Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet;
but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead,
I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God
(Philippians 3:13-14 NASB)
Is the Thief in Paradise Today?
January 9, 2011
(39) And one of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are
You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” (40) But the other answered, and rebuking him said,
“Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? (41) And
we indeed justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done
nothing wrong.” (42) And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your
kingdom!” (43) And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”
Luke 23:39-43 NASB)
I once heard a very well-known preacher declare that this story “absolutely proves without any doubt”
that the death of a believer leads to instant ascent to heaven. To be sure, this brother in Christ means
well in his preaching, but this particular story declares nothing of the sort . Let me be more emphatic:
his story has nothing whatsoever to do with where a believer goes in death.
As stressed in other issues, we need to be reminded of Jesus' words: "No one has ascended into
heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man" (John 3:13 NASB), who Paul
declared "alone possesses immortality" (1 Timothy 6:16). Could Jesus or Paul, for that matter, have
ade it any clearer than this?
G iven this, what did Jesus mean when He told the thief he would be with Him in Paradise?
First, the criminal asked Jesus to remember him when He comes in His kingdom. To what kingdom was
the criminal referring? In that day, there was only one kingdom that was expected by the Jews. It was
the kingdom promised to David; the same one declared to Mary when Gabriel appeared to her
ronouncing her favorable before God.
“He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the
throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and His kingdom
ill have no end.” (Luke 1:32-33 NASB; see Isaiah 9:6-7; Daniel 7:13-14)
Even if he did not know all the facts surrounding Christ’s future kingdom, the criminal surely understood
he insults being hurled at Jesus as He hung on the cross.
And the people stood by, looking on. And even the rulers were sneering at Him, saying, “He
saved others; let Him save Himself if this is the Christ of God, His Chosen One.” And the
soldiers also mocked Him, coming up to Him, offering Him sour wine, and saying, “If You are
the King of the Jews, save Yourself!” Now there was also an inscription above Him, “THIS IS
HE KING OF THE JEWS.” (Luke 23:35-38 NASB)
So, it was in this context that the criminal asked Jesus to remember him when He comes in His
Did the kingdom of Christ come to rule over the nations in that day or any of the days that followed? If it
did come, then according to the prophets, the world should be experiencing righteous and just rule. Can
anyone find such a thing throughout the nations today? Is our modern world ruled according to
righteousness and justice? Are there kings and lords of Christ ruling over the nations today? Of course,
the answer to all these questions is no . Consequently, there is only one conclusion to draw: Jesus was
not promising the criminal a place in the kingdom upon his death. Jesus’ answer to the criminal had to
The story of the criminals being crucified along with Jesus is used by many to teach that this is proof
ositive that when a believer dies, he goes straight to heaven to be in the presence of God.
Second, some might argue that Jesus promised the criminal a place in paradise, not in His kingdom.
There are only two other places in the New Testament that refer directly to paradise, and each points to
the future kingdom. Paul was snatched away into paradise (2 Corinthians 12:4), which is taken up in
the next issue. Then, it is promised to those believers who overcome (the conquerors) that they may
eat of the tree of life in the paradise of God (Revelation 2:7). It must be added that all of the promises to
those who conquer, as recorded in the seven epistles to the ecclesia (Revelation 2-3), refer to entering
aradise in some fashion. Of course, John, along with Paul, actually saw paradise.
Third, many preachers place their emphasis on the word today as proof that the criminal and Jesus
both went to paradise in that day. However, when Jesus died, He went into the tomb (grave) as a dead
man, until God raised Him from the dead on the third day. Jesus then ascended to His Father (John
20:17), returned to the earth, and appeared to His disciples over a forty-day period, before finally
ascending into a cloud as the disciples watched (Acts 1:9-11; 2:14-36). Today, He is not in paradise but
eated upon His Father’s throne in heaven.
The Hebrew believers were encouraged that Christ entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the
presence of God for us (Hebrews 9:24). Please note that these believers had no expectant hope that
they were to go to heaven in death. In fact, a few verses later, they were encouraged to wait for Christ
o come a second time for salvation apart from sin (Hebrews 9:28).
Further, the Thessalonian believers were commended because they were waiting for God’s Son to
come from heaven (1 Thessalonians 1:10). When they were concerned over their loved ones who had
fallen asleep in Jesus, Paul did not encourage them that there was no need to be concerned, for they
were in heaven already. Rather, he encouraged them that they were asleep in Jesus and would be
resurrected (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). They were to comfort one another with these words about the
esurrection and snatching away to meet the Lord in the air.
Thus, God’s word consistently places the emphasis on waiting for the resurrection, and not on death
nd immediately going to heaven.
Fourth, many cite the use of the word today as proof that the thief went to paradise that day when he
died. However, we need to understand that the Greek language from which the English versions were
translated had no punctuation as do our modern-day versions of the Bible. In other words, punctuation
had to be placed in the text by the translators and editors. As such, this alone opens up the door for
terpretative bias.
Verily, to you am I saying today , with Me shall you be in paradise.” (Luke 23:43 CV)
V erily I say unto thee this day : with me shalt thou be in Paradise. (Luke 23:43 REB)
Given this rendering, Jesus was merely stating that on that particular day ( today ) He made a promise to
the criminal that referred to a day many years into the future when He would be coming (future) in His
kingdom. For the thief, this day was either 2,000 years (first resurrection) or 3,000 years (second
resurrection) into the future. We are not given an indication of which one was promised. I suspect the
tter, for this is when paradise, New Jerusalem, truly comes into view for all to see and enter into it.
Especially in light of scripture on immortality and ascension into heaven, this appears to be the most
plausible understanding of this passage.
The Upward Call: #05-1109 [517]
By: Stuart H. Pouliot
be in reference to a day that would not commence for at least 2,000 years from Calvary, considering we
re still waiting for our Savior to come from heaven.
Without punctuation, Luke 23:43 reads: “Truly I say to you today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”
But notice that the meaning of Jesus' words changes, depending on where a comma is placed in
relation to the word today . If it is placed after today, it simply means that Jesus was making a statement
of a future promise on that day. He was not promising that the thief would be in paradise with Him on
that particular or specific day. Recognizing this as the more likely interpretation, some translations have
laced the comma after the word today .