Some issues have come up in #prosapologian and I wanted to put my two cents in, in a concise, written format.
I’ve often referred to a previous post of mine, I highly recommend you read it first, wherein I defend the view that 1) the “sons of God” in Gen 6 are in fact believing humans, 2) the Nephilim are simply “men of renown”, not supernatural angel-human hybrids, 3) Satan did not attempt to corrupt the bloodline of Christ by having demons mate with humans and 4) 1 Pet 3 speaks not of a post-crucifixion preaching by Christ to OT saints. In so doing I touched on several verses used to extrapolate these views. I realize now that more needs to be said on a couple of points.
Firstly, I want to show that there is no Scriptural basis for the belief that “paradise” is anything but heaven, there is no limbus patrum, the saints of the Old Testament died and their spirits went to heaven, also known as paradise. Passages often used to defend the limbus patrum concept, specifically Luke 16, Luke 23 and Eph 4. Before I head into those specific passages, I want to present a few concepts. Also, note, that most of the views contrary to that I am presenting rest their case on extra-Biblical rabbinic writings. It is my belief that we should allow Scripture to define our theology, and not the writings of rabbis known to have departed the faith long before.
I’ve already reviewed 1 Peter 3:18-20 in the previous post, however some of what I said before bears repeating.
It was “in the Spirit” that Christ made the gospel proclamation to the spirits who are now in prison. The “spirits” are in prison now, that doesn’t mean they were in prison when the proclamation was made. The proclamation was made “in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark”, and not after Christ’s death in some form of limbo. Thus when we read that Noah was a “preacher of righteousness” (2 Pet 2:5) we must understand that Noah preached the Gospel, however veiled, which would save none-the-less if believed, as proven by the salvation of himself and his family from the flood.
Again, my main points regarding this verse are thus:
The context of the passage is explicit, it refers to a proclamation occurring in “the days of Noah”, it is not applicable to other times or persons. The “spirits” spoken of were disobedient in those days and are “now” (NASB) in prison. The passage does not refer to OT saints (apart from Noah and seven others). The immediate context (vs 9-17) refers to suffering for doing good, as Christ did in dying on the cross and Noah did in preaching to the disobedient.
The greater context of 1 and 2 Peter speaks of the Spirit preaching through prophets and declares Noah to be a “preacher of righteousness”. This passage therefore expresses the idea that believers should be prepared to suffer as Christ did in going to the cross and Noah did in his long suffering and proclaiming the Gospel to those who would ultimately perish.
1 Peter 3:18-20 therefore has nothing whatsoever to do with the idea that Christ made some post-crucifixion proclamation in limbo to OT saints. (One other note, I’ve seen 1 Pet 4:6 offered as more evidence, but the verse, 1Pe 4:6 “For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.” – is talking about the spiritually dead.) 1 Peter 3:18-20 therefore cannot be appealed to.
Luke 16 – The rich man and Lazarus
Before we can examine the text of Luke 16, we must recognize that it is parabolic language, it is not meant to be taken as a verbatim account of something that occurred. The intent of the passage is not to teach a complete blue-print of the supposed limbus patrum or heaven and hell, but rather to express 1) total depravity: “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.'”, 2) a warning of the coming judgment: “I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house– for I have five brothers–so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.'” and 3) the reality of the wrath of God and the torment to come, “have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.'” Finally, notice that there is a “great chasm fixed” between “Abraham’s side” (ESV) and Hades. I believe this chasm to be one of righteousness as well as distance. This is not Paradise and Hades side by side, but rather far apart in the spirit realm.
Abraham’s side (or bosom for those KJV folks) is not a specific place in and of itself, but rather, literally, next to Abraham. Abraham, like all OT saints exist(ed) in the presence of God awaiting the resurrection with all other believers throughout history. Thus, I propose, Lazarus is in heaven, and the rich man in hell, and since the purpose of this passage is not to provide a thorough knowledge of the afterlife, the burden of proof rests on those who wish to state otherwise.
Let us be clear, when the righteous die they go to be with the Lord in Spirit, when the wicked die they are sent to hell to await their final disposition. This was no different in the times before the crucifixion (more on this later.)
Note here, again, there is very little said about the location of said Paradise. It seems disingenuous to suggest that Christ would encourage the thief that they’d be in the holding-pen of limbus patrum together. Rather, the theif’s request is specific: “remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Paradise therefore, is part-and-parcel of Christ’s kingdom.
Of course, this very passage is problematic for many of the contrary views. Christ is entering His kingdom on the very day of His crucifixion. The thief, unbaptized and a sinner, has been forgiven his sins even before Christ’s sacrifice is complete on the cross. Christ doesn’t have to go proclaim the Gospel to this thief, he gets it, he is already a son of God.
What happened to Christ once He died on the cross? The author of Hebrews tells us:
Heb 10:5 Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me…
Heb 10:12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God,
Heb 10:13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet.
Christ entered heaven and presented His sacrifice in the holy place therein. He didn’t go anywhere else, He didn’t go make proclamation to anyone.
Paradise is the dwelling place of God.
Rev 2:7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’
Paul speaks of a man who “was caught up into paradise”. (Perhaps he’s speaking of himself.)
2Co 12:3 And I know that this man was caught up into paradise–whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows–
Therefore, Jesus was with the theif crucified with him that day in the dwelling place of God, where Paul speaks of.
There seems to be a train of thought that goes something like this:
“Before the crucifixion, God put people in a holding tank, once the crucifixion occurred they were let out after hearing Christ’s proclamation.” Ephesians 4 is often appealed to support this view. In fact, Ephesians 4:8-10 seems to be the go-to passage for folks looking to defend this post-crucifixion-proclamation view. But what does the text actually say?
Eph 4:8-10 Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)
This certainly does sound somewhat mysterious, but when taken in the greater context of Eph 4 which is speaking not of post-crucifixion-proclamations but the giving of spiritual gifts for the edification of the church, the passage becomes a bit clearer.
Christ’s ascension here is not intended to be directly identified with his ascension into heaven after the crucifixion, or even the ascension in Acts, rather it is more analogous to Christ’s completion of His overarching mission. That is, Christ the conquering general has defeated death and sin and has broken the bondage of those captives, as the victor he deserves the spoils of war and like the conquering generals of old, gives gifts to his generals (the former captives!) The captives then, are we believers who were once slaves to sin, dead in our trespasses and sin. Christ’s descending is analogous to His condescension in becoming the God-man and dying in our stead on a tree and his flesh being buried in a grave for 3 days and nights. Christ is our Jacobs-ladder upon which we are carried into heaven.
The passage does not, whatsoever, refer to OT saints, the limbus patrum or making proclamtion to angels. Ephesians 4 is, rather, a Trinitarian exposition in which Paul is talking about how the church is to operate within the gifts given to it, in humility, compassion and sobriety.
Since we’ve already removed 1 Peter 3 from consideration in this whole discussion, and since we’ve seen that Ephesians 4 does not apply, what do we do with the saints of the Old Testament who died in faith? How could they have gone to heaven before Christ’s crucifixion?
2Ki 2:11 And as they still went on and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.
The Gospel Preached
Let us first acknowledge that the Gospel, though veiled, was preached in the OT.
Gal 3:8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.”
Heb 4:2 For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.
Heb 4:6 Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience,
1Pe 1:12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.
Hebrews 11 tells us that the OT saints “though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. ” (Heb 11:39-40) This might suggest that they weren’t in heaven, but what this is speaking of is the fullness of the kingdom that will be revealed at the fulness of time.
Rev 6:9-10 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”
Similarly, those who are in heaven now, around the altar of God cry out for justice awaiting the consummation of the ages.
Christ’s crucifixion saved those who believed in the veiled Gospel of the Old Testament, just as we are saved by that same crucifixion by believing in the fullness of the same message revealed in Christ. The temporal nature of the crucifixion didn’t change the sufficiency thereof.
Remember, the names of the elect were written in the “book of life of the Lamb that was slain” from before the foundation of the world. Christ’s death therefore, not to occur temporally until 33AD was effective to save those who believed even before.
Rev 13:8 and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slain.
Consider the KJV renders this: “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” Christ’s sacrifice saved the OT saints then just as it saves us now. It didn’t need to be present and occurring to save the OT saints anymore than it must be represented now to save us and cleanse us.