"Today, you will be with Me in Paradise"
These words of Jesus (Luke 23:43), to the “thief” hanging on the Roman cross next to Him; have, and still do puzzle readers of the Bible, as the implication is that he would go straight to Heaven that day when he died!
Christians and students of the Bible know that Jesus had stated to His Inquisitors in answer to their demands for a “sign” of His Messiahship (Matt. 16:4), that only the “sign” of Jonah would be given! The “sign” that Jesus referred to in Matt. 12:40, explicitly states that Jonah was in the belly of the Whale for “three days and three nights”; and, that meant that Jonah had died!
The arguments and reasoning of many commentators and critics that Jonah was not a real life historic figure, is completely destroyed by the statement of Jesus that Jonah’s death, and resurrection was a type of His own death and resurrection! The reason for that certainty is the fact that every utterance by Jesus, was under the command of His Father; Almighty God, (John 7:16; 8:28; 8:46-47; 12:49; 14:10; 14:24; 17:8 & Deut. 18:18-19). These facts confirm the authenticity of Jonah’s life and work with Nineveh; and our Lord’s Mission to be crucified, buried in a rich man’s tomb (Isa. 53:9); and to be resurrected on the third day; for Israel’s and eventually the sin of the whole world; for those who will accept that Great Gift of Life Eternal from Him!
Jesus stating explicitly that He would be in the “heart of the Earth” for the same length of time as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish! The Christendom Churches celebrate Easter from “Good Friday, to Easter Sunday”; which means that in that reckoning, Jesus would only be in the tomb for two nights and one day? Clearly that teaching is not correct! The answer to that anomaly is seen in (Jesus' Three Nights and Three Days in the Tomb).
Many people have been taught since Sunday school, Day School, or Church; that the meaning Jesus was giving to the “malefactor” was that he would that day be with Jesus in Heaven, after they both had died! The same message is still given explicitly, or by implication from the pulpits and from Bible teachers worldwide; and in the main, the listeners do not like to question or contradict their leaders; for fear of sanction or being ostracised!
It is also fair to say, that many, if not most leaders and teachers, do not know the answer to such a question.
Why would such a question be asked in any case? Clearly to sincerely attempt to understand why such difference between the Bible and man’s teaching; and to gain confidence in the Bible as the only Truth, when any of men’s teachings seem to contradict the Bible!
Before exploring the answer to the above question, the writers state that in their opinion people who belong to Christ (Christians true), do not go to Paradise upon death in this present Age; but as “sealed” persons (2Cor. 1:22 & Eph. 1:13), they await the Second Advent of our Lord (or just before) and are raised by Him (1Cor. 15:52). See: The Rapture Those Taken and Those Not.
Turning now to the immediate question as to what Jesus was referring to when He spoke reassuringly to the “malefactor”; we have to look critically at the actual words spoken; the text itself; and the Translation date and authority!
The Translation commonly used is the King James Version of AD 1611; which was commissioned after the Protestant split from the Roman Church; and, was intended to present the views held by Protestantism in England and elsewhere.
As the influence of Jewish terminology had waned since the Church fathers and Constantine (see: Replacement Theology (Spiritual Israel)?); the terminology of particularly the New Testament did not take much heed of Jewish phraseology, and many of the translators were in the mind-set of Justin Martyr (AD 110-165); who infamously stated to a Jew; “the Scriptures are ours, not yours”!
Further influences was the introduction of Chapter and verses; and later still, the beginnings of “pauses”, later to be known as “commas”; all of which was over a period of more than a thousand years!
In this time scale, many changes occurred, which left the translators with a problem on many occasions, as to what would be the correct positioning of punctuation, such as commas, to convey to the reader the true meaning of a sentence or phrase!
Scholars are well aware of these problems, and two such were Dr.E.W. Bullinger, (see: Dr. E. W. Bullinger (Hebrew and Greek Scholar, author Companion Bible); who in co-operation with Dr. David Ginsburg (see: Dr. David Ginsburg: (Hebrew Scholar, Jewish academic, Jewish language Scholar for the British Library, and Museum).); spent much of their lives interpreting correct meanings from manuscripts, for the benefit of people searching for the truth of Bible passages.
Dr. Bullinger coined the phrase “the rule of first use”; which means searching Scripture for the first use of a particular phrase or meaning.
Using that principal for the subject in hand, we need to look at the sentence that Jesus used to talk to the malefactor. Knowing that punctuation was not introduced for the first time until approx. AD 6-700, we will leave it off the statement.
And Jesus said unto him Verily I say to you this day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise.
When the comma is put after “you”, it reads as “today you will be with Me in Paradise”.
When it is placed after “day”; it says something totally different. The statement then becomes a promise without time element! It states that the malefactor would be at some stage with Christ Jesus in Paradise!
The operative phrase becomes “I say to you this day”!
Remembering that Jesus as a Jew; and at that time had only “come to the lost sheep of Israel”, (Matt. 15:24), was using language and phraseology that the Jewish leaders would understand.
On the “rule of first usage” we find that in Deuteronomy the phrase “this day” is used 42 times, always to make a special point or solemn announcement!
The same usage is in Psm. 2:7, and Acts. 13:33: “Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee”.
As a footnote to this study, it is worth noting why Jesus responded as He did to one malefactor, but not the other! The one who Jesus made His promise to, had asked Jesus to remember him when He came to His Kingdom; thereby showing faith in Jesus, and acknowledging Him as “King of the Jews”, (Pilates inscription on Jesus’ cross). The other berated Jesus angrily; which is so common in the world population.
For further study see: ASCENSION of Christ Jesus .
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Or go to Chapters 1 to 22 or