What does the Bible say about HEAVEN (Paradise)?

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Jesus made a very special, but often misunderstood, promise to a thief who was on a cross next to his. This promise is used by some who study the Bible to prove that entrance into heaven awaits good people right after they die. Near death, a convicted thief asks Jesus "Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom." (Luke 23:42). Jesus answered "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise." (verse 43). But what do these Bible verses actually mean? Did Jesus give someone who stole eternal life?

Further still, if the thief on the cross did not go to paradise / heaven when he died, then where did he go? Did Jesus receive his Kingdom and appear before God right after death? If not, what happened to him? Does the Bible support heaven as the reward given to the righteous when they are resurrected and does it tell us where it is located?

This article will answer the above questions about heaven right from your Bible. These answers will help us understand some of the TRUTH behind God's great plan for man and the true reward in store for those who love him. We will briefly take a look at four facts that will aid us in finding what Jesus' answer actually means.

  • The length of time Jesus was dead after the cross

  • The time when Jesus is prophecied to receive his kingdom

  • The location of heaven / paradise

  • The correct translation of what Jesus said to the thief

Three days and three nights

Since Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, the Jews demanded a sign to prove His claim. Jesus could give them no better proof than the literal fulfillment of the well-known sign of Jonah. This sign was the ONLY one Jesus gave in the Bible that is a direct response to those who questioned who he really was and demanded he prove it.

"For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be THREE DAYS and THREE NIGHTS in the heart of the earth (dead and buried)." (Matthew 12:39-40)
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Note that Jonah was in the belly of a fish for THREE days and THREE nights. Since we know there are twenty-four hours in a complete day, once we know how long Jesus means by a DAY we'll known how long he was dead as the sign of his Messiahship. We have our answer about the length of day from Jesus himself:

" . . . Are there not TWELVE HOURS in the day?  If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world." (John 11:9)

Twelve hours in a day means a night must be twelve hours long as well (for 24 hours total). Jonah's sign was three days AND three nights long. Three days is equal to 3 times 12 or 36 hours. Three nights are also 36 hours long (3 * 12). Adding them together we get 72 hours, or three complete days!

Jesus could NOT have been in paradise after his death on the cross because he was DEAD - unconscious - and according to his own prophecy would stay in this state for 72 hours. If Jesus was not in paradise / heaven, neither was the thief! But, if Jesus didn't enter it right after death, then when did he? In the very early hours of daylight on April 9, 30 A.D. Jesus told Mary Magdalene directly that he had NOT ascended to heaven yet (John 20:17)!

In fulfillment of his own prophecy Jesus was dead for three complete days, resurrected, then sometime afterward he ascended. The thief who died was still dead and unconscious when Jesus ascended to God. For further study please see our article Three Days and Three Nights.

The Kingdom of God

The thief on the cross asked Jesus to "remember me when You come into Your kingdom" (Luke 23:43). But WHEN, according to the Bible, does Jesus come into his kingdom? According to prophecy, the kingdom Jesus will rule will be instituted at his Second Coming - when he returns as King of kings and Lord of lords:

"And in the days of these (end time) kings the God of heaven will SET UP A KINGDOM which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever." (Daniel 2:44, see also Revelation 11:15, 17)

The Bible is clear that the Kingdom reigned by Jesus Christ will not fully come into existence until the near future. This means the thief on the cross could NOT, upon death, have immediately entered the "kingdom" he requested since it wasn't fully set up! For additional study on this topic please read What is the Kingdom of God?

We now know WHEN the Kingdom comes - but WHERE will it be located?

"'Behold, the days are coming,' says the Lord, 'That I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness (a prophecy of Jesus); A King shall reign and prosper, and execute judgment and righteousness IN THE EARTH.'" (Jeremiah 23:5, see also Revelation 5:10, 20:4)

The Bible clearly states that the Kingdom ruled by Jesus as King will NOT be centered in heaven or the heavens, but instead will be on the EARTH! But, what happens to all the righteous who were resurrected at Jesus' Second Coming (1Thessalonians 4:13-18, 1Corinthians 15:51-52)? The reward of the resurrected, immortal righteous is living and reigning with Christ on EARTH for one thousand years (millenium)! For further study please vist our articles Will Jesus set up his Kingdom on the EARTH? and What is the First Resurrection?

Where is what Jesus promised located?

Jesus' response to the request of the thief spoken from the cross was to promise him paradise (Luke 23:43). But exactly WHERE is it? The only other place the word paradise is mentioned in the KJV translation (other than Paul's passing reference in 2Corinthians 12:4) is in the book of Revelation. In Revelation, Jesus reveals to the Ephesian church (the first of seven prophetic churches) one of the rewards given to those who overcome:

"'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)

Based on the above verse, if we can find where the tree of life is located we will know where paradise resides. Near the very end of Revelation God reveals he will create a New Jerusalem.

"Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God . . ." (Revelation 21:1-3)

"And he (an angel) showed me (John) 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 . . ." (Revelation 22:1-2)

Since the tree of life is located IN the New Jerusalem so is paradise! Also note that the city comes "OUT of heaven" where God resides. This means that heaven and paradise are SEPARATE places and do not refer to the same thing. And where is the new city placed? On the new earth! The Bible says in verse 3 of Revelation 21 above that "the tabernacle of God is WITH MEN..." - meaning where men had lived - EARTH.

The thief on the cross could not have been taken to a heavenly reward upon death because New Jerusalem had not been created - and won't be made - until after the 1,000 year reign of Jesus! He awaits, dead and in the grave, a resurrection that will ultimately fulfill what he requested of Jesus.

An error in punctuation

39. Then one of the malefactors who was hanging there railed at Him, saying, "If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us." 40. But the other one answered and rebuked him, saying, "Do not even you fear God, you who are under the same condemnation? 41. And we indeed justly, for we are receiving due payment for what we did; but this man did nothing wrong." 42. Then he said to Jesus, "Remember me, Lord, when You come into Your kingdom." 43. And Jesus said to him, "Truly, I tell you today, you shall be with Me in paradise." (Luke 23:39-43, HBFV)

The NKJV renders the last part of verse 43 of Luke 23 as the following.

"Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise." (Luke 23:43, NKJV)

It is hard to believe that a simple misplaced punctuation mark, a little comma, would be the catalyst for a MAJOR false teaching. Yet this is exactly what has occurred in Luke 23:43. Not only does the NKJV translation have a comma before the word "today" in Luke 23:43, but also the KJV, NIV, NASB, HCSB (which has a colon before the word "today"), NRSV, NLT and other Bibles as well.

Look again at the above NKJV translation of Luke 23:43. The original Greek didn't have punctuation marks as we do today. Translators placed a comma BEFORE the word "today" in the sentence in an attempt to clarify the sentence's meaning. Instead, their punctuation placement gives the false impression that Jesus entered heaven / paradise on the day he died. As we have seen, after the cross Jesus was completely dead and unconscious for three days and three nights in the grave. Based on the Bible and the prophecy given by Jesus himself that he would be dead for seventy-two hours (Matthew 12:39-40) it was NOT POSSIBLE he was taken anywhere after his death except the grave - and therefore did not take the thief into heaven. What should be the correct punctuation of Jesus' answer? The correct translation of Luke 23:43 is in the above quote from the Holy Bible in Its Original Order - A Faithful Version (HBFV) translation.

The correct punctuation of this verse shows that Jesus was stressing the TIME his promise was made, not the time he would be in paradise or heaven! Other verses also stress the TIME something is said or done and not the time the event is to occur. For example:

"When you beget children and grandchildren and have grown old in the land, and act corruptly . . . and do evil in the sight of the Lord your God to provoke Him to anger, I call heaven and earth to witness against you THIS DAY, that you will soon utterly perish from the land which you cross over the Jordan to possess . . . " (Deuteronomy 4:25-26)

God is emphasizing the DAY he warned the children of Israel that there would be consequences if they sinned. Putting a comma BEFORE the words "this day" would imply the Israelites were going to die right after God spoke to them - which obviously makes no sense since the Israelites DID travel through the Jordan with Joshua and began to take possession of their inheritance.

In conclusion

Jesus didn't promise the thief on the cross immediate entrance into heaven / paradise - a reward that the Bible states even King David had not yet received (Acts 2:29). Jesus did see, however, the beginning of repentance that he had. He knew that the man would be resurrected in God's second resurrection of the dead and given a full chance at salvation. From his attitude, Jesus knew that the man would fully repent, receive God's spirit, and eventually be given the gift of eternal life. For more on the resurrections of the dead please read How many resurrections from the DEAD are there?

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