“Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, ‘If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.’ But the other, answering rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise’” (Luke 23:39-43).
Jesus told the thief that “Today you will be with Me in Paradise,” and many have taken that to mean that Jesus didn’t actually go to area of the damned in Hades. They have taken that to mean that, what we know as Abraham’s Bosom (Luke 16:19-31), was where Jesus went; that Abraham’s Bosom was the paradise Jesus was speaking of. Is this True?
There are only three times this word “paradise” is used: Luke 23:43; 2 Corinthians 12:4; and Revelation 2:7.
Paul said that one has to be “caught up into Paradise”: “And I know such a man — whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows — how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter” (2 Corinthians 12:3-4). No one has been caught up to Sheol (Hades). In fact, Sheol is always said to be below us:
“Hell from beneath is excited about you, to meet you at your coming. Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol” (Isaiah 14:9 & 15).
Jesus said, “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). The tree of life is in paradise. I don’t see it ever being in Hades. We know it’s in the new heaven and new earth (Revelation 22:14), and it was in the garden of Eden (Genesis 2:9), but I know of nowhere that it was ever in Hades.
Strong’s Concordance gives the definition of paradise as a park-like place: g3857. παράδεισος paradeisos; of Oriental origin (compare h6508); a park, i.e. (specially), an Eden (place of future happiness, “paradise”): — paradise.
I suppose with that definition in mind Abraham’s Bosom was a paradise. It certainly was better than the other area of Sheol. But I don’t think Jesus was referring to Himself as going to Abraham’s Bosom that day. Consider what the thief was asking:
“Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). Well, Jesus didn’t come into His kingdom until after the resurrection. That day on the cross Jesus was bearing our sin and curse. He was bearing our punishment for sin. Our unrighteousness. If He didn’t, we could never go to heaven. Abraham’s Bosom was full of Old Testament righteous people. Why couldn’t they go to heaven? Because righteousness was just credited to them (Galatians 3:6; Genesis 15:6; Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:17). Those who believed God’s word and lived by it, right standing with God was accounted to them. But spiritually, by nature, they were sinners. God couldn’t have that sinful nature polluting heaven. It wasn’t until Jesus was resurrected and presented Himself before the throne of God that people could be made spiritually righteous: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all thing have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17); “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3); “Put on the new man [one that is born again] which was created according to God, in righteousness and true holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). You see, until the new birth was available, no one could go to heaven.
What Jesus was telling the thief was a guarantee that the thief would be with Jesus when Jesus inherited God’s kingdom. “Today you shall be with me in paradise” means, we could say, “Today is the day of your salvation. When I’m raised from the dead and receive the kingdom, I’ll raise you from the dead and you’ll be with me.”
Why is this important? Mainly because if Jesus only went to Abraham’s Bosom, then He didn’t bare the punishment of our sins. Abraham’s Bosom was the place for the righteous dead until they could go to heaven after Jesus’ resurrection. If Jesus only went to Abraham’s Bosom, then He would have been only a righteous man awaiting redemption. But Jesus IS the redeemer who was “delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification” (Romans 4:25); Because He never sinned, Jesus could be raised up from death a righteous man who had taken the sin of the world to Himself. His justification in turn became ours when we receive Him as our Lord and Savior. Our right standing with God is the same as Jesus’ because it’s Jesus’ right standing we’ve been given. It’s not our self-righteousness anymore. Jesus became “a curse for us (for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’)” (Galatians 3:13). The punishment of Hades is for the cursed.
The thief was saved from eternal punishment that day as he hung on a cross beside Jesus.