The Destiny of the Thief On The Cross

By Arthur J Licursi

It soon becomes clear that ‘the thief on the cross’ did not in fact go to heaven after his death when we consider the context of the verses involved and translational biases. If he were to have gone to heaven that day, he would have been in heaven 3 days before Jesus even rose from the dead. On the contrary, as you will see, Jesus promised the believing thief something far greater.

Many people mistakenly assume that the thief who was crucified next to Jesus Christ was “saved” and went immediately to heaven when he died, since Christ had told him in Luke 23:43:

43 And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise. Luke 23:43 (KJV)

This religious idea is wrong on so many counts.

We must consider the context of Christ’s statement to the thief on the cross. One of the principles of studying the Bible is to read a verse in its context and then in the broader context of the entire Bible. Therefore, the meaning of this verse must agree with John 3:13, which states that no one (except for Christ) has ascended into heaven. And we know “the Scripture cannot be broken [violated]” (John 10:35).

Whenever there is an apparent contradiction in Scripture, more study is needed to be sure we correctly understand any unclear passages. In this case we first need to look at the context in which Christ made this statement to the thief on the cross. Jesus was replying to the thief’s plea that said, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom [not heaven]” (Luke 23:42). We know from Scripture Jesus’ Millennial Kingdom be on earth. Obviously, then, the “paradise” in verse Luke 23:43 refers to Christ’s coming Kingdom on the literal, physical, earth. This is the Kingdom of the prayer “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth.” (Matt. 6:10)

The broader context of the Bible tells us that the Kingdom refers to Jesus’ Millennial Kingdom on earth, with Christ as its King and Israel as He agent on earth. We are also told who will enter this Kingdom on earth long-promised to the faithful of Israel. The “sheep” of His flock will inherit the Kingdom at the return of Christ (cf. Matt. 25:31-34; Dan. 7:27). Jesus had earlier said; 32 Fear not, little flock [Israel’s believing remnant]; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Luke 12:32 (KJV)

The “first resurrection” of faithful Israelites, which occurs at Christ’s 2nd coming (Rev. 20:6), will be the culmination of their believing. A Jew had to haver first repented of his or her evil deeds and taken John’s water baptism to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38-39; 8:14-17).

The thief merely made a positive comment about Jesus Christ; and in return, Christ spoke comforting words to him about his future in the paradise of the Kingdom on earthnot in heaven.

Now, importantly, we must examine what Christ meant using the word to dayhere in Luke 23:43 (KJV).

43 And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.

First, we know that Jesus Himself did not enter “Paradise” that very day? By His own mouth, He said he would be in ‘the grave’ for the next three days and three nights (cf. Matthew 12:40). Jesus’ body and soul remained in “Sheol,” Hebrew for, in the grave,’ for that time period, and then was to be resurrected. Jesus said;

10 For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell [Heb. Sheol, in the grave’]; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption [bodily decay]. Psalm 16:10 (KJV)

Thus, the thief on the cross did not join Christ anywhere that day.

It was soon after His resurrection that Christ told Mary Magdalene;

17 Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father [in heaven]: 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 (KJV)

In fact it was not until 40 days later (cf. Acts 1:3) that Jesus left planet earth ascending to the Father in heaven from the Mount of Olives. During His resurrection He was seen alive by more than 500 people (cf. 1Cor. 15:6).

So, how then are we to understand Jesus’s statement to the thief on the cross?

Again; 43 And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise. Luke 23:43 (KJV)

Above we again have the King James Version of Luke 23:43. However, the Greek text of the Scriptures had no punctuation. As you will see, when the obviously misplaced ‘comma’ after the world “thee,” is corrected it greatly changes the meaning. The fact is that the translators of the KJV, in trying to smooth out the text, added the ‘comma’ punctuation incorrectly. In this case, they misplaced the comma due to a lack of understanding.

The correction simply deletes the comma that appears after “thee and instead inserted the comma after “to day.” With this the meaning changes significantly—and agrees with the rest of the Bible. Luke 23:43 would then read,

43 And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee to day, shalt thou be with me in paradise. Luke 23:43 (KJV)

Please read it again. Did you catch that?

Christ was making a statement ‘THAT DAY’ to the thief. He was not declaring the thief would we in paradise that day. Christ gave the thief an absolute promise on that day the day they were dying that he would eventually (not that same day of their death) be with Christ in the Millennial Kingdom on earth at His 2nd coming… which is to occur at the close of the 7-year Tribulation period.