Questions and Answers: In the May-June issue, the article "Will I Go to Heaven When I Die?" states: "How does Jesus Himself describe death? He doesn't say that people who died immediately went to heaven or hell at death. He simply compares it to sleep."

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In the May-June issue, the article "Will I Go to Heaven When I Die?" states: "How does Jesus Himself describe death? He doesn't say that people who died immediately went to heaven or hell at death. He simply compares it to sleep."

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Two important principles of Bible study are to read a difficult-to-understand verse in its context and then in the broader context of the entire Bible. The meaning of this verse must agree with the rest of the Bible, for “the Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35 John 10:35If he called them gods, to whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken;
American King James Version×
).

So let’s look at the context in which Christ made this statement. He was replying to the thief’s plea, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom” (Luke 23:42 Luke 23:42And he said to Jesus, Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.
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). This man clearly understood that Christ would be resurrected to life again and would inherit His Kingdom.

The broader context of the entire Bible tells us that Jesus’ Kingdom referred to here is the rule of God’s government over the entire earth, with Christ as its King. Who will enter that Kingdom? The “sheep” of His flock, or Christians, will inherit the Kingdom at the return of Christ (Matthew 25:31-34 Matthew 25:31-34 31 When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit on the throne of his glory: 32 And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats: 33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then shall the King say to them on his right hand, Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
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; Daniel 7:27 Daniel 7:27And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.
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). Human beings, “flesh and blood,” cannot inherit that Kingdom but must be transformed into spirit (1 Corinthians 15:51-53 1 Corinthians 15:51-53 51 Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
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).

It is unreasonable to think that the thief was instantly converted with no opportunity to grow in God’s way of life. He may have been sorrowful for his mistakes, but he had no opportunity to live a life of obedience to God—all aspects of the biblically revealed process of conversion. Contrary to stories people tell of “deathbed repentance,” conversion does not occur instantaneously. The thief merely made a positive comment about Jesus Christ, and Christ spoke comforting words to him in return.

We also need to answer this question: Did Jesus Himself enter “paradise” that day? By His own mouth, He was in the grave for the next three days and three nights (Matthew 12:40 Matthew 12:40For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
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). This, in itself, tells you that the thief did not join Christ anywhere that day—certainly not in heaven. During this time He “was dead” (Revelation 1:5 Revelation 1:5And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. To him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood,
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), not in some disembodied afterlife with the thief. Several days later, when Jesus revealed Himself to Mary after He had been resurrected, He plainly told her that He had “not yet ascended to [His] Father” in heaven (John 20:17 John 20:17Jesus said to her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brothers, and say to them, I ascend to my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.
American King James Version×
).

What, then, is the accurate way to understand what Christ said to the thief? The New King James Version reads, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” However, the Greek text of the Scriptures has no punctuation. Translators added it to make the reading easier. In this instance, however, the misplaced punctuation leads to misunderstanding.

If we remove the comma after “you” and instead place it after “today,” the meaning changes significantly—and agrees with the rest of the Bible. It correctly reads, “Assuredly, I say to you today, you will be with me in Paradise.” Christ gave the thief the promise on the day they were dying that he would (eventually, but not that same day) be with Christ when He rules over the earth.

Our free study guides The Gospel of the Kingdom , Transforming Your Life—The Process of Conversion and What Happens After Death? (from which these answers are adapted) add more information about these topics.