human being. The Bible teaches that all the dead will be resurrected back to life. Resurrection is the opposite of death, being the reunion of the spirit and soul with a new body (Dan. 12:2; Jn. 5:28-29; Acts 24:15; Rev. 20:5,6,13).
The first people, Adam and Eve were each created as a body in union with a soul and spirit. All these parts interrelate and depend on each other; this is essential for healthy physical life. For example, the brain (part of the body) is like computer hardware and the mind (part of the soul) in like computer software that programs the brain. People need both. You only have one without the other in death.
Adam and Eve’s soul and spirit were in union with God. They freely spoke with God in the Garden of Eden. They were in paradise on earth where there was safety and security (all their needs were catered for); significance (they ruled over the creation); and authority (Adam named the creatures). They had a sense of belonging, with fulfilling relationships with God and with each other.
The fall into sin
Adam and Eve’s rebellion and disobedience began in their mind (Gen. 3:5-6). Satan sowed doubt in their mind and they desired more knowledge and wisdom. This led to a radical change in our world (Gen. 3:8-4:9). Some of the consequences in our unseen world are described below.
Their spirit was dead to God. They lost their close relationship with God and came under Satan’s influence. They died spiritually when they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:17). Consequently, they were banished from the Garden and lost their safety and security and their sense of belonging (Gen. 3: 23,24). Just as we have inherited physical life from our first parents, we have also inherited this spiritual death from them (Eph. 2:1-3). Today the unbeliever is without God and separate from Christ (Eph. 2:12; 4:18).
Their mind lost knowledge of God. They thought they could hide from God (Gen. 3:8). They were the first example of the ungodly who “are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts” (Eph. 4:18).
Their will made a wrong choice. They failed the first test of obedience (Gen. 2:17). They refused the rule of the spirit and became the slave of the body (Gal. 5:16-17). All choices have consequences. The choices made by the ungodly affect all areas of their lives.
Their emotions were characterised by negative feelings. Adam hid because he was afraid (Gen. 3:10). They felt shame and guilt and Cain was angry and depressed when his offering was not accepted by God (Gen. 3:7; 4:5). The ungodly are characterised by “hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy” (Gal. 5:19-21).
The Bible describes unbelievers as being “psuchikos”, which means “governed by the soul” (1 Cor. 2:14; Jude 19). As there is no adjective for “soul” in English that is equivalent to this Greek word, some have suggested we call it “soulish”. This means that that they are largely driven by their minds and emotions. But what influences their minds and emotions? As they are spiritually dead, it is not God. The only other active personalities in the unseen world are Satan and his demons. This results in “soulish” behaviour such as jealousy and selfish ambition (Jas. 3:14-16).
“Psuchikos” is also used to describe our bodies (1 Cor. 15:44,46). This means that we were born with a body that is governed by the soul and not by a spirit that is alive to God.
The spiritual believer
God’s plan of salvation is to restore His relationship with people that was destroyed by their fall into sin. This begins at conversion when the human spirit changes to become united with God’s Spirit. This is like a new creation, which changes the soul (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15). It leads to the following changes within a believer, who is described as being spiritual, not soulish (1 Cor. 2:15).
Their spirit is alive to God. Their spirit has been made alive by the Holy Spirit, the Lord is with their spirit and they live according to God in regard to the spirit (Jn. 3:6; 2 Tim. 4:22; 1 Pt. 4:6). They are “led by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:18). This is associated with forgiveness of sin (Acts 2:38), safety, significance and belonging because they are accepted as children of God (Rom. 8:16; 15:7).
Their mind is renewed and transformed. They should be transformed by the renewing of their mind (Rom. 12:2). They have the “mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16) and should be single-minded thinking of things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy (Phil. 4:8).
Their will chooses to live by the Spirit. “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25). Now we face many choices each day: whether to pray or not, read the Bible or not, go to church or not, talk to another or not, and follow God or not.
Their emotions are the fruit of the Spirit. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23).
The spiritual believer is the ideal, the model of maturity to which we should be growing. Of course, Satan opposes the believer’s growth to maturity. Some Scriptures use the words “soul” and “spirit” in similar senses, which can be confusing. Maybe this is because in the mature Christian the spirit should be ruling and leading the soul. So in a sense they are similar.
The soulish believer
Unfortunately this is not always the case in practice because when we become a Christian the “clear” button in our brain is not always pressed: our mind is not completely renewed. We have ingrained “soulish” habits and patterns of behaviour that still appeal to our mind to operate independently of God. This is because Satan and sin are still around in our world. As shown below, this can affect all the parts of our being.
Their spirit is alive to God, but quenched. The Holy Spirit indwells all believers, but He can be quenched. Paul wrote “Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Th. 5:19).
Their mind is double-minded and selfish. “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do” (Jas. 1:5-8). We can be caught between God’s plans and our plans when we are not following God’s Spirit. Our plans can be influenced by sinful habits and Satan.
Their will chooses sinful behavior. They will not always be walking after the Spirit but choosing to be involved in sinful activity.
Their emotions are unstable and they rely on their feelings. They are plagued with negative feelings of guilt, worry, doubt, inferiority, insecurity and inadequacy. If fear is controlling our life, then faith is not.
In this case, their life is not being controlled by the indwelling Spirit of God. Instead, as shown below, the soul is governing the life through the mind, will and emotions. It is self-centred. We can only tell which is controlling their lives by its fruits (Mt. 7:16-17).
The soulish mind, will and emotions
The mind. “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual (‘psuchikos’ or ‘soulish’), demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice” (Jas. 3:13-16). In this case the human mind is being influenced by Satan. It is characterised by selfish ambition and rivalry and leads to disorder and evil. It is a great contrast to the spiritual believer who is peace-loving, considerate and impartial (Jas. 3:17-18).
The will. “You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not mere human beings” (1 Cor. 3:3-4)? They are described as being “sarkikos” (v.3), which means “of the flesh” (or body) rather than being spiritual. Here we see that people were following other people rather than the Holy Spirit within them. Those with strong wills and strong personalities can dominate others. This can lead to jealousy, quarrelling and factions within the church (Jude 19).
The emotions. We should live by faith, not by feelings. Emotions should not dominate our life. We should follow the Holy Spirit and not attempt to lead the Holy Spirit by our emotions. Are we always seeking spiritual experiences? Do we always need to feel the presence of God with us?
Our mind and our emotions are important parts of our being. We need to use them for God. Who ever influences our mind, influences our whole person. The Bible is the best influence as “the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). Here the word “heart” means the “seat of thoughts” (Vine), which is the mind.
Lessons for us
Each of us is a spirit who has a soul and lives in a body. Let’s not fall into Satan’s traps, but let God direct our ways so that we can be strengthened with power through His Spirit in our inner being and renewed inwardly day by day (2 Cor 4:16; Eph. 3:16). Finally, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Th. 5:23).
1 In Scripture, the Greek word ‘pneuma’ (spirit) is also used for evil spirits or demons (Mk. 6:7; Acts 19:16). Words convey a variety of meanings; the context determines a word’s meaning.
2 In Scripture, the Greek word ‘psuche’ (soul) is also used for ‘life’ (Mt. 16:26) and the will (Mt. 22:37).