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Bible Q

Did the thief on the cross go to heaven?

This is a verse that is well known and famous, but it’s almost as equally well known that the text is actually a mistaken translation. The standard version goes:

Luke 23:42-43
And he [the thief] said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” {43} And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

This is sometime refered to as a ‘comma problem’, because in English whether the comma comes before or after “today” affects the reading. But in the original Greek it is actually an ‘adverb problem’, since the Greek adverb “today” is uninflected and could refer to “say today” or to “be today”. In fact, it is more likely from context that Luke 23:43 should read as follows:

And he said unto him – Verily, I say unto thee this day: With me, shalt thou be in Paradise. (Rotherham’s Emphasized Bible)


Context – where did Jesus go that day?

The problem with the traditional English punctuation of v43 is that Jesus did not go to paradise the day he died. Rather, he went to the grave for three days, as Jesus said himself in Matthew 12:40:

For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (Matthew 12:40)

If the thief was going to be with Jesus on that very day, then that would make paradise = the grave, which certainly isn’t true (Luke 13:29 ≠ Ps. 6:5; 30:9). Also, even after Jesus was raised from the dead he said:

John 20:17
…I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'”

Jesus didn’t ascend to heaven on the day he died; he didn’t even ascend to heaven as soon as he was raised from the dead: he probably didn’t ascend to heaven until forty days after he was raised (Acts 1:3,9-11).

So, Jesus didn’t tell the thief that he would be with him in paradise on the day that both of them died.


What is paradise?

The Greek word paradeisos used by the thief has a particular meaning in Jewish texts. It is the word for the garden of Eden. The Greek Old Testament begins with God planting a “paradise” in Eden (Genesis 2:8, LXX, Greek Old Testament). “You were in Eden, the paradise of God” (Ezekiel 28:13, LXX).

This is reflected in Revelation 2:7 where the promise to those who overcome to eat of the “tree of life” in the “paradise of God”, is exactly parallel to the “paradise” of Eden in Genesis 2:8, and the kingdom request of the thief.

Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. (Revelation 2:7)


What does Luke 23:42-43 mean?

As we’ve seen above, v43 the reference of the adverb ‘today’ can be to either ‘say’ or ‘be’. Therefore in English the text can be punctuated in a different way, and in English this simple re-punctuation sorts the problem out.  There was no punctuation in the Greek to aid us. (Greek rarely used punctuation, nor different case letters, nor even spaces; see the Codex Sinaiticus, for example), so if a translator, like Rotherham, judges that ‘today’ belongs with ‘say’ not ‘be’, then he can legitimately in English re-punctuate Luke 23:43 as ‘I say to you today, you will be with me in Paradise’.

What is going on in the dialogue is this. The time adverb of ‘remember me when’ in the thief’s request is replaced by the time adverb of ‘tell you today’ in Jesus’ answer:

THIEF : Lord, remember me when you come in your kingdom

JESUS : I tell you today, you will be with me in the garden



‘I tell you today’ sentences in Hebrew

This type of sentence — ‘I say to you today, …’ — is used in at other times, for emphasis, e.g.:

Deut. 6:6
And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.

Acts 20:26
Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you

In Luke 23:42 the thief asks Jesus to remember him when he comes into his kingdom. But Jesus gives him more assurance than that: in v43 Jesus promises the thief on that very day when Jesus comes into his kingdom he (i.e., the thief) will be in paradise with Jesus. Jesus’ words are emphatic (like the passages above use ‘today’ to stress the point they are making). This puts the emphasis on Jesus’ immediate promise this day that the thief would be in paradise with Jesus, but it does not say when this would happen.


When will paradise be restored?

So, the thief is guaranteed a place in paradise, in the kingdom, with Jesus. But when will this promise be fulfilled? When will Jesus ‘come into [his] kingdom’? In the passage referred to above — Acts 1 — the disciples ask Jesus the same question:

Acts 1:6
…they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”

Jesus’ reply was (v7):

…“It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.

And then, after he had ascended to heaven, the angels said (v11):

“Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Taking this all together, we see that Jesus’ kingdom wasn’t established during his first coming, but that it will be sometime in the future, at his second coming. This, when Jesus comes into his kingdom, is when the thief will be with him in paradise. When Jesus returns he will turn the world into a paradise (Isa. 35:1-2ff; 51:3; Ezek. 36:35; Rev. 2:7; 22:12).


Conclusion : The thief sleeps

As we’ve seen from the context above thief is dead. He isn’t in paradise, and he isn’t in heaven; he’s where Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and all the other holy men and women of the Bible are; he’s dead, in the dust of the earth (Gen. 3:19; Job 34:14-15; Ps. 90:3; 104:29); but like them he will be raised to life again when Jesus returns.

John 5:28-29
Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.

1 Thess. 4:13-16
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.  For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.

This conclusion shouldn’t really be surprising. I Corinthians 15 is very clear about the order of the resurrection. And Jesus’ reply to the thief is not an outlier, it is consistent with all other Bible teaching on death and life.

22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. (1 Corinthians 15:22-24)






See also: Rev. E. W. Bullinger, A Critical Lexicon and Concordance to the English and Greek New Testament 4th edn (London: Longmans, Green & Co.,  1895), p. 811:

“And Jesus said to him, Verily, to thee I say this day, with Me shalt thou be in the Paradise.” The words to-day being made solemn and emphatic. Thus instead of a rememberance, when He shall come in (ἐν, ver. 22) His kingdom, He promises a presence then in association (μετά) with Himself. And this promise He makes on that very day when He was dying…we also place this passage in harmony with numberless passages in the O.T., such as “Verily I say unto you, this day,” etc.; “I testify unto you this day,” etc. Deut. vi. 6; vii. 11; viii. 1; x. 13; vi. 8, 13, 28; xiii. 18; xix. 9; xxvi. 4; xxxi. 2, etc., where the Septuagint corresponds to Luke xxiii. 43.

Further reading:

The Thief on the Cross

12 Replies to “Did the thief on the cross go to heaven?”

  1. Hi, please, correct me if I’m wrong. I always thought that “paradise” was a place where the dead go right after they died, who had faith when they died. Those who died without faith would go to a place of torment (the place mentioned by Jesus in the Lazarus and the rich man story). So, can it be possible that both Jesus and that man on the cross went to the “paradise” part of that place?.
    Is it wrong to assume that the man remained there, but Jesus came back to Earth three days later, and then went to Heaven, where He is to this day.

    • Paradise is only mentioned three times in the Bible — Luke 23:43; 2 Cor 12:4 and Rev 2:7. In 2 Cor 12:4 it seems to refer to God’s dwelling place and in Rev 2:7 it refers to the kingdom of God. There is no suggestion anywhere in the Bible that the dead go to paradise immediately after death, or that they go to a place of torment.

      and related questions.

    • according to the scriptures when a person dies their body go back to the ground and their spirit is returned to God until the day of his returns.

  2. I see this is rather old but just wanted to add a couple of things to consider. First of all, As pointed out, it is the punctuation based on man’s traditions that causes the confusion with this verse. But also, if you study much into Roman crucifixion on the cross you find that many victims did not die immediately but could linger on for days-hence the reason for breaking their legs. So even if we did receive our reward of immortality at death rather than at the second coming as the Bible says, the thief most likely did not die that die-which for a Jew would have been before sunset Friday evening. Jesus did die that day, hence his legs were not broken, which I am quite sure is the fulfillment of one of the many Old Testament prophecies about Jesus.
    I also feel that Jesus ascended to the Father before the Transfiguration. I think He felt an urgency to have a joyous reunion. Why else would He have told Mary to not cling to Him. If He was not soon thereafter ascending to the Father there would have been no reason for him to cause Mary to have a restriction of her conduct or time with Him.

    • John 19:31 – 37 talks about the breaking of the legs of those crucified with Jesus. Two points to notice:
      1. As you say, Jesus’ bones were not broken to fulfill the scripture “Not one of his bones will be broken”.

      2. The bones of those with him were broken so that they would not still be alive on the cross by the start of the Sabbath (i.e., the end of the day).

  3. Luke 23:42-43

    • Hello Jan,
      I find it very interesting that this comment thread has been dead for more than a year and we added our comments the same day. Are you aware that the original language this verse was written in did not have punctuation. So if the translators placed the comma in the wrong position the result is not what was meant. So what Jesus really said was, “Truly, I SAY TO YOU TODAY,” -today when all have forsaken Me, today when it appears that all is lost and I have no future-“YOU WILL BE WITH ME IN PARADISE” This is the only explanation that is consistent with the rest of the Bible, especially when you consider that the thief most likely did not even die on the TODAY spoken off. But if you want to assume that he did die and go to paradise, then this interpretation would mean that Jesus lied to the thief, which of course He would not do. Otherwise you have to go through some scriptural gymnastics to explain how Jesus could have been in paradise with the thief on Friday but then He told Mary on Sunday morning that He had not yet ascended to the Father John 20:17

      • Additional to this, it is worth considering Acts 2:22 – 32, where Peter explains that Jesus was in Hades (the grave) until he was resurrected, but that God would not leave him there to corruption and so raised him up. Jesus could not both have been in the grave and in Paradise.

    • Capitals suggest you are angered and would be shouting if this were a verbal discussion.

      The concept of the “eternal soul” was embraced by several societies before Jesus was born so it is NOT a Christian concept or teaching.

      God clearly told Adam and Eve they would die if they ate the forbidden fruit. God cannot lie. So they are dead. If any part their awareness lives on in ANY capacity, then they are not dead and God lied.

      Jesus did NOT go to paradise on the day he died. In John 20:17 he told someone “I have not yet ascended to my Father”. If Jesus didn’t go to paradise that day, then neither did the thief.

      When Jesus referred to the death of Lazarus, he used the term, “he sleeps”. If Lazarus had already gone to paradise, it was a cruel thing for Jesus to bring him back to this world of pain and sorrow.

      We must go back to the statement made by God to Adam and Eve in the garden.
      Gen. 2:17 “If you eat of this tree you shall surely die”.
      “SURELY” is not a light statement. It means absolutely, and without exception.

      If we go to paradise immediately after death, why does Jesus bother to come back to the earth for his followers? There would be no need for it.

      It is not a horrible thing to sleep in the ground. We will have no awareness of the passage of time. All we will know is that suddenly, we will be awakened with no comprehension of how long we have been there and we will see Jesus coming to take us to be with Him. And those who perished at sea with burst forth from the waters to join us. That seems like a good thing to me.

      • Absolutely spot on…and totally biblical and correct. Oh what a day that will be for all those that belong to the Lord. To be awakened by Jesus and to be with Him for all eternity.

  4. I agree about the punctuation protestation and the apparent impossibilty that the ‘thief’ would be in paradise on the same day he died in actuality . Though , because Jesus ‘ said he would be in paradise , it was as good as done . It would be fulfilled in time.
    I like the further proof of Acts chapter 2 to show more likely bible meaning than traditional . 😀

  5. When I first became saved,this really bothered me.As much as I wanted to believe we will go to heaven,it just didn’t sit with me well.I started to study & study.Everyone would point to this verse.I feel the Lord just kept saying to me it is wrong.So I agreed to disagree with all my friends and even pastors.As I grow,the more I see so many different”view points”on ALL scripture. I have learned to not go on mans word,ever.I always go to Scripture with an earnest prayer that God will give me the Truth,true wisdom to discern what His Word says. I just cannot find any scripture that says we will go to heaven right away.We cannot go before those who are laying in their graves,etc.People are now trying to sell this idea that its a soul/body difference. No. No,sorry not buying. The Spirit returns to the Lord after we die. This Spirit,defined in the Holy Scriptures comes from the Lord Almighty alone. It is His breath that gives us life and it returns to Him when we return to the dust. I just know in my heart that if we as Christians would just take the Word and pray before we digest it,we would not have so much division within our body of Christ. Our prideful,arrogant and deceitful ways wouldn’t be an issue if we just give it all up and humble ourselves before the Lord. Bless you all.