The Journal of Biblical Accuracy

What did Jesus really say to the criminal at the cross? (PDF) PDF version

What did Jesus really say to the criminal at the cross?

Another passage that is used to support the doctrine of living immediately after death is what the Lord Jesus Christ said to the repented criminal that was crucified with him.

Luke 23:42-43
“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."

So people get verse 43 and say “you see: the dead criminal was that day with Jesus in Paradise”. However, when you try to understand a passage you have to take all the other passages into consideration. And as we have extensively covered in the article “Resurrection or life immediately after death” the great hope of the Christian is not death but the resurrection. Resurrection is the main thread in the word of God when it comes to life after death. Here is what happens in the above given passage: the ancient Greek text had no commas and no points of punctuation. This is not an assumption. It is a FACT! In other words the passage reads the way it reads because the translators decided to put a comma before the word “today”, thus making Jesus appear as promising to the criminal that despite the fact that he would not have been resurrected, he would be that very day with Jesus in paradise. But such an interpretation is we believe false on two grounds that we explain below.

“And so we shall always be with the Lord”

The Word very clearly says that to be with the Lord we need resurrection! You do not “go to be with the Lord” when you die. You will be with the Lord when he returns and you are resurrected. Indeed 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 says:

1 Thessalonians 4:16-17
“"For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord."”

How we SHALL (in the future) always be with the Lord? Through resurrection! There is no other way! Unless we are ready to accept that Jesus was playing favors and for that particular criminal the Word of God didn’t apply and he didn’t need resurrection to be with the Lord, then it is obvious that the traditional interpretation is faulty. Furthermore, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:51-55:

“Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory." “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?"

To be immortal you must put on immortality, and this will only happen at the last trumpet, at the coming of the Lord. If after death you were already immortal, then why on earth would you need to put on again immortality?! Also the Lord said:

John 5:25-29
“"Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.”

Do the dead live now? According to the Lord, NO! That’s why he uses future tense in what He says: “an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live”. The dead are not living now. They WILL live in that day, when “when all who are in the tombs will [future] hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment”

Jesus Himself died and had to be resurrected 3 days after. As Paul said quoting David:

Acts 13:34-37
“And as for the fact that he raised him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he has spoken in this way, "'I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.' Therefore he says also in another psalm, "'You will not let your Holy One see corruption.' For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption, but he whom God raised up did not see corruption.

Had Jesus not been raised from the dead He would indeed have seen corruption. Jesus obviously was not in paradise (which is something still future) that day but in the tomb. He could therefore in no way issue a promise to the criminal that that very day he would be with him in Paradise.

What and where is “paradise”?

The second reason this interpretation is faulty is because Jesus’ promise was about the paradise. When He spoke about it, He was answering to the request of the criminal, who said:

Luke 23:42
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

He obviously had heard about the coming Kingdom of God. This was the constant theme of Jesus’ teaching. So he knew this teaching. Therefore when Jesus replied to him, he replied on this request. Many get confused because of the tradition that interprets “paradise” as a place in heaven where the good ones go after their death. But paradise is nothing like this! To find the true meaning of paradise we need to look not into human interpretations but into the Word of God. And this Word leaves no place for doubts. In Revelation 2:7 we hear Jesus giving the following promise:

“To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.'”

So the tree of life is in the paradise of God. The next reference to the tree of life is in Revelation 22:1-2, where we read:

Revelation 22:1-2
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.”

The tree of life was on either side of a river, which was flowing “through the middle of the street of the city”. Which city? The answer is given in Revelation 21:1-2:

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.”

So the tree of life is part of the new Jerusalem and therefore part of the future heaven and earth! Now connecting the dots: since the tree of life is in the paradise of God, is the paradise something present? NO! It will become present in the new earth! As Peter said:

2 Peter 3:13
“But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”

The new heavens and the new earth, and thus also the paradise being part of the new earth, are things still to come. We are waiting for them! There is no paradise right now as the new earth to which it is part is still not there. But there will be! And in that paradise, in that new earth, in the Kingdom of God, we will see also the repented criminal, exactly as the Lord promised him that day:

“Assuredly I say to you today, you will be with me in paradise”

This is the right way to read this passage.

Anastasios Kioulachoglou