As Christians, we’re all familiar with Jesus’ words to the thief on the cross in the waning moments of their lives together on earth.
“Verily I say unto thee today shalt thou be with me in paradise” -Luke 23:43
We’ve purposely left the comma out of this passage for the point we’re going to make. Does the location of the comma make a theological difference? Indeed, it does!
No Punctuation in the Original Text
You see, the original language of the New Testament, Greek, does not have punctuation marks. So, when the translators were writing the English versions of the Greek text, they did the best they could in putting punctuation where it belonged. The text was divinely inspired, but the translations are not. This is why it’s good to keep several translations around in order to accurately get what is being conveyed.
In many English Bible versions, the comma is placed after the word “thee,” implying that Jesus was telling the thief that that day he would be in paradise with Jesus. But did Jesus go to paradise (heaven) that day?
After The Resurrection
Three days after He spoke to the repentant thief, Jesus met Mary near the open tomb. As she fell to worship at His feet Jesus said,
“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 20:17
Let us notice a couple of important things in this passage.1. Jesus didn’t go to heaven immediately upon His death.
After speaking with Mary at the tomb, He told her to run back and tell the others. What was she to tell them? That Jesus was going to ascend to His Father, presumably after talking with her.2. Jesus told Mary not to touch Him.
There are actually a couple of reasons for this instruction from Jesus.
The first is simply it was not permitted for Jews to touch dead things. The purpose of this statute was to prevent disease from spreading and encourage health, as well as discourage worship of the dead.
The second reason is that Jesus was to symbolize the firstfruits to the Lord. We’ll discuss the types/shadows of Jesus in the feast days in future posts. He had not yet ascended to the Father to get confirmation of His sacrifice being accepted. The last words of Christ included His plea with the Father, “why have you forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46) Jesus needed to hear the loving words of His Father’s acceptance face-to-face before He could continue with the plan of salvation for mankind.
We see later in John 20:27, Jesus tells Thomas to touch His nail-scarred hands and pierced side to see if it was really Him. And praise the Lord, it was!
So now, if we’re to hold fast to the straightforward reading of God’s Word, and desire to harmonize Scripture with Scripture, we’re faced with three options:
Jesus didn’t know what happened after death. Jesus lied to the thief about what happens after death.
- Neither Jesus nor the thief went to heaven upon death.
So the proper Biblical reading of the passage is:
“Verily I say unto thee today, thou shalt be with me in paradise” -Luke 23:43
Jesus is saying, “I’m telling you right here and now, that even though I look defeated hanging on this cross and don’t appear to be a king with any sort of kingdom, I will rise again from the dead. And because of your faith in Me, you will join me in my kingdom one day.”
What a great God we serve! The Bible is fantastic!