According to the bible what is the difference between paradise and heaven? The reason that I ask this is because Jesus told the thief on the cross that today they would be together in paradise. Why did he not say heaven? A Mormon friend of mine tells me it is a place in heaven that is nice but it is not with God. Thus, there are different levels in heaven, and only the very righteous get to be close to God? I always assumed that Jesus was talking about heaven but it does say paradise, so is that another place beside heaven? Did Jesus not go right to heaven but to this paradise until he was resurrected? I’m having more and more questions?
Thank you for your question. Yes, the use of the word “paradise” in the Bible can be confusing. I believe that our definitive passage on this is the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31.
When the rich man died, he went to a place called “Hades” (verse 23), which was a place of torments. When Lazarus died, he went to a place called “Abraham’s bosom,” which Bible scholars have associated with paradise.
Apparently, when people died in Old Testament times (including the times referenced in the Gospels), their bodies went into a grave, but apparently there was a temporary holding place for their souls. The Bible uses a term called hell, such as in Matthew 5:22, but the terminology is slightly different than what we normally use. Hell is the lake of fire where all unbelievers will spend eternity (Revelation 20:14-15). Apparently, however, the temporary holding place (sometimes called Sheol, or Purgatory) had a compartment for separate compartments for believers and unbelievers. (This is where the Catholics (mistakenly) built their doctrine of purgatory.) Unbelievers spent this period in the part called torments (Luke 16:23), while believers spent this time in a place called paradise (Luke 23:43).
However, with the resurrection of Jesus (the first resurrection), these Old Testament believers were transferred from paradise to Heaven. This is apparently what was going on in Matthew 7:53, which is a very difficult passage.
Now, for us, it’s completely different. Since the resurrection of Christ has already occurred, and He has ascended to Heaven, when believers die today, our bodies go to a grave, and our spirits go straight to Heaven (2 Corinthians 5:1-8) to be with Christ.
I hope this helps.