Death and the Afterlife
Now let us look at one of the chief objections which has been raised against the Bible doctrine of death and the soul. There are a few ambiguous verses which can be understood only as they are viewed in the light of all the other verses on the subject. One example of this is found in the experience of the thief on the cross. At first glance it seems that Jesus was telling the dying criminal that he would go to heaven on the very same day he died.
In the context, the thief said to Jesus, in the last moments of his life...
Luke 23:42 "... Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom."And Jesus replied to him...
Luke 23:43 "... Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise."
Does this contradict all the other verses we have read on this subject? It certainly sounds as though Jesus and the thief would go that very day into God's presence. Let's allow other verses to clear up the mystery - we must always let scripture interpret scripture.
Three days after he spoke to the repentant thief, Jesus met Mary near the open tomb. As she fell to worship at His feet, Jesus said...
John 20:17 "... Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God".
This statement of Jesus brings us to a puzzling enigma. If He had not yet gone to heaven, how could He have assured the thief three days earlier that they would go there together that same day? And please take note that Paradise and the Father's throne are in the very same place. John in Revelation 2 said the tree of life was located "in the midst of the paradise of God".
Revelation 2:7 "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God."
Then in Revelation 22:2 he explained that the tree arched over the river of life, which in turn flowed out from the throne of God. This definitely places God's presence in Paradise. Obviously, if Jesus had not gone to His Father by the time He was resurrected He could not have ascended on the day He died three days earlier.
This mystery is cleared quickly when we consider the context of Luke 23:43. We have to be aware that the original manuscripts of the Bible were written in one continuous line of script. There was no separation of words, sentences, verses or chapters. In 1611 when the King James Version was translated, scholars separated the words, inserted punctuation marks, and divided the script into verses and chapters. These men were not inspired, although they generally did a tremendous work in their assigned task. By necessity they had to put in commas often to give meaning to the translated words. In Luke 23:43 they added a comma before the word "today" which makes Jesus say, "Verily I say unto thee, today shalt thou be with me in paradise."
In this instance the comma should have been placed after the word "today" instead of before it. Then the sentence would read, "Verily I say unto thee today, Thou shalt be with me in paradise." This would bring the record into perfect harmony with all the rest of the Bible.
In other words, Jesus was saying to the thief, "I give you the assurance today — when it seems that I can save no one, when my own disciples have forsaken me and I am dying as a condemned felon — I give you the assurance today that you will be with me in Paradise."
Is this tampering with the sacred record? No. The translators were no more divinely inspired than we are. Only the original authors were inspired. Placing the comma after the word "today" is just as true to the original text as placing it before the word. The only difference is that one way brings total harmony in the scriptures and the other brings hopeless contradiction. It takes no supernatural insight to decide which place is correct for the comma.
Keep in mind that the thief was only asking to be remembered when Jesus came into His kingdom. He did not request any reward on that day of his approaching death. In the same vein, we find the great apostle to the Gentiles anticipating his departing this life:
2 Timothy 4:6-8 "For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. 7 I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. 8 HENCEFORTH there is LAID UP for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me AT THAT DAY: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love HIS APPEARING."
Just as the receptive thief and the anointed Paul both focused their hope of eternal reward upon the coming of Christ's kingdom, so may we strive to also be remembered in that day.