Question: Jesus promised one of the thieves crucified with Him: “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). What and where is “Paradise,” and did the thief go there with Jesus that day?
Answer: The Bible shows that the dead are in the grave, awaiting the resurrection; they are not in heaven. The Apostle Peter said: " For David did not ascend into the heavens" (Acts 2:34). Christ said: "No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven" (John 3:13).
Does this mean that the thief is in a special place called "Paradise" that is not "heaven"? No. The Bible clearly shows where Paradise is located. The Apostle Paul tells of a man who was taken in a vision to God’s throne—"how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter" (2 Corinthians 12:1–4). Paradise is located in the presence of God’s throne—in heaven.
What is Paradise? Paradise means a "garden, pleasure ground: grove, park"—"a grand enclosure or preserve... shady and well watered... enclosed by walls" (Thayer’s Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament).
The Bible describes what Paradise is like. "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God" (Revelation 2:7). Now notice Revelation 22:1–2: "And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations."
These verses refer to "the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God" (Revelation 21:2). The New Jerusalem, which will come out of heaven after the earth is made into a "new earth" (2 Peter 3:10-13; Revelation 21:1), will contain the Tree of Life. The Paradise of God, near or in the presence of His throne, is a park or garden that will ultimately be found on the new earth!
Did the thief go there with Jesus on the day of his death? Note that Jesus Himself did not go to Paradise, or heaven, on the day He died. As Paul wrote: "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). Christ was sealed in the tomb for three full days and three full nights. Notice what He told Mary when she came to the tomb, after Christ had risen: "Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father… and your Father, and to My God and your God" (John 20:17).
What did Christ really say to the thief? Many readers are misled by improper punctuation in the English-language translation of the inspired Greek text. Most English-language translations wrongly place a comma between "you" and "today." As one commentary explains: "The interpretation of this verse depends entirely on punctuation, which rests wholly on human authority, the Greek manuscripts having no punctuation of any kind till the ninth century, and then it is only a dot (middle of the line) separating each word" (Companion Bible, Appendix §173).
Punctuated correctly in English, this verse should read: "Assuredly, I say to you today, you will be with me in Paradise." In Luke 23:43, Jesus was not making a promise that He failed to keep; He was stressing that when Paradise comes, the thief will be there with Him!