(Luke 23:43) Didn’t Jesus Tell the Thief on the Cross That He Would Go to Heaven the Day of His Death?
“And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, today shalt thou be with Me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
Scripture tells us that Jesus died around “the ninth hour” on a Friday afternoon (Hebrew time) which means He died around 3:00pm our time (Luke 23:44-46). Since it was getting late, the Jewish leaders didn’t want any of the bodies to still be hanging on the cross during the “High Sabbath” which was about to begin at sunset (John 19:31a). It was going to be a “high Sabbath” because the first day of Unleavened Bread would fall upon the weekly Sabbath (Saturday) that year. To speed up their death, the Jewish leaders told the Roman soldiers to brake their legs (John 19:31b). By breaking their legs their weight would be shifted and death would come quicker because they would literally suffocate to death.
After the soldiers broke the two thieves’ legs, they came to Jesus and much to their surprise, He was already dead so they didn’t have to break His legs (verse 33). Scripture is very clear that Jesus died that very day. However, it is not clear as to when the thief died. If the thief did not happen to suffocate to death by the time the Sabbath began he would have been taken down and there wouldn’t be any concern of an escape due to his legs being broken. He could have then been placed back upon the cross after the Sabbath to carry forth his punishment. But what if the thief did in fact die that very day? Did he go to “paradise” with Jesus?
Well, three days later on the Feast of Firstfruits (Sunday morning), Mary saw the risen Savior at the tomb. As she embrased Him, Jesus said, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father. But go and tell My brothers, I am ascending to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God” (John 20:17). This clearly reveals Jesus didn’t even go to heaven on the day of His death (Friday). He didn’t ascend into heaven until three days later on Sunday. Therefore, Jesus could not have promised the thief that he would be with Him in heaven on the day of his death because Jesus knew that He wouldn’t ascend to heaven until three days later.
Some teachers support this view, but say Jesus was speaking of a “spirit world” when He spoke of “paradise”, not heaven with the Father. Thus “paradise” would be a place where all the souls or spirits go to await their resurrection. However, Scripture teaches that the “tree of life” is located in “the midst of the paradise of God” (Revelation 2:7). With this in mind, Scripture also tells us that “the throne of God” is in the same place as “the tree of life” (Revelation 22:1, 2). Since the throne of God and the tree of life are in the same place, then they are both in “paradise.” Why is this important? Because in Psalm 11:4 it says the “Lord’s throne is in heaven.” Since the Lord’s throne and the tree of life are both in paradise, and the Lord’s throne is in heaven, then we must conclude that paradise is the same as heaven! Jesus clearly told the thief he would be in heaven. Scripture does not support the teaching of any “spirit world,” “limbo,” or “purgatory.”
Now, we must touch on one more thing. Since Jesus was speaking of heaven, how do we harmonize this with the fact that Jesus didn’t ascend into heaven until Sunday? Well, in the original Greek manuscripts there aren’t any punctuation marks at all (no periods, colons, commas etc.), nor any chapters or verse numbers. In 1611 when the King James Version was translated, scholars separated the words, inserted punctuation marks, and divided the chapters and verses. Remember, only the original writers were inspired by God. Translators are not inspired!
In the verse in question, the translators usually put a comma before the word “today” which makes it sound like Jesus is telling the thief he would be in heaven that day. However, if we were to move that comma and place it after the word “today”, the verse would be in complete harmony with the rest of Scripture concerning the state of the dead. This would then show that Jesus only assured the thief that day that he would be in heaven in the future. Take a look:
“Verily I say unto thee today, shalt thou [or, thou shalt] be with Me in paradise.”
It is hard to find Bible versions that place the comma after the word today because the doctrine of the immortality of the soul is so popular. Here’s a few that I have found:
Lamsa Bible: “Jesus said to him, Truly I say to you today, you will be with Me in Paradise.”
The Hebraic Roots Bible: “And Yahshua [Jesus] said to him, Truly, today, I say to you, you will be with Me in Paradise.”
The Scriptures: “And יהושע [Jesus] said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you today, you shall be with Me in Paradise.’”