Home > Afterlife, Kingdom of God, Theology > The Thief on the Cross – what he asks for

The Thief on the Cross – what he asks for

Here I wish to glance at the story of the repentant criminal on the cross.

Somehow one of them repents and defends Jesus against the other criminal. Then he turns to Jesus and expresses unbelievable faith:

Luke 23:41 “And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”"

This not only means that he recognised Jesus as God’s anointed, the descendant of David who would rule in the Kingdom, but also his faith in the resurrection of Jesus.

He in effect asks for the resurrection once Jesus’ Kingdom comes; “Please, don’t forget me when you usher in your Kingdom”.

Jesus’ answer is comforting:

Luke 23:42 “And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”"

Now, we should know that there were no pointings in the ancient Greek. Thus, we find no commas in the above sentence. Pointings were invented later on. Therefore, it is purely the theology of the translators that determines the place of the comma.

We shall note that Paradise was synonymous with the Kingdom. In the Garden of Eden the Paradise was lost and taken from man, in the Kingdom Paradise is restored. In the LXX [Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Tanakh (OT)] the Greek term is translated as “garden”:

Ezek. 31:8 “The cedars in the garden of God could not rival it, nor the fir trees equal its boughs; the plane trees were as nothing compared with its branches; no tree in the garden of God was like it in beauty. 9 I made it beautiful in the mass of its branches, and all the trees of Eden envied it, that were in the garden of God.”

Since Paradise was to be restored to man, in Jewish mind it temporarily existed with God. Anything God promised, to the Jewish mind it existed with God in heaven – not literally or physically, but in the counsels of God. When God promised something, to the Jews it was as good as done.

Therefore, two interpretations can be offered, one better than the other.

1. Luke 23:42 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

This would mean Jesus was referring to Paradise that was hidden with God until the times of restoration of all things. This interpretation must explain why only Jesus was risen and not the repentant criminal.

Other questions that need to be answered are these:

a.) How could the soul of the thief be with the risen Christ in heaven? What fellowship exist between immaterial souls and people in a physical body.

b.) The Garden of Eden was a physical place in a bountiful, pleasant condition. It was lost, so what really exist with God? Did God take up the trees and the animals and will He bring them back (restore them) to mankind? Or perhaps only the purpose to restore it to mankind exist with him, but then it is not a place to be in.

Indeed, if we take that souls are really tortured by thirst and fire as we find it in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, then we may need to explain what sort of fire can cause pain to the immaterial soul, and what kind of pain receptors it has. How can such a soul thirst and what sort of water can quench the thirst of such souls.

You see, there are difficulties with this view, unless we take that the story is symbolic of the blessings of the Kingdom and the punishment of those who miss out – after the resurrection.

2. Luke 23:42 “And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you today, you will be with me in Paradise.”"

This is the second option. Remember, the thief asks for the resurrection at the ushering in of the Kingdom. Jesus simply promises him what he asked for.

Indeed, the construct sounds somewhat strange to our ears. “I tell you today”. However, it was not so in the first century, as we find Paul using a similar construct:

Acts 20:26 “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you…”

Don’t we also use similar language? I tell you right now… we use it to give emphasis to what we have to say.

  1. hp1181
    15/09/2008 at 4:59 AM

    I am no Greek expert – like everything else you have to do it to get better at it and I have lacked in that area. However, I have to side with the experts on this one. While many people are driven by the theological view, The Greek translators of the major texts rarely let it interfere with their translations. There is never a single translator, but a bevy of them that check over each others work.
    You can find the Byzantine, Textus Receptus, and Nestlé-Aland 26 texts here: http://www.studylight.org/isb/bible.cgi?query=lu+23:43&it=nas&ot=lxx&nt=tr&sr=0 and they all agree that Jesus was saying that the theif would be with Him “that day” in paradise.
    The context of the verse has to be taken with the words that surround it – especially in Greek or Hebrew since word order makes is not always the deciding factor in the text. That said, word order can be used to emphasis what the author is saying.

    I have a Greek professor I will contact and get his view on it and get back to this forum.

  2. 17/09/2008 at 9:07 PM

    Ancient Greek used no pointings, therefore it is up to the producers of Greek texts, such as the TR and NA26, where they place the comma. In such cases as this, it is the theology of the textual expert that determines the placement. I argue that rather than depending on traditional theology the context should determine it, and if the comma is placed after “today”, then Jesus clearly answered the thief’s question about remembering him when he comes to establish his Kingdom.

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