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You say that people don’t go to heaven when they die. So why did Jesus tell the thief on the cross that he was going to paradise?

Ed: CHRIST WAS CRUCIFIED along with two criminals.

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:39–43).

Where did Jesus go on the day that he died? The Bible is clear that he didn’t go to heaven. He spent three days in the grave, then he rose to life, and 40 days later he ascended to heaven (Acts 1:11). Shortly afterwards the Apostle Peter was explaining the reality of Christ’s resurrection, and he quoted a Psalm which was a prophecy of the resurrection: ‘You will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption’ (Acts 2:27). Hades is the word that is often translated ‘hell’—it simply means the grave. Literally, Christ went to hell when he died! (That’s another subject.)

So what was the promise that Jesus made to the criminal? He used carefully chosen words of encouragement.

Firstly, he used the word ‘paradise’ which is an unusual way to refer to the Kingdom of God. Paradise is a Persian word which originally meant a king’s pleasure-garden, and so it’s a very apt description of the Kingdom when the earth will be restored to its original beautiful state, like the Garden of Eden (Isaiah 51:3).

Secondly, he assured his companion that his suffering would be short. Crucifixion is a horrific method of torture, in which the victim would often take days to die. But because this was the eve of a Jewish holy day and the authorities wanted the bodies out of the way, they gave them a swift death (John 19:31–37)—so the man’s suffering was cut short.

For those who die in faith, death is merely a sleep, awaiting the return of Christ when ‘many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt’ (Daniel 12:2).

Jesus’ final promise which he made to his faithful companion in suffering will be fulfilled—as far as he is concerned it will be the same day when he awakes to meet Christ in his glory.

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