Did the Thief on the Cross Go to Heaven When He Died?

HomeChristianity and the BibleDid the Thief on the Cross Go to Heaven When He Died?


 After all, in John 20:17 (several days later, after His resurrection) Jesus told Mary that He had not yet ascended to His Father…so Paradise cannot be Heaven.

What is Paradise?

Let’s go to Luke 16:19-31… the story of Lazarus and the rich man. Here Jesus tells of “Abraham’s Bosom” and “Hades”… the waiting places of the righteous and unrighteous dead, respectively. There’s a gulf fixed between them that prohibits crossing over, but they are adjoined. The two together were known as Paradise.

Read more about Paradise

1 Peter 3:18-20 tells us that after Jesus died He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient in the days of Noah. That prison is Hades, which is part of Paradise. Hades is more literally translated “the grave.” The translation to “Hell” is an unfortunate one, as Hell is not yet populated. So: Jesus told the truth to Mary about not yet ascending to His Father… and He told the truth to the thief about being together in Paradise THAT DAY. Peter’s words give further evidence that this explanation is accurate.

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16 responses to “Did the Thief on the Cross Go to Heaven When He Died?”

  1. I guess this is news to me. Gonna have to study this one & talk to my pastor about it.

    • Tony says:

      That’s great news, Ron! I certainly wouldn’t want you to take my word for it…better to use articles like mine to begin your own research. Let me know if you find something I’ve missed!

  2. Rob says:

    I get challenged whenever people discuss the passage of time after death. I use this example:

    I was put under for a few hours when I had shoulder surgery. It was not at all like sleep. The anesthesiologist told me to take a deep breath, and then another. In the middle of the second breath I was in the recovery room – several house later.

    I think as far as the theif was concerned, it was “today” at the moment he died, but it could have been millions of years (which I strongly doubt) for all we know.

    Also, I’ve actually come across a person that suggested that, like the story of the adulterous woman that was about to be stoned, this story (in one gospel only) may have been added after the fact. Not that I believe it, but it is one of those things “floating out there”.

    Meanwhile, “Thief”, by Third day, is one of my favorite songs.

    • Tony says:


      Thanks for writing! I like your creativity, but I’m not sure we can responsibly suggest that Jesus was telling the thief that it would “be as if” it was the same day, or that it would simply “feel like” the same day. The word Jesus uses is SEMERON, which means this very day. It would appear a mistake to extrapolate that into “you’ll be with me in Paradise at some unnamed point in the future and, while a lot of time will have passed, it will feel like it’s only been a few minutes.”

      I also like this song:

  3. Rob says:

    I actually take it a step further. I believe that linear time is a part of our creation, and eternity (called paradise in this verse) is outside of that, so, quite literally, the moment the thief died, he was in paradise. So yes, I think it meant “today” as well.

    My time passage thing was more along the lines of “we don’t know how it really works after we die”. But I think it’s a semantics thing. He died that day, so that day he was in paradise, though paradise is outside of the linear time we experience.

    BTW, I am a time traveler. This doesn’t impress anyone because I’m travelling through time at the same speed as everyone else. 🙂

    BTW, I don’t know if I came up with this on my own or if I read it somewhere, but I see time as a current in an ocean called eternity.

    • Tony says:


      You’re not alone in this view, of course. However: there are plenty who believe that ‘eternity’ as it’s understood in Scripture will include time. In this view, our eternal future has a beginning but no end.

  4. Rob says:

    I sang that song in my old prison ministry band. It is especially appropriate for that context.

  5. Jeff Rogers says:

    I believe that as far as God and Christ, sees eternity, that until the thief spoke those words, that “day” , Christ did not see him in Paradise. But, the moment he spoke those words, Christ instantly saw him in Paradise. I believe that we are not in the house of the Lord, until we ” speak ” our confession of repentance and faith. And remember, ” A day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like a day” to God. Let me know how you feel.

    Jeff Rogers

    • Tony says:


      This doesn’t make sense. Jesus and the thief were on crosses at the moment he spoke those words. They were still on crosses after He spoke those words. They were not “in the house of the Lord” yet. Be careful to avoid over-spiritualizing Scripture. Take the plain meaning of a text as the first, most reasonable way to understand it. For example: the passage you refer to (2 Peter 3:8) doesn’t tell us that, for God, Jesus died only two days ago…nor does it tell us that He died 70,000 days ago. It’s a manner of speech, used to communicate a simple truth: that while we may get anxious about God’s timing of things, He is not slow in keeping His promises.

      It’s very important to read what the Bible actually says, and to avoid inserting our own ideas into the text.

  6. Jeff Rogers says:

    I’m going to have to disagree with you on this, respectfully. Why use the word ” today ” at all then? Couldn’t he have just as easily said ” you shall be in the house of the lord”? I’m not claiming to know all there is about God, Christ, and the Bible. But your explanation(to me), doesn’t sound right, either. There is a very important reason he used the word “today”. I sincerely hope you don’t take my response as to be confrontational, by any means. I was just praying for insight. And I most sincerely await your response.
    Your brother in Christ,
    Jeff Rogers

    • Tony says:


      The today isn’t in question. Virtually everyone agrees that Jesus intended the thief to understand that he would be with Jesus on that very day…the same day on which they were crucified. The question is about the where. The Greek word used in the Luke passage is PARADEISOS. It’s used to denote a garden-like park, or heaven, or the abode of the righteous dead also known as Abraham’s Bosom. The passage about the penitent thief is in Luke 23. Jesus spoke of Abraham’s Bosom in Luke 16.

      We have strong evidence that Paradise and Heaven are – or were, before Jesus’ resurrection – two separate places. Jesus promised that the thief would be with Him on that day in Paradise, yet Jesus said after His resurrection that He had not yet ascended to His Father. If He hadn’t been to Heaven yet, where did He go? It seems He and the thief went to the abode of the righteous dead, which Jesus earlier had called Paradise.

      I appreciate your kind words, Jeff. I certainly wouldn’t say you’re being argumentative, or disrespectful. Neither of those would bother me, but you’ve been great. Disagreement isn’t a bad thing. It’s a good thing, as long as we keep looking for the truth. The key is to stick closely to Scripture, be bold enough to ask tough questions, and ask God for wisdom.

  7. Herbert says:

    Herbert.What was the main purpose why God created man and yet He has many angeals?

  8. Ken says:

    Hi Tony. I believe the word “today” should be in question. There are two possibilities to what Jesus said, and it involves the placement of the comma. They are either of the following:

    1. Assuredly I say unto you, today you will be with me in paradise.
    2. Assuredly I say unto you today, you will be with me in paradise.

    I believe Jesus was referring to the latter of the two because it is clear he hadn’t ascended to the Father yet (John 20:11-18).
    And the notion of hades being a different place than hell, or of it being a part of heaven is nowhere in the Bible.
    Scripture is clear in Psalms 6:5 and in many other places that death is similar to a deep sleep where there is no consciousness or sense of the passing of time. the dead remain so until awoken by Christ at His coming.
    So the thief was assured of salvation that very day, but he died and is in the grave awaiting the second coming when he will be able to experience it.

    • Tony says:


      Thanks for writing. What you suggest isn’t a new idea, of course. The evidence, however, is not in your favor. Jesus is the only person in the New Testament who uses the phrase amen lego soi…and He uses it 76 times. I’m sure you know that Koine Greek has no punctuation. You suggest that translators have simply put the comma in the wrong place. To that I say, okay…I follow you. I’m willing to examine the evidence (of course). Since we don’t know from the immediate context where the comma should go, let’s look at the rest of the times He said it, and see if we see a pattern.

      Hmmm. It’s worth noting that every single time Jesus said those words, they stood alone. In every case, translators correctly put a comma after this introductory phrase. There’s no reason to suggest that this is the one time that should be different…not without some evidence. Do you have any evidence that this text should be translated differently? If not, I would suggest that we should understand Jesus to have actually said that the thief would be in Paradise on that specific day. We don’t have to like it. We don’t have to completely understand it. We simply have to take the text as it is, without adding our own preferences to it.

      The question of whether Abraham’s Bosom is a real place is up for debate. The proper translation of this passage, however, is not. I’m willing to see evidence to the contrary, of course…but nobody has produced any in the 30 or so years since I first heard your argument. Let me know if you have any evidence, please. Thanks!

  9. Kim says:

    Still figuring things out ) Jesus died on the cross to defeat death he did that for us so there for I believe the thief went to be with him and I believe that as a Christian when I take my lady breath my soul also shall be with the lord

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