Jesus told the thief on the cross he would be with Him today in paradise, so where is paradise? Is it heaven?
Bosom of Abraham
Jesus told the account of the rich man and Lazarus, and it was not in the context of a parable, because Jesus had been using parables a few paragraphs before this, so this was apparently no parable, but may have been an actual account. If it was a parable, it was the only place where He used a real name and a real situation. He said that “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores” (Luke 15:19-21). Both went to different places after death. The rich man died and “was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side” (Luke 16:22-23). The rich man begged Abraham to go back, saying “I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment” (Luke 16:24), “But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them’” (Luke 16:25). The rich man even pleaded with Abraham but Abraham said that “between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us” (Luke 16:26). Notice Abraham said “us,” indicating that there were others who with him, but mostly he emphasized that once the rich man died, meaning he could not cross over into Abraham’s bosom, or paradise (which are the same thing or place). That’s because after death comes the judgment (Heb 9:27).
Thief on the Cross
When Jesus hung on the cross, dying, so too where the thieves on the cross, but one thief repented in the last moments of his life. He told the other thief who was railing against Jesus that they “are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong” (Luke 24:41). Apparently even the thief on the cross knew Jesus was innocent, and then “he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom’” (Luke 24:42). At this, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). The thief never had a chance to be baptized, attend one church service, or do any good works. All he could do was put his trust in the Savior, and he did…and because of that, today he is with Jesus. Remember, Jesus said “today you will be with me in paradise,” so there was no waiting period or “soul sleep.” Besides, to be with Jesus is the ultimate goal of every believer. This shows that paradise is where Jesus is at, but so is heaven, so are they the same? I only know for certain that Jesus is there and that’s all that really matters.
Heaven and Paradise
The rich man and Lazarus account shows us that believers and unbelievers will be permanently separated from each other and that both places are fixed and we cannot cross over from one side to the other. The Apostle Paul “was caught up into paradise,” (2 Cor 12:4), so it appears that paradise is the same place as heaven. Sometimes paradise can refer to the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:8), but for all other cases, paradise refers to being with Jesus Christ, and being in His presence is heaven enough for me. The New Jerusalem will be very much like paradise because the Apostle John “saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev 21:1-2), and what will that be like? For one thing, “the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Rev 21:3), but we also see that God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev 21:4). To me, that’s paradise or heaven. The end of suffering and sickness comes when the Lord Jesus Christ returns or after we pass away in the faith. Death is not the end but only the beginning. Death’s not a dead-end but a door to eternity…one way or the other. For those who trust in Christ, it will be eternal joy in the presence of God…for the other, eternal darkness, regret, and suffering, and being away from the presence of God for all time.
The only real differences that I could find between heaven and paradise is the use of the word because both describe being in the presence of God; both describe a utopian state, and both describe the absence of sorrow, suffering and sin (Rev 21:1-4). For me, any place where Jesus is at is heaven to me. You can call it paradise, heaven, the New Jerusalem, or whatever, but it’s being with Jesus that is going to be awesome. The place is not as important to me as the Person, and that Person is Jesus Christ. To be with Christ forever is just unimaginable. As they say, “You have to be there,” and those who trust in Christ will be there to see it for themselves. Perhaps they’ll even see the poor man who was in Abraham’s bosom.
Here is some related reading for you: What Does the Bible say Heaven is Like? 
Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), Crossway Bibles. (2007). ESV: Study Bible: English standard version. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles. Used by permission. All rights reserved.