The Thief in Paradise
(31) An objection that is often put forward is concerning the reply of Jesus to the thief who died along side him. (Luke 23:43) According to the usual thought, the repentant thief went, the moment he died, to join Jesus in heaven. Actually, Jesus did not say anything about heaven, but promised the thief that he would be with him in "paradise," not heaven.
Paradise does not mean heaven as we will show later. But we have seen the testimony of the Scriptures is that all the apostles, martyrs, and other saints (dedicated ones) who have died are waiting till the return of the Messiah to get their reward. It follows then, if the usual idea with regard to our Lord's reply is correct, that this thief must have had precedence over the apostles and all the holy martyrs. But our Lord himself said to Mary on the third day after his promise to the thief: "I have not yet ascended to my Father." Again, Peter, in Acts 2:27, draws attention to words of David in the 16th Psalm: "You will not leave my soul in hades," but shows that David was not here speaking of himself, but, as the prophetic mouthpiece of our Lord Jesus, he was foretelling that Jesus' soul would go to hades, not to heaven, but would not remain there. (Nor does any scripture say that Paradise is a section of hades, as some teach. This matter will be discussed in a later in this publication.) When we inquire into the matter, we find the explanation very simple. Rotherham's translation (1904 edition) of the passage does away with all difficulties. It is this: "Verily, I say unto thee this day: With me, shalt thou be in Paradise" He put a colon after "today", instead of before it. But is this proper? Do we have a right to change God's Word? Actually to do so does not change God's Word. Why? Because when the Bible was written there were no commas. Punctuation was not invented until some five centuries ago, shortly after the invention of the art of printing. It is merely a modern convenience to indicate that the writer wishes the reader to pause shortly at these places, and so help the understanding of what is written. If you would like to prove that there is no punctuation in the ancient manuscripts of the Bible, we advise you to visit the British Museum, and there you will find, laid open for inspection in a glass case, the most ancient manuscripts. Or you may find copies of these manuscripts in many reference works at your local library. Whether you understand Greek or not you will see that all the words and sentences run together; there is no separation between them, and there is not a comma in the whole manuscript. This means, then, that the comma and other marks of punctuation that appear in our English versions are not inspired, but merely inserted by the translators to bring out what they thought was the meaning of the scriptures. The King James translators believed that the "souls of believers do immediately pass into glory," and accordingly put a comma after the "thee". We have found, however, that Jesus and His apostles said that it would be at the time of his return in the glory of his Father with his holy angels, that believers would be rewarded and the wicked punished. Therefore, the comma should have been placed after "today". What Jesus actually said was: "Truly I say to you today, you will be with me in Paradise." Or we might say in everyday English: "[Even though I am being put to death this day] What I say to you today is true: You will be with me in Paradise." Thus we see that Jesus was not contradicting what he had said on every other occasion, nor making any exception in the case of the repentant thief. When Jesus uttered the words of our text, it must on that day have seemed the most unlikely thing possible that He would ever become a King. Hanging on a tree, dying like a criminal, and with the title: "King of the Jews", inscribed in mockery above his head, it must have seemed beyond all the bonds of probability that he would ever receive a kingdom; but when the thief asked to be remembered by Jesus when he came into his Kingdom, Jesus honored his faith and said: "Truly I say to you today", this dark day when I am dying a felon's death, and it seems as though I was an imposter "you will be with me in Paradise." Another important reason why our Lord could have used the word "today"* is that it was on that day that the great sacrifice for the sin of the world was to be finished, which would render it possible for his Kingdom to be established.
See Bullinger's Appendix 173:
The Greek word "semeron" translated "today", "this day" is used in Luke 23:43 as a term of emphasis. In the following references "semeron" qualifies this preceding verb: Luke 2:11; 22:34; Acts 20:26; 26:29; 2 Corinthians 3:14,15. There are a large number of passages in the Septuagint translation in which the Greek construction corresponds to that of Luke 23:43: "I say unto you this day" corresponds to the emphatic, "I testify unto you this day", e.g. Deuteronomy 6:6; 7:11; 8:1; 10:13; 11:8,13,28.."
(32) Some reason: "To be with Jesus means, accordingly, to be in heaven." This we deny. Those who receive spirit bodies will be with Jesus in heaven when they are raised from the dead. They will stand on heavenly Mount Zion as joint-heirs with him. (Hebrews 12:22; Revelation 14:1; Romans 8:17) But being with Jesus does not necessarily mean that the person who will be "with Jesus" is in heaven. Since Jesus returns to the earth, he, like God, will be "with" men here on the earth. (Revelation 21:3,4; Ezekiel 37:25-28; 43:7) Thus, Jesus could say to the thief who died alongside him: "You will be with me in paradise." (Luke 23:43) Jesus was not telling the thief that he was going to sit the thief on the throne with him, (as the joint-heirs do - Matthew 19:28; Revelation 3:21; Romans 8:16) but that the thief would be with Jesus when Jesus returns with his Kingdom to bless all the families of the earth. Likewise, Jesus stated that he would be "with" his followers on the earth: "Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I will be in there midst." (Matthew 18:20) Again: "Look, I am with you always until the end of the age." (Matthew 28:20) Thus, being with Jesus does not necessarily mean that one is in heaven.