“today.” This is the cultural use of the word “today” that we see in Luke 23:43, where “today” is being used for emphasis. It had been some time since the Israelites formally rejected God and asked for a king, they did not just reject God “today” (cp. 1 Samuel 8:6-21). In many languages, including Greek, Hebrew, and English, words that we normally think of as being “time words” are often used for emphasis instead of to accurately report time. This happens with the English word “now” all the time. A teacher might say, “Now class, make sure you sign your test.” The purpose of “Now” in that sentence is not time, but emphasis, and that can be the case in both Hebrew and Greek as well (cp. Luke 11:39, Acts 13:11; 15:10; 22:16; 1 Cor. 14:26; James 4:13).
In the Hebrew culture, the word “today,” or “this day” was used for emphasis, and it is used that way many times in the Old Testament. “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today,...” (Deut. 4:26); “know therefore today,...” (Deut. 4:39); “And these words, which I command thee this day,...” (Deut. 6:6). “I testify against you this day, that you shall perish” (Deut. 8:19). Similarly, Jesus used the word “today” for emphasis in Luke 23:43. A use that is very similar to Luke 23:43 is Deuteronomy 30:18, “I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish.” [For more on the use of time words for emphasis, see commentary on Luke 23:43].