A passage of Scripture that leads many to conclude that there is a transition at death and that death is not the end of life but rather the beginning of a new existence is Luke 23:43. Jesus, speaking to the thief on the cross just before His death, said,
Luke 23:43, “…Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with Me in paradise.”
However, the comma was placed in the wrong place by the translators. The correct reading of this verse should read:
Luke 23:43, “…Verily I say unto thee To day, thou shalt be with me in paradise.”
If Christ went to Paradise that very day, He would surely have gone into the very presence of God. But Jesus did not go to his Father that day, for he said to Mary three days later, after he had been raised from the dead, “…I am not yet ascended to My Father…” (John 20:17). Christ was resurrected for 40 days (Acts 1:3) and ascended to the father only after his 40 days were fulfilled (Acts 1:9-11). Therefore, they were not together anywhere that day, except on the cross.
Christ did not contradict Himself. Notice the punctuation of Luke 23:43. The whole meaning of this verse hinges on the placement of the comma. With this in mind, remember that the punctuation in the Bible is a relatively new addition. The early manuscripts of the scripture did not use the comma. There was no punctuation in the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts. The comma was introduced by Manutius, a learned printer, who lived in Venice in the fifteenth century. The translators of the bible, in using their best judgment, placed the punctuation marks we now have in our Bibles. Words are inspired by God, punctuation is not.
The change of a comma can make a great difference in the meaning of a sentence. If you write, “The teacher says my boy is no good,” you mean one thing. You mean something very different, however, if you add two commas. “The teacher, says my boy, is no good.” The words are the same, but the meaning is not at all the same.
Christ did not promise that the thief would be with Him in Paradise that day. Jesus Himself did not go to Paradise that day but slept in the tomb. But on the day of the crucifixion, the day of apparent defeat and darkness, the promise was given. “Today” while dying upon the cross as a malefactor, Christ assures the poor sinner, “Thou shalt be with Me in Paradise.”Instead of losing any meaning, the word today takes on a real significance. The comma belongs after the word “Today.”
A similar sentence construction may be found in the writings of the prophet Zechariah. “Turn you to the strong hold, ye prisoners of hope: even today do I declare that I will render double unto thee” (Zechariah 9:12). The context shows that the rendering “double” was not to take place on that very “today” but was a future event. It is evident that “today” qualifies “declare.” Even so, if the “today” of Luke 23:43, which is a parallel to the language of Zechariah, is allowed to modify “say,” there is no contradiction between the message to the thief and the words of Jesus to Mary.
When Jesus made this statement to the thief, it was in a reply to what the thief said to Jesus:
Luke 23:42-43, “And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee To day, thou shalt be with me in paradise. “
Notice, the thief said “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy Kingdom.” He did not say “when thou goest.” He didn’t go anywhere except the grave to go to sleep. It is quite evident that the thief understood that Christ had taught that He would come again.