Jesus said He would be in the grave three days and three nights after His crucifixion. Then could the thief have been WITH Christ in Paradise that very day?
EVERYONE is familiar with the strange story of the "thief on the cross," recorded in Luke 23:43 — but almost no one understands the MYSTERY that shrouds it. It has been generally assumed — without proof — that the "thief" entered Paradise on the very day he was crucified. If he did, then he reached Paradise before Jesus did — because Jesus said He would be IN THE GRAVE during the three days and nights that immediately followed the crucifixion! Since Jesus was dead and buried — in the grave — then He could not have been WITH the "thief" in Paradise, could He? Just where is Paradise? How and WHEN does one enter it?
WHERE Did Jesus Go?
Notice Luke 23:43 carefully. Jesus said that the crucified malefactor would be WITH Him in Paradise. If we can prove where Jesus went when He died, then we can prove if the malefactor really went to Paradise that day! Turn to I Corinthians 15:3-4. Paul reiterates: "For I delivered to you" — speaking to Christians — "among first things what also I received: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; AND THAT HE WAS BURIED); and that HE hath been raised on the third day according to the scriptures." Notice that Jesus was buried — it does not say the body was buried, and that the soul went to Paradise. It reads that He — Jesus, Himself — was buried. He was dead for three days. He DIED for our sins. Then He came to life. He arose! John gives us further proof where Jesus was. "Now in the place where He was crucified was a garden; and in the garden a new tomb wherein man was never yet laid. There "— in the tomb — the grave —" they laid Jesus (John 19:41-42). It was Jesus who was laid in the tomb, not merely the body of Jesus. Jesus was dead! Here is what the angelic messenger told the women about the resurrection: "Be not amazed: ye seek Jesus... He is risen; He is not here: see the plum where they laid HIM!" (Mark 16:6). There was the PLACE Jesus went that day — the grave, the tomb in the garden nearby the site of the crucifixion! Nothing could be plainer! Jesus was in the grave that day, lying there asleep in death. He did not go to Paradise that day. He was not with the thief that day — the thief was not buried with Him in the same tomb! What could be more clearly proved!
Jesus Was in Hell!
To make this even plainer, turn to Acts 2:31. Speaking of Christ, Peter quotes the prophet David as follows: "He [David] seeing this before spake of the RESURRECTION of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither did his flesh see any corruption." This verse, translated in the King James Version, proves that Jesus was not in Paradise, but in hell. The word "hell" ought to be rendered "grave." The original inspired Greek word used by Peter was hades, meaning the "grave." It does not mean a fiery, burning hell. The Bible uses another word for that. So Jesus was not in Paradise, but in hell or the grave! He was resurrected out of hell or the grave! This verse in Acts 2:31, when properly translated from the inspired original Greek, reads: "He foreseeing this spake of the RESURRECTION of the Christ, that neither was HE" — He, not merely the soul — "left unto Hades [the grave} nor did His flesh see corruption." Jesus was RESURRECTED OUT OF HELL — the grave — where He had lain dead for three days and three nights. Hell or the grave is not Paradise. Since Jesus did not enter Paradise that day — the day of the crucifixion — then neither did the malefactor enter it. Christ has "pre-eminence" in all things, we read in Col. 1:18. Therefore the malefactor who repented odd mot have preceded Christ to Paradise. Whenever the repentant malefactor enters Paradise, Christ will be there too! He said so: "WITH Me shalt thou be in Paradise."
WHEN Did Jesus Preach to the Spirits in Prison?
Many have seized upon I Peter 3:19-20 as supposed proof that Jesus was alive when He was dead — that He preached to spirits in prison during the three days and three nights in which He was in the grave asleep in death! Even if Jesus had gone to a prison during that time — which He did not do — certainly Paradise is no prison! Paradise is just the opposite from a prison! But notice what these verses in Peter's letter really say. Wicked angels who followed Satan are in chains of darkness, imprisoned for their own folly (Jude 6). Remember, the Bible reveals that angels are spirits, but man is mortal flesh — composed of the dust of the ground (Heb. 1:14). When did Jesus preach to the imprisoned spirits? — read it — "When once the long-suffering of God waited IN THE DAYS OF NOAH, while the ark was a preparing." That's when Jesus preached to [he spirits or wicked angels — in the days of Noah, not during the time He was dead and buried in the grave! Of course! When Jesus died, He was dead. "For the living know that they shall die; but the dead know not anything" (Eccles. 9:5). And "Whatsoever thy hand attaineth to do by thy strength, that do; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, IN THE GRAVE, whither thou goest" (Ecc. 9:10). The place where Jesus was that day was the grave — where there is no knowledge of anything. Scripture says so!
WHERE Is Paradise?
Since we know where Jesus was when He died, we now need to locate Paradise. Paradise means a "garden, pleasure — ground; grove, park" — "a grand enclosure or preserve... shady and well-watered... enclosed by walls." That is the definition you will find in Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Paradise certainly could not be hades or the grave or the abode of wicked imprisoned spirits. It is a beautiful park or garden, of which the exquisite Garden in Eden and the coming millennium are only temporary earthly types. Where is Paradise? Notice II Cor. 12:1-5. Paul speaks of one whom He knew who had marvelous visions and revelations from the Lord. In a vision he was "caught up even to the third heaven" — God's throne! "He was caught up into PARADISE, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for man to speak." Observe that in being taken in vision to the presence of God's throne in the heaven of heavens — the third heaven — (our earthly atmosphere is one heaven; the stars are in the second heaven) — that this person also came into Paradise. Then Paradise is located in the presence of God's throne. But we find in John 20:17 that, in the morning following the day of the resurrection, Jesus had not yet ascended to the Father in heaven. "I am not yet ascended unto the Father," He said. Then Jesus had not yet reached Paradise — and this was already the fourth day after the crucifixion! Here Jesus plainly proves that He did not go to Paradise that day!
What Is Paradise Like?
Let's continue with the Bible description of Paradise. Turn to Revelation 2:7. "To him that OVERCOMETH. to him will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God." Observe that the tree of life is in the Paradise of God. Next, turn to Revelation 22:1-2. These two verses are referring to "the holy city new Jerusalem coming down oat of heaven from God" (Rev. 21:2 ). In this city, which is also a type of the Church, we find "a river of water of life, bright as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb, amidst the street thereof. And on this side of the river and on that was a tree of life..."! Did you notice that? The new Jerusalem, which comes out of heaven — the city whose maker and builder is God — THE NEW JERUSALEM CONTAINS THE TREE OF LIFE. In the new Jerusalem is the Paradise of God — a veritable city park or garden so far beyond human comprehension as to be unmentionable to man! Paradise will ultimately be on this earth made new! Jesus said the repentant malefactor would be with Him in this Paradise! The new Jerusalem is not yet finished — Jesus is still preparing a place for us in it (John 14:2). Not until after the millennium will it be fully ready (Rev. 20:1-5). Not until then will it descend to earth — not until then will the repentant malefactor enter Paradise! Then what did Jesus mean by saying, "TODAY thou shalt be with me in Paradise"?
What Jesus REALLY SAID!
Here is the BIG surprise. What Jesus really said is not what you have supposed! Here is what the inspired historian Luke actually wrote: "And He said to him, 'Verily I say unto thee today, thou shalt be with me in Paradise.' " See the Lamsa translation and others, too. The mystery of this famous saying of Jesus is solved by proper punctuation. Must translations are improperly punctuated in order to make it appear that Jesus would be in Paradise that day. But the Bible proves Jesus was not in Paradise that day. A comma placed before the word "today" is incorrect. The comma should follow it — "Verily I say unto thee today, thou shalt be with me in Paradise." Here is what the Companion Bible states about this verse: "The interpretation of this verse depends entirely on punctuation, which rests wholly on human authority, the Greek manuscripts having no punctuation of any kind till the ninth century, and then it is only a dot (in the middle of the line) separating each word" (Appendix 173). This is the testimony of competent Greek scholars. The inspired original Greek could be read either way. Since the punctuation can change the meaning entirely, WE NEED TO LET THE REMAINDER OF THE BIBLE INTERPRET WHAT JESUS SAID! Then we can punctuate this verse properly. By using the word "today," Jesus was stressing the time of His promise — not the time He would be in paradise. Think of it! — a dying man, being crucified, promising on that very day that He could guarantee that the repentant malefactor could be with Him in Paradise! By what authority could He fulfill such a promise given on the very day of His death? Why, by the authority of God the Father who would raise Jesus from the dead. Here was a promise of the resurrection. Jesus knew on that day — "today" — the day of the crucifixion — that He would resurrect the repentant malefactor, and, after a lifetime of overcoming, grant him eternal life — the privilege to be in the Paradise of God. The repentant malefactor crucified with Jesus is still dead and buried. Jesus alone is the firstborn from the dead. But the time is coming when this man shall be resurrected also and shall enter the Paradise of God promised to come to this earth!