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Thursday, March 7, 2013

What is the Paradise That Jesus Promised to the Evildoer Who Died Alongside Him? (Luke 23:43)

Luke’s account shows that an evildoer, being executed alongside Jesus Christ, spoke words in Jesus’ defense and requested that Jesus remember him when he ‘got into his kingdom.’ Jesus’ reply was: “Truly I tell you today, You will be with me in Paradise.” (Lu 23:39-43) The punctuation shown in the rendering of these words must, of course, depend on the translator’s understanding of the sense of Jesus’ words, since no punctuation was used in the original Greek text. Punctuation in the modern style did not become common until about the ninth century C.E. Whereas many translations place a comma before the word “today” and thereby give the impression that the evildoer entered Paradise that same day, there is nothing in the rest of the Scriptures to support this. Jesus himself was dead and in the tomb until the third day and was then resurrected as “the firstfruits” of the resurrection. (Ac 10:40; 1Co 15:20; Col 1:18) He ascended to heaven 40 days later.—Joh 20:17; Ac 1:1-3, 9. [Also see Luke 23:43 - Punctuation and the New World Translation; "Truly I tell you today,..." - Search For Bible Truths]

The evidence is, therefore, that Jesus’ use of the word “today” was not to give the time of the evildoer’s being in Paradise but, rather, to call attention to the time in which the promise was being made and during which the evildoer had shown a measure of faith in Jesus. It was a day when Jesus had been rejected and condemned by the highest-ranking religious leaders of his own people and was thereafter sentenced to die by Roman authority. He had become an object of scorn and ridicule. So the wrongdoer alongside him had shown a notable quality and commendable heart attitude in not going along with the crowd but, rather, speaking out in Jesus’ behalf and expressing belief in his coming Kingship. Recognizing that the emphasis is correctly placed on the time of the promise’s being made rather than on the time of its fulfillment, other translations, such as those in English by Rotherham and Lamsa, those in German by Reinhardt and W. Michaelis, as well as the Curetonian Syriac of the fifth century C.E., rendered the text in a form similar to the reading of the New World Translation, quoted herein.

As to the identification of the Paradise of which Jesus spoke, it is clearly not synonymous with the heavenly Kingdom of Christ. Earlier that day entry into that heavenly Kingdom had been held out as a prospect for Jesus’ faithful disciples but on the basis of their having ‘stuck with him in his trials,’ something the evildoer had never done, his dying on a stake alongside Jesus being purely for his own criminal acts. (Lu 22:28-30; 23:40, 41) The evildoer obviously had not been “born again,” of water and spirit, which Jesus showed was a prerequisite to entry into the Kingdom of the heavens. (Joh 3:3-6) Nor was the evildoer one of the ‘conquerors’ that the glorified Christ Jesus stated would be with him on his heavenly throne and that have a share in “the first resurrection.”—Re 3:11, 12, 21; 12:10, 11; 14:1-4; 20:4-6.

Some reference works present the view that Jesus was referring to a paradise location in Hades or Sheol, supposedly a compartment or division thereof for those approved by God. The claim is made that the Jewish rabbis of that time taught the existence of such a paradise for those who had died and were awaiting a resurrection. Regarding the teachings of the rabbis, Hastings’ Dictionary of the Bible states: “The Rabbinical theology as it has come down to us exhibits an extraordinary medley of ideas on these questions, and in the case of many of them it is difficult to determine the dates to which they should be assigned. . . . Taking the literature as it is, it might appear that Paradise was regarded by some as on earth itself, by others as forming part of Sheol, by others still as neither on earth nor under earth, but in heaven . . . But there is some doubt as respects, at least, part of this. These various conceptions are found indeed in later Judaism. They appear most precisely and most in detail in the mediaeval Cabbalistic Judaism . . . But it is uncertain how far back these things can be carried. The older Jewish theology at least . . . seems to give little or no place to the idea of an intermediate Paradise. It speaks of a Gehinnom for the wicked, and a Gan Eden, or garden of Eden, for the just. It is questionable whether it goes beyond these conceptions and affirms a Paradise in Sheol.”—1905, Vol. III, pp. 669, 670.

Even if they did teach such a thing, it would be most unreasonable to believe that Jesus would propagate such a concept, in view of his condemnation of the non-Biblical religious traditions of the Jewish religious leaders. (Mt 15:3-9) Likely the paradise truly familiar to the Jewish malefactor to whom Jesus spoke was the earthly Paradise described in the first book of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Paradise of Eden. That being so, Jesus’ promise would reasonably point to a restoration of such earthly paradisaic condition. His promise to the wrongdoer would therefore give assured hope of a resurrection of such an unrighteous one to an opportunity to life in that restored Paradise.—Compare Ac 24:15; Re 20:12, 13; 21:1-5; Mt 6:10. -- "Paradise", Insight on the Scriptures, Vol. 2

(For more, see the Paradise Category.)


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