The Apple Of God's Eye

May 21, 2010

Did The Thief On The Cross Make It To Heaven?

Filed under: Heaven — melchia @ 1:25 am
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Jesus said He would be in the grave three days and three nights after His crucifixion. Then could the thief have been with Christ in Paradise that very day?

Notice Luke 23:43 carefully:

And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43).

Jesus said that the crucified malefactor would be with Him in Paradise. If we can prove where Jesus went when He died, then we can prove if the malefactor really went to Paradise that day.

Turn to I Corinthians 15:3-4. Paul reiterates: “For I delivered to you” — speaking to Christians — “first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.”

Notice that Jesus was buried — it does not say the body was buried, and that the soul went to Paradise. It reads that He — Jesus, Himself — was buried. He was dead for three days. He died for our sins. Then He came to life.

Now, if Jesus Christ was dead for three days and three nights, certainly the thief on the cross was so also. In fact, he is still dead to this day. Jesus plainly taught, “No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man” (Jesus Himself — John 3:13). Astoundingly, that scripture means just what it says: No man — not Abraham, Isaac, Jacob or the thief on the cross — no one — has gone to heaven! There are no souls of the saved in heaven. It cannot therefore be the reward of the saved.

People do not like to believe this plain statement of Jesus. Yet even King David, said to be a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22) and one who found favor with God (Acts 7:46), was not in heaven even after Jesus’ death. As the apostle Peter said, “Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day” (Acts 2:29). Peter then added, “For David did not ascend into the heavens” (verse 34).

We have now seen that heaven is God’s throne, and we have read that it most assuredly is not the abode of the deceased souls of the righteous. But, then, what is the future hope and goal of the true Christian?

Put briefly, the hope and goal of a Christian is not to enter heaven and play a harp for eternity, but to be born into the Family of God (as a member of the God Family and hence become a literal God) and rule in God’s government and Kingdom with eternal life from on the earth. See Revelation 5:10, Daniel 2:44, 7:27 and Matthew 5:5.

Even the plain scriptures cited above, showing that heaven is not the abode of the righteous dead nor the promised reward of the saved, are scarcely ever sufficient to answer the objections of those who believe that Jesus promised heaven to the good who die. Rather, they point to numerous scriptures that, to their minds at least, seem to say we do go to heaven at death.

For example, some will point to John 14:1-4, which quotes Jesus telling the disciples that in His “Father’s house are many mansions” that He was going to prepare for them, and say this passage proves we go to heaven.

But these verses say no such thing. For the Father’s “house” is not heaven, but the Temple of God (John 2:16), which had many chambers or “mansions,” each for the use of a specific job or function. The disciples correctly understood Jesus to be saying that in His Kingdom were many responsible positions, and that He was going to prepare a job for them, and that He would bring it with Him when He comes again (John 14:3, Revelation 22:12) to set up His Kingdom on earth.

Others turn to Philippians 1:23-24 and quote Paul’s statement that he desired to “depart and be with Christ” as a proof text for going to heaven at death. But Paul does not in this verse say where he will meet Jesus Christ, nor when. Paul does in other verses clearly show that he and the rest of the righteous will meet Jesus at the time of the resurrection, and on earth in its “clouds,” at His Second Coming (I Thessalonians 4:16-17), not in heaven.

And consider this: If the saved souls of millions are now in heaven, why must there be a resurrection of the dead in the first place (I Corinthians 15)? Obviously because the dead are just that — dead and in their graves, not in heaven.

Likewise, the oft-quoted scripture saying “great is your reward in heaven” (Matthew 5:12) is misunderstood by many. Too often verse 5 of that chapter is not read, where Jesus says the righteous will “inherit the earth.” Nor is this section compared with I Peter 1:3-4 which says a Christian’s reward is “reserved in heaven,” and Revelation 22:12, which shows that — although the reward is reserved in heaven — Jesus will bring it with Him and give it to us when He returns to earth.

There are also other misunderstood passages of Scripture such as those concerning the true fate of Enoch and Elijah, whom many falsely suppose went to heaven based upon misunderstood verses, or the story of the thief on the cross, Lazarus and the rich man and Paul’s vision of heaven in II Corinthians 12:1-6.

Key verses

Aside from a knowledge of the oft-misunderstood verses just mentioned, the whole subject of heaven can be grasped by remembering relatively few scriptures. The main ones are Matthew 5:34, which says heaven is God’s throne; Revelation 4, which describes that throne; John 3:13, which states no man has ascended to heaven; and Acts 2:29-35, which states that — even after Jesus Christ’s ascension — David the righteous had not gone to heaven.

Also, it is helpful to remember a few verses showing that God’s Kingdom will be on earth (Matthew 5:5, Daniel 2:44, 7:27, Revelation 5:10).

Heaven is God’s throne and current seat of government, but it is not the promised reward of the saved.

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