And so the lyrics go, “Even in death, He remembered the thief hanging by His side. He spoke with love and compassion, then He took him to paradise.” It is a universal error taught by most Christian theologians today, that the thief on the cross was taken to Paradise on the day Jesus died. To understand what happened with the Thief that day, we need to correctly appreciate the question he asked of Christ on the day they were both crucified, thus, we will start there:
Of the repentant thief the Scriptures declare: “42And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. 43And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” Luke 23: 42, 43
The key thought and import of his request is simply this: “when thou comest into thy kingdom.” So, Christ’s answer will be reflective of and relative to “WHEN” His Kingdom comes, and not of the very day on which they both hung from their respective cross! Most people have not seen this aspect and make the second error of suggesting that “today” meant that very day when they were first nailed to the cross, but in reality, the thief did NOT die that day! Now, if this can be proven from Scripture that the thieves did not die that day, and ONLY Christ, it would place in clear perspective the error of most theologians today who suggest that “today” meant that Friday evening! How do we know the thieves did not die that day? Let us read further:
“31The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. 32Then came the soldiers, and brake the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with him. 33But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs:” John 19: 31-33
The act of breaking the legs was not to kill the condemned, but to ensure that the condemned could NOT escape by foot, should he somehow manage to extricate himself from the cross overnight, painful though it may be! So the Roman Soldiers broke the legs of both thieves, because they were STILL ALIVE, but of Christ that was NOT necessary, because when they came to break his legs, He was already dead from 3:00 PM, that the prophecy of the Passover Lamb might be perfectly fulfilled in Him–not a bone of His body should be broken.
The question of crucifixion and subsequent death is one of interest to Modern Medicine, and attracted the interests of Doctors Matthew W Maslen 1, Piers D Mitchell. It is rather educational as well as historical to see how these medical experts describe the process of crucifixion and death on the cross, as it will inform our understanding of the anatomy and physiology of death by crucifixion.
“In Roman times a common starting point was to be whipped across the back, buttocks and legs with a flagrum. This was a short whip with sharp objects interweaved into the thongs. The victim was then often obliged to carry part of their cross to the place of execution, outside the city walls. The weight of this would obviously vary depending upon the region and the type of wood used. Once at the place of crucifixion, the hands and feet of the prisoner were fixed to the cross with either nails or cords, and the cross erected in any one of a range of orientations. If crucified head up, the victim’s weight may also have been supported on a small seat. This was believed to prolong the time it took a man to die. Victims in the head up position could spend several days on the cross before they died. One technique used by the Romans to hasten death was to break the legs below the knee with a blunt instrument1 (p. 25). Modern interpretation in the medical literature as to how this might work includes blood loss from the fracture site or respiratory failure from fat embolism. In those positioned head up then respiratory failure might also ensue as a consequence of the inability to inflate the chest sufficiently, since the legs could no longer be used to support the weight of the body.”— Maslen MW, Mitchell PD. Medical theories on the cause of death in crucifixion. J R Soc Med. 2006 Apr;99(4):185-8. doi: 10.1177/014107680609900416. PMID: 16574970; PMCID: PMC1420788; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1420788/; https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16574970/
This statement from the “National Library of Medicine,” a secular source, should silence the question as to whether or not, “in Roman times”, it was normative for the condemned criminal (malefactor) to have died on the same day he was originally nailed to the cross. This is compelling evidence from a secular source, for it assures us that “victims… could spend several days on the cross before they died“! But the MOST compelling witness of all, is the Bible, for there it clearly demonstrated the need for breaking the thieves’ legs, on account of their still being alive, whereas with Christ, they purposefully refrained from breaking His legs for they verified that he was “dead already,” and knew that a dead man could not walk or run! Yet, just in case He was playing dead, the Roman soldier, out of an abundance of caution, pierced His side to burst His heart and drain His life blood!
“34But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water. 35And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe.” John 19: 34-36.
These words were written that we may believe on the authenticity of the historical account of Christ’s crucifixion, along with that of the two malefactors flanking him on the cross! So, did Jesus really take the repentant thief on the cross, the day of His crucifixion, to Paradise? A child can now answer this question with ease and confidence that truly the thief did not die on that Friday and could NOT have been taken to heaven! But there is more:
On the third day from the crucifixion (counting inclusively), Mary Magdalene went to the garden alone, while the dew was still on the roses, and the voice she heard falling on hear ears, were those of the son of Man, our Lord and Risen Saviour, Y’shuah!
“11But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre… 14And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus… 16Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master. 17Jesus saith unto her, touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.” John 20: 11, 14, 16, 17.
This passage makes resoundingly clear that neither the thief nor Christ had been to “paradise” prior to His resurrection, three days later! As Christ did not lie to either Mary or the Thief, it is needful that we correct our misapprehension of what he spoke to the thief, and in that regard, we will now consult other translations for clarity on the passage of interest, Luke 23: 43:
1. Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” NIV
2. And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” ESV
3. And Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”
4. And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” NKJV
5. And He said to him, “I assure you: Today you will be with Me in paradise.” HCSB
6. Jesus replied, “I promise that today you will be with me in paradise.” CEV
7. Jesus told him, “I tell you with certainty, today you will be with me in Paradise.” ISV
With all the above-cited translations of the Bible, the one that most faithfully conveyed the sense of what transacted between Christ and the thief, is that of the HSCB, #5 above. That which has caused this gross confusion among believers, is the placement of the punctuation mark (comma/colon) in the sentence. These punctuation marks are the work of the Bible Translators and they’ve not always been correct, and this is a classic case to demonstrate the incorrect placement of a punctuation mark, which spoils the meaning and intent of the Saviour, for as we have already established, the Thief did NOT die on the day of his crucifixion, and could NOT, therefore, have been transported with Christ to Paradise, who Himself also NEVER went to Paradise that day either! The internal evidence of Scripture informs us of this fact, as we’ve done with Mary’s encounter with our Lord on resurrection morning. Let’s express the Truth of the punctuation mark with real examples below, using the NKJV passage:
1. And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” NKJV
o In this rendition, it appears as though Jesus were promising the thief that on this very day “today” you will be with me in Paradise. But as we’ve already demonstrated, this conclusion cannot be supported by the weight of evidence of Scripture.
2. And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you today, you will be with Me in Paradise.” NKJV
o In this placement of the punctuation mark, the correct sense of Christ’s words is preserved and IS supported by the rest of Scripture. Thus, the incorrect placement of the punctuation mark based on an erroneous concept of what happens when a person dies, led the early translators to assert their theological leanings into the translation of the Sacred Text.
The redemptive truth of this situation is clear: The thief requested that Christ at his Coming in His Kingdom, would carry him to Paradise! How do we know the thief was speaking of the days of the Second Coming of Christ, and not of “that very day” when he, the thief did NOT die? Easy, let’s see:
“31When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: 32And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: 33And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. 34Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:” Matt. 25: 31-34
Where is Paradise?
“2 I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. 3 And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) 4 How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.”2 Cor. 12: 2-4.
From this passage we see that the Paradise of God is in the third heaven, or the heaven above the heavens. Fore there is the atmospheric heaven, the intergalactic heaven, and the heaven above that—the Third Heaven—the Throne Room of YHWH, the King of the Universe. This is where Paul was transported to, and this is where Christ will take all His redeemed. Thus He promised,
“He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.” Rev. 2:7.
Since there was a “tree of life” in the Garden of Eden, and it is no longer on earth, it is clear that God is here speaking of the Eden above—the New Jerusalem. Of this place we read,
“1 And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. 2 In the midst of the street of it [Holy City], and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3 And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him: 4 And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads.” Rev. 22: 1-4, [added].
We can now with heavenly confidence proclaim the following truths:
1. Jesus did NOT go to heaven on the day of His crucifixion
2. The repentant Thief of the Cross did NOT go to heaven, on the day of his crucifixion
3. The Thieves did NOT die on the original day of their crucifixion
4. Mary saw Jesus three days AFTER the crucifixion, and he assured her that he had NOT YET gone to heaven to see His Father
“9Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts. 10For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little:… 13But the word of the LORD was unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little; that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken.” Isa. 28: 9, 10, 13.
Garrick Augustus, November 30, 2022