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Many believe that humans have an immortal soul, and that they go immediately to either heaven or hell at death. A fundamental principal  of this  teaching is that all a person has to do in order to go to heaven is ask  forgiveness for  their sins any time before death. In an attempt to substantiate this belief, people often  refer  to  the conversation between Jesus and the two thieves who were crucified with him:

"And  one of the hanged criminals blasphemed him, saying, If  you are  the Christ, save yourself and us. But answering,  the  other rebuked him, saying, Do you not fear God, for you are in the same judgment?  And we indeed justly, for we receive things worthy  of what  we did.  But this One did nothing wrong. And  he  said  to Jesus, Lord, remember me when you come in your kingdom. And Jesus said  to  him, Truly I say to you, Today you will be with  me in paradise" (Lk.23:39-43 Para.).

Indeed, this conversation does seem to indicate that Jesus did promise the thief that he would go to paradise with him that very day; however, is this what Jesus actually meant? Did  Jesus  grant one of these thieves salvation just before his death, and did he go to heaven with Christ that day?

This study will show that there is a serious mistranslation of the original Greek words of this text  in the King James version of the Bible, and that this mistranslation  has led many to believe in the false teaching of going to heaven or hell immediately after death.

This study will also show that the thief who asked Jesus to remember him is not in heaven, the process of salvation requires more than just asking to be remembered by Jesus, and Jesus' promise to the thief did not mean that the thief  would receive eternal life and immorality at the time of his death.

Did Jesus Die?

"And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid  his right hand upon me, saying to me, Fear not; I am the first  and the  last:  I am he that lives, and was dead; and, behold,  I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death" (Rev.1:17-18  KJV).

Here,  the apostle John  records  that  Jesus himself said he died.

The  Greek Interlinear Bible translates the phrase  "was dead" in  verse  18 as "I became dead". The Greek word for 'dead' is  'corpse', which means 'a lifeless body'. Jesus said he became a dead body. This phrase is very important because  some believe Jesus did not totally die; they believe that only his flesh died, but his  spirit  remained  alive and went to heaven. See our studies about the state of the dead.

The  original  Greek language of verse 18 leaves no doubt that  Jesus  was totally dead. He ceased to exist as a living, thinking being. All that  remained of him was the record of his existence. It is important to understand that, if God the  Father had  not resurrected Jesus, he would have remained dead  forever, never to live again. See Matt.10:28; Lk.12:4-5.

Jesus Was Buried

King David was inspired to foretell the death and resurrection of the Messiah:

"Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory  rejoices: my flesh also shall rest in hope. For you will not leave my  soul in hell  [sheol]; neither will you suffer your Holy One  to  see corruption" (Psa.16:9-10 KJV). See Mk.16:6.

Both  Peter  and  Paul speak of this  prophecy  in  reference  to Christ's  resurrection.  Around fifty days after  Jesus  had  been resurrected,  Peter says that king David was still dead  and  had not gone to heaven:

"Because you will not leave my soul in  hell, neither  will you suffer your Holy One to see corruption . . .. He [David]  seeing this before spoke of the resurrection of  Christ, that  his soul was not left in hell, neither did his flesh  see corruption"  (Acts 2:27;31 Para.). See also Paul's comments in Acts 13:35-37.

The  statements  of  King David, Peter and Paul,  prove  that  Jesus did not go to heaven at death, but he was in the grave until God the  Father  resurrected him to life. However, when did he rise from the dead and when did he go to heaven?

Jesus Rose the Third Day

"For  I  delivered to you first of all that which  I  also  received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;  And that he was buried, and that he rose again the  third day according to the scriptures:" (1.Cor.15:3-4 KJV).

The  apostle Paul says that Jesus died, was buried, and rose  the third  day.  There are 17 other references in the  New  Testament that indicate Jesus would be dead until he was resurrected  the third day. If this is so, how could the thief be in paradise with Jesus the same day he died, when Jesus himself was dead  for three  days?  See  our study paper about which day the Christian Passover is.

Around 30 Years Later

Around 30  years after the death and resurrection  of  Jesus,  the writer  to the Hebrews gave a long list of righteous  individuals who were still dead and in their graves:

"And these all, having obtained a good report through faith,  received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect" (Heb.11:39-40 KJV). See also v13.

Both the living and dead elect of God will be made  perfect at the same time. The perfection spoken of is the transformation  from a temporary existence to immortality. If  the thief was  granted salvation just before his death and went immediately to heaven that same day, most of the  scriptures that deal with a future resurrection make no sense.

The Dead Rise First

"But  I would not have you to be ignorant,  brethren,  concerning them which are asleep [dead], that you sorrow not, even as others which  have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died  and  rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.  For this we say to you by the word of the Lord,  that  we which are alive and remain to the coming of the Lord shall  not prevent  [precede] them which are asleep"  (1.Thes.4:13-15 KJV). See also 1.Cor.15:51-54.

In  this great day, all of the dead who have obtained salvation will rise first to meet Jesus as he enters the atmosphere and will be joined by the living who have also obtained salvation. Here, Paul clearly says that all of the righteous  who have  died  over the centuries will be resurrected  in  a  single event.

Was the Thief Saved?

The only way a person could obtain salvation under the terms  and conditions  of God's first covenant with national Israel was to fulfill its  requirements. Under the New Covenant a person must be called by God the Father,  repent  of  sin, be baptized and receive the holy spirit.  From  what God's word sets forth as necessary procedures and  requirements before a person is given salvation, it seems impossible that the thief could have gained salvation under either covenant before his death.

"To him that overcomes will I give to eat of the  tree  of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God" (Rev.2:7 KJV).

Overcoming is a process that takes effort, which is based on the knowledge  and understanding of what is required by God. There was no time for the thief to  go  through the  overcoming process, which involves listening,  learning,  effort,  and making correct decisions. Therefore, he could  not have been saved and entered into the paradise of God which is reserved for  the  overcomers. See Matt.24:13,  2.Cor.5:9-10,  Heb.5:8-9, Rev.2:26;3:21.

Furthermore, even  if the thief were converted and had obtained  salvation before his death, he still would have had to await the  resurrection  of  the elect of God, which has not yet occurred.  See Matt.24:30; 1.Cor.15:23; 51-54; 1.Thes.4:13-15; Rev.20:4-6.

I Have Not Yet Ascended

"And  she saw two angels in white, sitting one at the  head,  and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. And they  said to  her, Woman, why do you weep? She said to them, Because  they took  away  my Lord, and I do not know where they  put him.  And saying these things, she turned backward, and saw Jesus standing, and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, Woman, why do you weep? Whom do you seek? Thinking that it was the gardener, she said to him, Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where  you put him,  and  I will take him away. Jesus said  to  her,  Mary! Turning  around,  she  said to him, Rabboni! - that is  to  say, Teacher.  Jesus said to her, Do not touch me, for I have not  yet ascended  to my Father, but go to my brothers and say to them,  I am ascending to my Father and your Father, and my God  and  your God" (Jn.20:12-17 Para.).

In this conversation between Mary and Jesus, he says he had not yet  ascended to  heaven. It is important to note that this  conversation  took place early Sunday morning, but Jesus had died around 3  p.m. on the previous Friday.

Therefore, if Jesus had promised the thief that he  was going  to  be with him that day in paradise, it would have been a broken promise because on Sunday morning Jesus still had not gone to heaven. Either Jesus lied to the thief or there is some other explanation as to what  he meant when he said, "Truly I say to you, Today you  will be with me in Paradise."

What Did Christ Promise?

The  problem  is not with what Jesus said; it is with  what  some think  he said. There is no doubt that Jesus told the thief  that he would be with him in paradise. But when would the thief be in paradise with Jesus? And to what paradise was Jesus referring?

Jesus did not lie to the thief, because he  had the authority and power to fulfill his promise. The conversation that Jesus had with Mary after his  resurrection shows that he did not go to heaven immediately  after his death; therefore, the thief did not go there either. Moreover, the thief could not have fulfilled the  requirements under the Old or New Covenants to obtain salvation. And the thief could not have preceded Christ to heaven, because Jesus  was  the  first-born   from  the   dead to receive eternal and immortal life (1.Cor.15:20;23; Col.1:13-18). Furthermore,  Jesus has not established his kingdom upon earth, a kingdom in which the elect are to rule with him (Matt.25:31-34; 2.Tim.2:12; Rev.2:26-27; 3:9-10). So, what did Jesus really say?

What Jesus Really meant

First  we must understand that the King James Version of the  New Testament  was translated from the Greek language, and  that  the translators  believed in the immortality of the soul;  therefore, they had no reason to clarify what Jesus meant.

The Word Today

"Truly  I say to you, Today [Greek: 'semeron] you will be with  me in  Paradise."  The  Greek word 'semeron' can  mean  many  things depending  on the context in which it is used. It can  mean 'a whole day', 'a point in present time', 'a period of time', or 'an  immediate future in contrast to the present situation'.

The misconception concerning what Jesus said is partly a  matter of semantics, based on the punctuation used in the King James version of the Bible that did not exist in the original text. The comma that is placed before the word 'today'  completely changes the meaning of the sentence: "I say  to  you, today you will be with me in paradise."  This is taken to mean that the thief would go with Jesus to heaven the very same day. However, if the coma is placed after the word 'today', the sentence can be assumed to mean that on that day Jesus was telling the thief that he would eventually be with him in Paradise:"I  say  to  you today, you will be with me in paradise."

Clearly,  what Jesus said and meant was: I am telling  you  today, (meaning  right  now) that you will be with me in  paradise.  Any other  meaning  would conflict with all other references  to  the resurrection of the elect at Christ's return.

The Word Paradise

The English word paradise is translated from the Greek word 'paradeisos', which means 'a garden', 'park', or 'paradisal state'.

The  paradise the thief will find himself in when he  is  brought back  to life will not be the paradise of God nor the  paradise of the new heaven and earth, but it will be the Kingdom of God right here on earth. In this earthly paradise the thief will have his opportunity to repent, be baptized, receive the holy spirit,  and qualify to enter Gods eternal paradise.


The simple fact is that there is no scriptural precedent, permission, or condition whereby the thief could possibly have gone  to heaven immediately after his death.