Did the thief go to paradise that same day?

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By BibleAsk Team


The story of the thief on the cross is an account found in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew. This narrative raises questions about the fate of the repentant thief. To understand this topic thoroughly, we must examine the biblical passages that relate to the thief on the cross, as well as broader biblical teachings on death, resurrection, and the afterlife.

The Repentant Thief:

The story of the thief on the cross is recorded in Luke 23:39-43:

“Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, ‘If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.’ But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise'” (NKJV).

In this exchange, one of the criminals crucified alongside Jesus acknowledges his own guilt and the innocence of Jesus. He then expresses faith in Jesus as the Messiah and asks to be remembered when Jesus comes into His kingdom. In response, Jesus assures the repentant thief that he will be with Him in paradise.

Did the Thief Go to Paradise that Same Day?

Some misinterpret Jesus’ words to mean that the thief would enter paradise on that very day, immediately after his death on the cross. But this is not right because originally written, the Greek was without punctuation, and the adverb sēmeron, “today,” stands between two clauses which read, literally, “truly to you I say” and “with me you will be in the paradise.”

Greek usage permitted an adverb to appear anywhere in a sentence the speaker or writer desired to place it. Merely from the Greek construction of the sentence in question it is impossible to determine whether the adverb “today” modifies “I say” or “you will be.” Either is possible.

The question is, Did Jesus mean to say, literally, “Truly to you I say today,” or “Today with me you will be in paradise”? The only way of knowing which Christ meant is to discover scriptural answers to some other questions:

(1) What is paradise?
(2) What did Jesus teach about the time when men would enter upon their reward in paradise?
(3) Did Jesus go to paradise on the day of His crucifixion?

Answer to question (1): In the New Testament the word paradise “paradeisos” occurs only in Luke 23:43; 2 Corinthians 12:4; Revelation 2:7. In 2 Corinthians 12:2–4 “paradise” is clearly synonymous with “heaven.” The fact that Paul refers to no earthly “paradise” is obvious from the fact he equal being “caught up” to “heaven” with being “caught up” to “paradise.”

According to Revelation 2:7 the “tree of life” is said to be “in the midst of the paradise of God,” whereas in Revelation 21:1–3, 10; Revelation 22:1–5 the tree of life is linked with the new earth, the New Jerusalem, the river of life, and the throne of God. There can be no doubt whatever that New Testament usage of paradeisos makes it synonymous with “heaven.”

Therefore, when Christ assured the thief of a place with Him in “paradise,” He referred to the “many mansions” of His “Father’s house” and to the time when He would “receive” unto Himself His own (John 14:1–3).

Answer to question (2): Throughout His ministry Christ had clearly said that He would “reward every man according to his works” when He returned in triumph “in the glory of his Father with his angels” (Matthew 16:27). In John 5:28-29, Jesus declares, “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation” (NKJV). So, not until the resurrection will He call the saved of earth to “inherit the kingdom prepared for” them “from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:31, 34; Revelation 22:21).

Paul said that those who fall asleep in Jesus will arise from their graves at Christ’s second coming (1 Corinthians 15:20–23) to receive immortality (verses 51–55). The resurrected saints and living saints will “be caught up together … to meet the Lord in the air,” and thus “ever be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17). The thief will be “with” Jesus in “paradise” after the resurrection of the saint, at His second coming.

Answer to question (3): The answer is no, according to Jesus’ own words. On the day of the resurrection, when Jesus met Mary at the garden tomb, His words were: “Touch me not for I am not yet ascended to my Father” (John 20:17). Jesus could not have gone to paradise on Friday if He hadn’t yet ascended to the Father by Sunday!

“Assuredly, I say to you today, you will be with Me in Paradise”

Clearly, in placing the comma before the word “to day,” the translators were guided by the unscriptural idea that the dead enter into their rewards at death. But, as shown from the Bible, it is obvious that neither Jesus nor the authors of the New Testament believed or taught such a doctrine. To place the comma before the word “today” would make Christ contradict what He and the various New Testament authors have clearly stated elsewhere. Accordingly, the Scriptures themselves require that the comma be placed after the word “to day,” not before it.

Thus, what Christ actually said to the thief on the cross was: “’Assuredly, I say to you today, you will be with Me in Paradise.'” The big question the thief was wondering at that moment was not when he would reach paradise, but whether he would get there at all. Christ’s clear answer assures him that, however undeserving he may be and however impossible it may seem for the Savior—dying the death of as a criminal—to fulfill such a promise, the thief will most assuredly be there. In fact, it was Christ’s presence on the cross that made the promise a reality.

For more on the state of the Dead, check

Conclusion:

In conclusion, Biblical teachings on death, resurrection, and the afterlife show that believers enter into an intermediate state of sleep upon death, awaiting the future resurrection and the fulfillment of God’s promises of eternal life. The thief’s story serves as a powerful testimony to the grace and mercy of God, who offers forgiveness and salvation to all who turn to Him in faith.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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