And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke23:43 NKJV).
An a previous article (Tidings, 11/2004), it was demonstrated that paradise, as it would have been understood by Jesus and the thief to whom he spoke, is a reference to Messiah’s kingdom – Israel restored like the Garden (Paradise) of God. This can be clearly seen in the Old Testament, especially by observing the many uses of the Greek word paradeisos throughout the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament).
Clearly, paradise in the Old Testament is not a reference to heaven as perceived by orthodox Christians, and Jesus was not promising the thief that he would die and be with him, in heaven, that day. Only one forerunner has entered “within the veil” (Heb. 6:19-20 Jesus, not Jesus and the thief). [And that day the soul of Jesus went to the grave, “hell,” not heaven (Acts2:31), ed.].
We are still left with the question, however, of what Jesus did mean by his use of the word today in his promise to the thief. To suggest that the comma belongs after the word, in order to circumvent the interpretation that orthodoxy places on this passage, is to posit something which virtually no translation supports. And just perhaps, by shifting the comma, we miss a world of meaning in what our Lord was saying.
If our orthodox friends can make an unfounded assumption about the word paradise, is it possible that they – and we – can also make an unfounded assumption about the Lord’s use of the word today? Was Jesus thinking only in terms of the current Jewish day that would end a few hours hence at sundown?
Luke’s record of how Jesus used the word “today”
The Greek word here rendered “today” is semeron (Strong’s Number 4594). Luke records eight times that Jesus used the word. In virtually every case, it is possible to understand that Jesus was referring to a literal day at hand. But time and again it is also evident that the Lord meant much more. The day at hand held a significance that went far beyond the time constraint of sundown.
Luke 4:18-21: The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord…And he began to say to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Here the Anointed One, foretold by the prophet of old, had at last come toIsrael. He sat before the assembly of Jewish worshippers that day. But no one would argue that everything God had anointed Jesus to accomplish was finished, literally fulfilled, by the time the sun went down on that long-ago Sabbath atNazareth. The day held timeless implications.
Luke 13:31-33: On that very day some Pharisees came, saying to him, “Get out and depart from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” And he said to them, “Go, tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected.’ Nevertheless I must journey today, tomorrow, and the day following; for it cannot be that a prophet should perish outside of Jerusalem.”
Again, a literal day provided the context of the Lord’s words. “On that very day” underscores the fact. Yet in this context Jesus also used the word parabolically. “Today and tomorrow, and the third” sweeps our minds across the full range of the Lord’s saving work, as it was currently unfolding, and takes us on to his crucifixion and resurrection from the dead. Herod was powerless to alter this inexorable march of God’s purpose to save mankind, no matter how many literal days were involved in its accomplishment.
Luke 19:5-10: And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and saw him, and said to him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house”…Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
There was, of course, a literal day on which Jesus visited the home of Zacchaeus and salvation came to that house that day. Yet no one would want to argue Messiah’s kingdom was established and the salvation of Zacchaeus was an accomplished fact by the time the sun went down on that happy gathering inJericho. It was the significance of what Zacchaeus did that day that secured the promise of salvation, and again, the significance of what he did went far beyond the literal day at hand. Salvation is timeless, unending.
Luke 23:42-43: Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
There can be no denying that a literal day provided the context of this promise as well. But what a day! It was the day of the Lord’s crucifixion. By his death on the cross, Jesus opened the way of eternal life for all mankind. The effects of what our Lord accomplished that day did not end at sundown. In fact, by the saving work of the cross that assured the repentant thief’s place in Messiah’s kingdom, a new day began that can not end.
Genesis echoes in Luke’s crucifixion record
It was pointed out in the previous article that Luke’s crucifixion record contains a number of echoes of the Genesis account of the fall of man. Well it might! The cross of Christ is man’s redemption. Given the timeless nature of the saving work of Jesus, accomplished that day on the cross, it is possible to trace another link with Genesis.
Genesis 2:16-17: And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
Of course Adam did not die that day. It was what Adam did on the day he disobeyed God that caused the law of sin and death to begin its long and tragic reign over mankind. The actual death of Adam did not occur for 930 years afterward. In other words, the effects of what Adam did on the day he sinned went far beyond the time when the sun went down overEden. The day of sin and death that began on a literal day in the Garden lasted until the moment Jesus died on the cross. And with his great act of obedience to God the unending day of righteousness and life began.