Today Is The Day Of Salvation
One of the proofs offered by those that reject the doctrine of conditional immortality is the conversation shared by the Lord Jesus and the thief on the cross. "And he (the thief) said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise." There has been some disagreement over the meaning of the Lord's words, and even some have questioned the punctuation in this verse. Those who teach that after death a person becomes a conscious disembodied spirit say: "See there! The Lord told the dying man that he would be in paradise with him today!" To them, this is proof that people are alive, even when they are dead (or in the sleep of death). In response, some argue that the punctuation is incorrect in this passage, and that it is acceptable to read this verse in this way: "Verily I say unto thee today, thou shalt be with me in paradise." By moving the comma behind the word "today", they say, it gives the true meaning of the verse. While I believe the biblical evidence points to the intermediate state being one of unconscious sleep, I do not like it when people begin changing the scriptures, even if it is punctuation. In fact, I do not believe this explanation is even necessary to show that this verse does not have the meaning that traditionalists think it does. After mentioning the view that the comma should be moved in this passage, Warren Prestidge, a Baptist pastor, had this to say at www.afterlife.co.nz:
"However, perhaps even more likely is the view, that Jesus is using the word “today” in an extended sense, to refer to the whole era of salvation inaugurated by His ministry, death and resurrection, to be consummated at His return: “the time of messianic salvation.” The special point of the word “today”, here, is to assert that the cross itself, which appears to be the ultimate disproof of Jesus’ messiahship (Lk. 23:39), is really the ordained path to His glory (Lk. 24:46), the very basis upon which He is able to guarantee His kingly salvation to the penitent criminal."
Pastor Prestidge then references Eduard Schweizer (1913–2006):
"This is how one of the most eminent New Testament scholars of our time sees it:
Jesus’ words to the crucified thief in 23:43 are not referring to a disembodied existence…. It is unlikely that Luke is thinking of a paradisaical intermediate state before the resurrection of Jesus on Easter and of the criminal on the last day. Just as he stresses the ‘today’ of salvation in 4:21…and 19:9, so he does here, albeit in combination with ‘you will be,’ since the paradise, the fulfilment, lies on the other side of earthly pain and struggle."
The full article can be read here.
In keeping with the idea that the word "today" can mean more than just this very day, I agree with Pastor Prestidge that the word can take on an extended sense. Paul had this to say to the Corinthians: "For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation." Paul did not mean that the day he was writing this letter was the only day of salvation, he was speaking of today, in an extended sense, as the time of salvation. This seems to make more sense, especially in light of the fact that The Lord Jesus and the thief did not die on the same day anyway.
The Lord told the thief he would be with him in paradise at about the 6th hour, which would have been noon. The Lord died at the 9th hour (Matthew 27:46), which in Hebrew time was around 3:00PM. There was darkness on the earth until the 9th hour when the Lord died. Matthew 27:57 states that "when the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathaea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus's disciple." Joseph asked Pilate for the body of the Lord Jesus in the evening, which would have been around nightfall, the beginning of another day for the Hebrews, which marked the starting of the day of preparation for the sabbath (Luke 23:54). If we go to John 19:31-33, we read: "The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. Then came the soldiers, and brake the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs." The point to understand here is that the Lord Jesus had already died before this start of the new day. The two men being crucified beside the Lord had not yet died and their legs were broken to hasten the process.
With this information before us, one might wonder how far some people are willing to push their interpretation of the Lord's use of the word "today" as meaning the very day he spoke those words.