A short while ago a Christian friend asked for clarification regarding paradise, heaven, Abraham’s bosom, hell, Hades, and the lake of fire. She concluded her request thus: “Yes, you could say I'm confused. . . . Any clarification you can give me will be greatly appreciated.”
Below is my response.
This can be a rather convoluted discussion. I think the confusion lies primarily in the fact that the terms paradise/heaven/Abraham’s bosom and hades/hell/lake of fire are used, it seems, interchangeably in scripture. Furthermore, the verses which contain these references are somewhat lacking in detail and are therefore interpreted variously by sincere, Bible-believing folks.
So we have to be cautious to distinguish between what the Bible actually says and what Christians and theologians claim it says.
Having said this, I think it is helpful to differentiate between our STATE and our LOCATION after death. When it comes to life after death, I believe the Bible offers more about our state (the condition of our being) than our location (geography?).
Therein lies the debate—the uncertainty—regarding whether paradise, Abraham’s bosom, and heaven are different places or simply different names. I suppose one could mount an argument either way.
But what is clear from the texts?
I believe the New Testament is clear that when we die our soul leaves our body. Paul teaches that to be dead is “to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord” (2Cor. 5:8). Upon our death we will be in a disembodied state of existence—a soul without a physical body. This is what we call the “intermediate state.”
Now, call it paradise, or Abraham’s bosom, or heaven—whatever one calls it—our disembodied soul will be present with the resurrected Jesus.
The intermediate state of existence is temporal in that we will be disembodied souls only until the resurrection of the dead. When we are resurrected our soul will be reunited with our raised, corporeal body.
At the resurrection, the intermediate state (disembodied souls) will enter the Eternal State where our souls will be forever reunited with (housed within) our physical bodies (now glorified). This seems to be the clear import of Paul’s teaching in 2Cor. 5:1-4 (see also 1Cor. 15:35-44).
So we may think of things in terms of our present state (before death), our intermediate state (after death), and our eternal state (the resurrection). Notice again, this has to do with our state of being not our location.
In the end, it’s not a matter of us going up to heaven but of heaven coming down to us. And death is swallowed up by life.
The former things have passed away . . . Behold, I make all things new.
~Revelation 21:4, 5