Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Thief on the Cross

The Thief on the Cross
Excerpt from Heaven and Hell: What Does the Bible Really Teach?
From the publisher of The Good News magazine.

As Christ hung dying, He told a convicted criminal being crucified with Him, "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43). Many people think Jesus assured the man he would go to heaven with Him that very day. But is this really what He said?

Let's first ask, Where is the paradise of which Christ spoke? The word translated "paradise" is used only two other times in the New Testament. In both cases it refers to the place of God's presence.

In 2 Corinthians 12:2-4 Paul describes a vision in which he "was caught up into Paradise" (verse 4). Paul says this paradise was in "the third heaven" (verse 2)—the dwelling place of God.
Jesus tells us that "the tree of life" is located "in the midst of the Paradise of God" (Revelation 2:7). Revelation 22:2 explains that the tree of life is to be in the New Jerusalem. God will come from heaven to dwell in this New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:2-3) after the resurrections mentioned in Revelation 20. Only at that time will men dwell with God in this paradise. Putting together these scriptures, we can see that the paradise Christ mentioned, in which men will dwell with God, is to be at a future time.

How do we know this was Christ's meaning?

We know because the Bible clearly says Jesus did not ascend to paradise on that day He died! He went to the grave. "For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: 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 Corinthians 15:3-4).

Notice what Christ told Mary soon after He had been resurrected: "Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father ..." (John 20:17). A full three days after His death, Jesus Himself clearly said that He had not yet ascended to heaven!

Jesus lay in the grave for three days and three nights (Matthew 12:40). The Scriptures nowhere say that His body was buried but His soul went elsewhere. Jesus died and was buried. He went only to the grave. Therefore the dying criminal could not have joined Jesus in paradise that day, because He was not even there.

If Jesus were not telling the man he would be in paradise on that day, what was Christ telling him?

The repentant robber had come to his senses while being crucified alongside Jesus (Luke 23:39-41). He said to Christ, "Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom" (verse 42).

The thief, like anyone facing imminent death, sought comfort and assurance. Jesus provided it. His reply, "Assuredly I say to you today" was "a common Hebrew idiom ... which is constantly used for very solemn emphasis" (The Companion Bible, 1990, Appendix 173, p. 192).

Much of the misunderstanding that arises from Christ's statement comes about because the Bible originally included no punctuation. It wasn't until many centuries later that the punctuation marks that we see in our English versions were inserted. When commas were added, Jesus' meaning was distorted and this Hebrew figure of speech obscured.

Jesus never said nor implied that the dying man would be in paradise on that very day. Christ was encouraging him by solemnly assuring him that a time would come, in God's future kingdom on earth, when the man would be resurrected and would see Jesus again. Christ could make this statement because He could see the man's repentant attitude and recognition of Jesus as the Messiah.

We should remember that, when Jesus' accusers and guards brought Him before Pontius Pilate, He told His captor, "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36). In this plain statement He confirmed that His domain, His realm, His government—the paradise of God—belonged to the age to come. God's Kingdom will be revealed at Christ's second coming.

This dramatic event can be properly understood only when we comprehend the time frame of God's plan of salvation and the promised resurrections described in the Bible.

Dead & Buried (David Ben-Ariel YouTube video)
If somebody tells you folks are up in Heaven, they don't know what they're talking about. The Bible reveals the biblical heroes are dead & buried, waiting for the return of Christ and their resurrection.

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