What did Christ mean when He said to the thief, "today"?
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[Steve Myers] In our discussions about the resurrection, about heaven and hell, an interesting question came up. One of our viewers wrote in and asked about the thief on the cross. And the question that automatically comes up regarding that is the fact that did Jesus Himself promise that thief that he would be in heaven with Him?
So many people think that. They get a little bit confused on a particular passage and that's a passage that's found over in Luke:23:43And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.. Let's read that and then we can get a little bit of a context when it comes to this particular question. So here we are looking at the crucifixion itself, and this criminal who is being crucified with Christ says to Christ in Luke:23:43And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise., he says, "Lord, remember me when you come into your Kingdom." The very next verse, Jesus responds, "Assuredly I say to you today, you will be with me in paradise" (Luke:23:42-43 And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.  And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise. ).
So, of course, many people then feel that that thief automatically went to heaven when he died. Now is that the case? No, it's not at all because later that day Christ died, does that mean Christ went to heaven and that criminal immediately went to heaven? No, it doesn't. Now, how do we know that?
Well, the interesting part is over in the book of John. If we were to look over in the book of John after the resurrection, John:20:17Jesus 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., it's a very interesting passage. Christ has been resurrected. Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb and she finds Christ. And Christ says something interesting to her here in John:20:17Jesus 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.. Notice what He says. He says, "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 to your Father and to My God and your God.'"
So, you see something interesting is hidden sometimes in the meaning of what Christ said. This is three days and three nights after the crucifixion. And Christ had not ascended to the Father. So, is it possible then in Luke:23:43And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise. to understand that the thief immediately went to heaven upon his death that very day? You see, you can't expect that to be the meaning. Christ didn't say, "Today you'll be with me in paradise." That's not what the meaning is because Christ wasn't there Himself. Three days and three nights later, Christ is right before Mary saying He hadn't yet ascended to the Father.
So, it would've been impossible for Luke:23:43And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise. to mean that today, that very day, that the thief would've gone to heaven. That would go against the whole meaning of Scripture, the whole plan of God.
So, what does it mean? Well, most specifically it helps us to understand that we have to realize punctuation in the Greek is missing. It's missing. So when Christ said, "Assuredly I say to you today" this is another way of saying, "Wait, a second, I'm telling you now" or "Today, let Me have you understand you will be with Me when My Kingdom comes, when paradise comes to this Earth, you will be with Me." In other words, in the resurrection this criminal would have an opportunity to understand the truth of God. Christ could perceive that he would understand the truth and eventually would be in the Kingdom of God.
So if we were to punctuate that correctly in our English version of the Bible it would say, "Assuredly I say to you today (comma), you will be with Me in paradise." So that makes sense and continues to be with the Scriptures itself to be a continuing understanding that they do match. It's not a contradiction. It is what Christ was saying to the thief.
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