“I say to you today, you will be with me...” This verse is one of the demonstrations of Jesus’ great love for people. The malefactor on the cross had no assurance of salvation, and in fact may have been fairly certain of his own doom. Yet in a last act he reached out to the Messiah, and Jesus promised him life in Paradise. Jesus never turns away those who come to him for salvation.
What Jesus said in Luke 23:43 to the criminal on the cross has been quoted to prove that when a person dies, he goes immediately to Heaven or Hell, but it does not have to read that way. Admittedly, the way that this verse is punctuated in almost every English Bible, it does say the criminal was going to go to Paradise that day. However, there was no punctuation in the original text (in fact, there were not even spaces between the words). All punctuation was added by translators, and they added it in a way that fit their theology and made sense to them. Thankfully, most of the time the translators have done a good job with the punctuation, and it is correct and helpful. However, in this verse almost every English Bible puts the comma in the wrong place, creating a false and misleading reading.
We believe that the comma should be after the word “today,” not in front of it. That way, the verse reads: “And he [Jesus] said to him [the criminal], ‘Truly, I say to you today, you will be with me in Paradise.’” Thus Jesus did not say the criminal would be in Paradise that day, but rather made the point that today he was saying the criminal would be in Paradise in the future.
Placing the comma after “today” makes the verse fit with both the scope of Scripture and the immediate context. From the scope of Scripture we learn that when a person dies he is dead; not alive in any form (see commentary on 1 Cor. 15:26).
The comma being after “today” also fits with the immediate context. To see this, we must remember what the criminal said to Jesus in the previous verse, Luke 23:42: “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” The criminal was speaking about the “kingdom.” The “kingdom” is not “heaven,” and it is future, it is not available now, which is why the criminal said, ‘when you come into your kingdom.’ The kingdom is the Messianic Kingdom that Jesus will set up on earth after he fights the Battle of Armageddon and conquers the earth. The Bible has a lot to say about the Messianic Kingdom: there will be peace, justice, and safety on earth. Jesus will rule from Jerusalem, everyone will worship in the Temple (Ezek. 40-44), and the lion will eat straw like the ox (Isa. 11:7). Also, everyone will be healthy and have plenty to eat. [For more information about the Millennial Kingdom see commentary on Matt. 5:6, “the meek will inherit the earth,” and John Schoenheit, The Christian’s Hope: The Anchor of the Soul].
The criminal did not doubt that the Messianic Kingdom was coming, but he likely doubted whether he would be allowed into it. So in an unassuming, pleading way, he requested, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” In other words, the criminal said to the Lord that he would like to be in the first resurrection, the Resurrection of the Righteous, and get to enter the Kingdom and be saved. It was a wonderful act of love for Jesus to say, “you will be with me in Paradise.”
Why did Jesus use the word “today?” In many languages, including Greek, Hebrew, and English, words that we normally think of as being “time words” are often used for emphasis. 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 Hebrew, the word “today,” or “this day” was also 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). A use that is very similar to Luke 23:43 is Deuteronomy 30:18, “I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish.” There is very little difference between, “I say to you today” (Luke 23:43) and “I declare to you today” (Deut. 30:18). Deuteronomy 9:1 says, “Hear O Israel today you are going to cross over this Jordan (P. Craigie; The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, without punctuation). It is vital that we understand that Israel did not cross Jordan “that day,” and in fact did not do so for another couple months. So “today” did not mean that very day, but was used for emphasis. Bullinger, Companion Bible, notes the punctuation of Deuteronomy 9:1 should be: “Hear O Israel today, you are...,” which is very similar to Luke 23:43. Other uses, just in Deuteronomy, that include the word “today” more for emphasis than for time, include Deut 4:40; 5:1; 7:11; 8:1, 11, 19; 9:1, 3; 10:13; 11:2, 8, 13, 26, 27, 28, 32; 13:18; 15:5, 15; 19:9; 26:3, 16, 17, 18; 27:1, 4, 10; 28:1, 13, 14, 15; 30:2, 8, 11, 15, 16, 18, 19; 32:46.
Neither Jesus nor the criminal went to “Paradise” that day (see commentary on Luke 23:43; “Paradise”).
“Paradise.” The Greek text actually reads, “the Paradise” (tō paradeisō), that is, the well-known one that the prophets had been speaking about for centuries. Jesus was not speaking about “a” paradise,” but “the Paradise” that will be on earth when he conquers the earth and sets up his kingdom.
The English word “paradise” comes from the Greek word paradeisos (#3857 παράδεισος; pronounced pä-rä-day-sos). “Paradise” was, and will again be, a place on earth. God’s plan was that mankind would live on earth, and so He put Adam and Eve on earth in the Garden of Eden. God’s plan for mankind to live on a wonderful earth was temporarily spoiled by sin, but God will bring His plan to fulfillment. When Jesus Christ conquers the earth at the Battle of Armageddon and sets up his Messianic Kingdom, mankind will again live in “Eden,” in Paradise (Rev. 2:7).
The Hebrew word eden (#05731 עֵדֶן) means “delight, or pleasure.” When God created Adam and Eve, He loved them and so He put them in the “Garden of eden;” the “Garden of Delight” (Gen. 2:15). It is unfortunate that the translators decided to transliterate the word eden into “Eden” instead of translating it into “Delight.” The phrase “Garden of Eden” does not mean anything to most English readers except that it was a physical place on earth. In contrast, had the translators decided to say, “Garden of Delight” instead of “Garden of Eden,” we would still know it was a place on earth, but God’s love and purpose in putting people in a wonderful place would have been revealed.
When the Greeks living in Egypt translated the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek around 250 BC and made the Septuagint version, they translated the phrase “garden of eden” as “paradeisos.” Actually, paradeisos was not a Greek word, but was a loan-word from the Persian language and meant “pleasure garden.” It referred to the lush, protected pleasure gardens that oriental rulers and powerful men kept for their enjoyment. The English word “paradise” comes from the word “paradeisos.” That the Greek-speaking Jews translated the “garden of eden” as “paradeisos” was a good choice, because the Garden of eden was indeed a garden of delight, a paradise. By the time of Christ, paradeisos (Paradise) was one of the terms used for the Millennial Kingdom of Christ on earth, as we can see from 2 Corinthians 12:4 and Revelation 2:7.
We do not know for sure what language Jesus spoke when he spoke to the criminal on the cross because we do not know the nationality of the criminal, but Jesus did know because he heard the criminal speak. If Jesus spoke Hebrew, what he said would be in essence, “You will be with me in Eden.” If he spoke Greek, he would have used the word paradeisos. English readers today do not usually see the flow of God’s plan for mankind from the Old Testament to the New Testament because of the change from Old Testament Hebrew to New Testament Greek. God’s plan was to put humankind on earth in “Eden,” “Paradise.” But Adam and Eve sinned and Paradise was lost and the earth became the fallen world we live in today. But God’s plan will not be thwarted forever: God will reinstate Paradise on earth for humankind (the Millennial Kingdom and the Eternal Kingdom), as many prophecies in both the Old and New Testament state. However, today we read about “Eden” in the Old Testament and “Paradise” in the New Testament and don’t see the connection. But although the sin of Adam and Eve derailed God’s plan for a while, Jesus will come back to earth, fight the Battle of Armageddon and conquer the earth, and again set up Paradise on earth.
The criminal on the cross asked to be remembered when Jesus came into his Kingdom, which will be on earth, and Jesus responded and comforted the man by saying he would indeed be in Eden, or Paradise, which will be on earth. When Jesus said, “You will be with me in Paradise,” Jesus was promising the man he would be in the resurrection of the righteous (Luke 14:14; Acts 24:15), also called the first resurrection (Rev. 20:5, 6); and “the resurrection of life” (John 5:29), and people in that resurrection then get to be part of the Messianic Kingdom on earth. [For more information on the resurrections, see commentary on Acts 24:15].
Neither Jesus nor the criminal went to “Paradise” that day. When Jesus Christ died, Scripture universally testifies that he was in the grave and not in Paradise. In fact, Paradise (the Messianic Kingdom on earth) has still not come—we are still awaiting the resurrection of the dead and the Messianic Kingdom on earth. But the fact that Jesus said, “You will be with me in Paradise” is a beautiful expression of Christ’s heart for mankind. He could have looked at the criminal and said, “Okay, I will remember you.” But by saying “You will be with me in Paradise,” Jesus gave the man strength and hope to be able to endure his last few hours of tremendous suffering on the cross. The man was in excruciating pain, but he had a hope that burned with a fire that must have kept his heart warm until his dying breath. [For more information on the Kingdom of Christ being on earth, see Appendix 3, “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth”]. Paradise is also specifically mentioned two other times in the New Testament. Once by Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:4, where we learn that Jesus took Paul into the future Paradise in a vision in much the same way that he took the Apostle John by a vision into the future and told John to write the Book of Revelation about what he saw. The other time is in the vision John had of the future, which mentions Paradise and the Tree of Life, just like the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:8-9; Rev. 2:7). The fact that the Tree of Life was in the Garden of Eden in Genesis and the future Paradise in the Book of Revelation is more evidence that “Paradise” is on earth, not in heaven.
Besides Luke 23:43, Paradise is also specifically mentioned two other times in the New Testament. Once by Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:4, where we learn that Jesus took Paul into the future Paradise in a vision in much the same way that he took the Apostle John by a vision into the future and told John to write the Book of Revelation about what he saw. The other time is in the vision John had of the future, which mentions Paradise and the Tree of Life, just like the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:8-9; Rev. 2:7). The fact that the Tree of Life was in the Garden of Eden in Genesis and also in the future Paradise in the Book of Revelation is more evidence that “Paradise” refers to a place on earth and is not somehow in heaven.
It is sometimes taught that “Paradise” is an intermediary state that existed for righteous people before they could go to heaven. There is no direct scriptural support for such a place, but it is assumed to exist due to some false assumptions.
The first false assumption is that the soul is immortal, and therefore has to live someplace. However, there is no Scriptural support for the soul being immortal. In fact, just the opposite. The soul can and does die (cp. Matt. 10:28). The reason that people need to be “raised from the dead” is that the “person” is dead, not just the person’s body. If the person’s soul was alive someplace, it could be judged without the body being present, but Scripture never teaches that. Furthermore, when it speaks of resurrection, it speaks of the “person” being raised. There is no verse about a living soul rejoining a dead body. [For more information on this topic, see Appendix 4: The Dead are Dead].
Having made the false assumption that the dead person is actually alive and has to live someplace, theologians then drew another false conclusion based on the first one. First, they correctly realized that if the person died before the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the person’s soul could not go to “heaven.” If a dead person could go to heaven before Jesus died for his sin, then anyone could go to heaven before Jesus, and thus Jesus would not really have needed to come at all. So theologians invented a place where the souls of good people could go while they waited for the savior to save them and open the way to heaven. This “place” does not exist in the Bible, so it needed a name, and therefore some theologians call it “Paradise.”
The simple, biblical truth is that when a person dies, he is dead until God raises him from the dead, and the three major times that happens in Scripture are the Rapture of the Church, the First Resurrection (or Resurrection of the Righteous), and the Second Resurrection (or Resurrection of the Unrighteous). Jesus and the malefactor both died on the cross that day. God raised Jesus from the dead three days later and Jesus is now in heaven ruling as Lord and Christ. The malefactor is still in the grave, dead and completely unaware of the passage of time. But Jesus will be good for his promise, and on Resurrection Day that man will hear the shout of the Son of Man and come out of the tomb (John 5:25-29; Ezek. 37:12-14).