As a result of my teachings on the Resurrection and eternal life, I am often asked if the thief on the cross is in heaven. The gospel of Luke tells us about a brief encounter that Yeshua had with two criminals while He was hanging on the tree. One criminal spoke mocking words against our Messiah, while the other criminal showed reverence and fear of the LORD. The second criminal also made an interesting request when he said, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” But I am afraid that many people have misunderstood Yeshua’s response to his request.
This is an interesting section of Scripture to examine, and I am always glad to explain it, because it is important to understand Scripture it in its proper context.
Then he [the criminal] said to Yeshua, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” And Yeshua said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:42-43)
Many people believe that this verse proves that the thief went to heaven with Yeshua the day he died. However, we need to realize three very important things when looking at this event.
First, there are no commas in the original Greek text – they are all added by translators. Punctuation can make a huge difference in how we understand a text. If the comma is placed in a different location, it would say, “Assuredly, I say to you today, you will be with Me in Paradise”. Do you see the difference? By moving the comma it becomes “I tell you today” instead of “today you will be” This is important to keep in mind as we examine the next few points, because it is very likely that an improper punctuation might be altering your understanding of this verse.
Second, it is important to note that Yeshua says “paradise” not “heaven”. These are two very different Greek words, paradise refers to a garden, while heaven refers to the sky, the universe, or the throne of God. Other references to “paradise” in the Bible are usually connected to the place where the tree of life is located. And if we take a closer look at the context of this verse, it becomes clear as to what Paradise actually is. The thief said, “remember me when you come into your kingdom”, and Yeshua answers him saying, “you will be with me in paradise”. The Kingdom is paradise, and according to Revelation 22, the tree of life will be there. When Yeshua comes into His kingdom, the thief will surely be there with Him.
Finally, the most important thing to consider is that Yeshua was NOT in Heaven the day He died. Remember that He was buried for three days and three nights before he rose from the dead, and He had not yet ascended into Heaven. We know this because He told Mary, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father…” (John 20:17). So, if Yeshua had not yet ascended into Heaven the day He died, then it is impossible for the thief to have been in Heaven that day either. This means the comma is definitely in the wrong place. But it also means that the “paradise” He referred to is not heaven, because the thief did not ascend into heaven with Yeshua.
As you consider these things, also consider the words of our Messiah when he said,
“No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.” (John 3:13)
No one has gone into heaven except our Messiah. All of the dead are waiting in their graves for the Great Resurrection that will take place when Yeshua returns to setup His kingdom on earth.