What does this mean? “Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise”
From the SDA perspective this is a problematic text, as we believe (according to the Bible) that when people die they don't immediately go to hell or heaven. This text seems to contradict many Scriptures in the Bible:
- Ecclesiastes 9:5, The dead don't know anything
- 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, The righteous dead are sleeping, awaiting resurrection at the return of Christ.
- John 5:28-29, Some shall be raised in the resurrection of life and some shall be raised in the resurrection of damnation.
- John 11:1-16, Jesus calls Lazarus death a "sleep", and his resurrection "waking him up".
There are many more, but this suffices to show why this verse is at odds with the text you are referring to:
And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”
1. The verse numbers and punctuation are not inspired
In the original Greek, the verse numbers and punctuation were not present, so these were added later by translators to make sense of the text. This means that the verse could be:
a. And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”
b. And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you today, you will be with Me in Paradise.”
This single comma changes the meaning of the verse dramatically. But which is correct? There are two reasons why I believe the second is correct, but first we must understand where Jesus was referring to as 'Paradise'.
2. Paradise is heaven, where the Father is
Paradise of God is where the Tree of Life is.
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.
In 1 Corinthians 12:1-4 Paul also refers to this Paradise.
The Tree of Life is where the very throne of the Father and the Lamb(Christ) are:
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. In the midst of the street of it, 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. Were they in Paradise that day?
In order for the normal reading of Luke 23:43 to be true 2 things MUST be true: 1. The thief was in Paradise that very day (Friday). 2. Jesus was in Paradise that very day (Friday).
IF EITHER OF THESE WAS NOT TRUE, THEN THIS STATEMENT IS NOT TRUE
It is likely that the thief did not die on Friday as the Sabbath was drawing near and the thieves were still not dead, prompting the Jews to ask for their legs to be broken to finish them off.
Therefore, because it was the Preparation Day, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who was crucified with Him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs.
I concede that it is possible the thief could have died on Friday though but what about Jesus?
4. Jesus did not go to Paradise of Friday
Jesus died on Friday, was in the grave on Sabbath, and resurrected on Sunday. On Sunday morning, Jesus said the following to Mary:
Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’ ”
Jesus said He had not ascended to the Father, which means He was NOT in Paradise on Friday, since He had not gone on Sunday yet. Because of this I believe the correct reading of Luke 23:43 is
And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you today, you will be with Me in Paradise.”