You probably already know the account--Jesus is being put to death alongside two criminals. One of the criminals mocks Jesus. The other recognizes Jesus is the foretold Messiah and humbly requests to be remembered favorably when Jesus "comes into his kingdom," (or, as certain ancient manuscripts put it, "come into your kingly power").
According to most modern translations, they render Jesus' response as:
"Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise." (Luke 23:43)
Whether you know it or not, the original manuscripts did not contain the punctuation so familiar to people today. Did you notice the placement of the comma after the first "you"? Rendering the scripture that way would lead readers to believe that Jesus was telling the criminal that on that very day, the day of their death, the criminal would be with Jesus. Is that how you understand the scripture?
Now, I'm not going to get into the common confusion of paradise verses heaven. That, in itself, is another big discussion. Instead, I want you just to think about the timeline. Do you believe that Jesus and the criminal would, on that very day, be in paradise? If yes, then please try to reconcile that with the following scripture, also Jesus' own words:
Jesus said, "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" - John 20:17
Did you notice what Jesus told Mary Magdalene, three days after his being put to death, now standing in front of her as the resurrected Jesus? He indicated he hadn't ascended to his Father yet. He was dead for three days. He hadn't been anywhere but in the grave. So if Jesus was not in heaven, nor was he in paradise, why would he promise the criminal, as rendered in the NIV, "today you will be with me in paradise"?
How can this be resolved? Easy, the placement of the comma is incorrect. It is the position that Jehovah's Witnesses have taken for decades. They render that verse: "Truly I tell you today, You will be with me in Paradise." It is same as you telling someone "Look, I'm telling you right now, I will take care of the matter." You are not saying you will take care of the matter that very moment. Rather, you are making an emphatic statement that as of that moment, you are committed to handling whatever the matter is.
In the case of the criminal, he even knew it could not be that very day. That is why he said "WHEN you come into your kingdom." He recognized it would be some time in the future. When was that? In Acts 1:1-7 Jesus appears over a period of 40 days to his faithful followers. In the course of that time, they ask if he is restoring the kingdom at that time. His response is, basically, it is none of their business. They have a preaching work to concentrate on. After that time, Jesus did ascend to heaven, but where was that criminal? Approximately 20 years later, Paul wrote the Thessalonian congregation that the time was yet future. In speaking of those that would be resurrected to rule in heaven, he wrote these words at 1 Thes.4:15-18 (click link to read). So even some 20 years later, if that criminal was headed to heaven, it hadn't happened yet. He was still dead. (Again, it is yet another discussion as to where that criminal is going to be. If you'd like to read more about that, see this article.)
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