To answer this question we will look at the meaning of both words from the Scriptures.
Then we will take a quick look at two views regarding the historical location of paradise. This last point is important because it has an impact on how we approach the Scriptures.
Let us jump into it.
Heaven is specifically the place where God dwells, as well as the angels, and where our risen and living Lord Jesus is.
The following quotes will suffice to establish this fact.
Heaven is more specifically called “the third heaven” in 2 Corinthians 12:2.
Paradise is the place where the soul of the righteous goes after death.
The word is of oriental origin and refers to the gardens of the kings and nobles of Persia; gardens full of everything beautiful and good that the earth can produce. In the New Testament, this term is used to describe a place of heavenly delight and happiness, a place of rest where the redeemed enjoy the presence of the Lord Jesus after their death.
Let us look at what the Old Testament and the New Testament have to say about paradise.
In fact, in the Old Testament, we only see a general concept of what happens to those who have died; they go to a place called Sheol.
This Hebrew word is sometimes translated grave, hell, or pit. This is the place where we see both righteous and wicked, without really distinguishing where each goes.
Indeed, many passages speak of the wicked going there. For example, “Let the wicked be ashamed, let them be silent in Sheol.” (Psalm 31:17).
As for the righteous being in this general place after death, we see it in Psalm 16:10, also quoted in Acts 2:27, as speaking prophetically of Christ. “For you will not leave my soul to Sheol, neither will you allow your Holy One to see corruption” (Psalm 16:10).
In the New Testament, we do not find the word Sheol. In Greek, the word Hades is used to designate the same general place.
But many other things are revealed about this place.
In Luke 16:19–31, Jesus talks about a man named Lazarus and a certain rich man. There we learn that after death there is a place where the righteous go, called the bosom of Abraham, and a place where the wicked go. The righteous is already comforted, while the wicked is already in torment while awaiting the final judgment. One is either on the side of the righteous or on the side of the wicked.
There is absolutely no possibility for a change of state after death. One must repent and believe in Christ’s work during his life.
The place where the righteous go—the bosom of Abraham—corresponds to paradise. This is made plain in Luke 23:43 when Jesus speaks to the repenting thief. “Jesus said to him, Verily I say to you, Today will you be with Me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
There we learn that paradise is where this man and Jesus will be that very day. The bosom of Abraham is clearly called paradise by our Lord. It certainly was a great consolation to the thief to know that he was going to be that very day in that place of heavenly delight, happiness, and rest.
In 2 Corinthians 12:2–4, where Paul speaks of an experience he had, we learn that paradise is in fact in the third heaven. “I know a man in Christ, fourteen years ago, (whether in the body I know not, or out of the body I know not, God knows;) such a one caught up to the third heaven. And I know such a man, (whether in the body or out of the body I know not, God knows;) that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable things said which it is not allowed to man to utter” (2 Corinthians 12:2–4).
Paul says he was caught up to the third heaven, caught up into paradise. He was in the very “paradise of God” where is found “the tree of life” of which he who overcomes will eat (Revelation 2:7). This is a picture of the righteous enjoying the person of Christ forever.
In Philippians 1:23 Paul says, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ” (Philippians 1:23 ESV). Yes, for the redeemed, to depart is to be in the very presence of Christ, in heaven.
In Revelation 6:9 we read that “the souls of them that had been slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held” are seen “underneath the altar” (Revelation 6:9), which is in heaven.
To summarize, in the New Testament we are clearly informed that when a righteous person dies he goes to a place of blessedness in heaven—which is God's dwelling place and where Christ is also. This place is called paradise. But when a sinner dies, he goes to another place for which only the general term Hades or Sheol is used.
This was not clear in the Old Testament, but we now have the full revelation of God on the subject.
Finally, it may be useful to mention that there are two views on the historical location of paradise.
Some say that paradise was always in heaven—which is what has been presented here. Others say that paradise changed location after Christ’s resurrection.
The view that paradise has always been in heaven is based on the fact that God's revelation is progressive and that it is complete in the New Testament. In the Old Testament we find general principles, and in the New Testament we have the full development of God’s ways.
The view that paradise was moved from one location to another assumes that what we have in the Old Testament is a complete and precise revelation of what things were, and that what we find in the New Testament is a new state of things.
According to this view, and using Luke 16 about Lazarus and the rich man, it is said that paradise was on one side of Sheol, or Hades, and that there was a great chasm between both. It is said that when Jesus rose from the dead, He brought all the saints from the bosom of Abraham with Him to heaven. In other words, paradise moved from Hades to heaven. Ephesians 4:8 is used to support this view.
But this passage is a quote from the Old Testament, and since the Old Testament introduces general concepts on what happens after death, this passage must be considered in light of the clearer revelations of the New Testament.
We nevertheless mention this view so that you know it exists.
But as we said earlier, we cannot expect to have a full, clear, and complete revelation of all the ways of God in the Old Testament. The New Testament completes and makes us fully understand the Old Testament. It is in Christ, through the Spirit of God, in the New Testament, that we have “all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).
For this reason, the case looks stronger for a paradise that has always been in heaven.
To recap, heaven is the dwelling place of God, and paradise, describes the place where the souls of the redeemed go after death. This is a place of heavenly bliss, and is located in heaven. So, in this regard, heaven and paradise are synonymous. They represent the place where the souls of the righteous go after death.
All those in paradise are waiting for the day of resurrection, to be united again to their resurrected and glorified bodies.
And this will soon come to pass.
The Lord comes!