Question: In Luke 23:43 Jesus says He will be in Paradise that day, yet Jesus tells Mary on the day of His resurrection that He has not yet returned to the Father. How are these verses reconciled?
I have underlined three words below that are key to understanding this question:
Luke 23:43 Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
John 20:17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
The passage in John relates how Mary Magdalene encountered Jesus outside the tomb, when He said to her, “Do not hold on to me…” The word Jesus used there was hapto, meaning “to grasp” or “to clutch.” He didn’t want her to cling to Him was because He had work for her to do before He returned to heaven.
However, the verb translated “returned”[i] has the primary meaning of “go up,” “rise up” or “advance.”[ii] And the verb’s tense[iii] tells us that Jesus had not yet entered the condition or state of being ascended to the Father. Jesus had not yet ascended, even though He had been resurrected. “In essence, Jesus was saying. “I have not yet entered into an ascended state.”[iv] The “Ascension” state of Jesus’ existence in heaven is at the right hand of the Father as our High Priest:
Heb. 8:1 The point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven…
The word “Paradise”[v] is Persian, meaning “park” or “garden.” It describes the Eden-like environment in the kingdom of heaven:
Is. 51:3 The LORD will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins; he will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the LORD. Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing.
The apostle Paul testifies to how he once experienced Paradise:
2Cor. 12:2-4 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows—was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell.
Paradise is another term for heaven. If Paul entered Paradise for a brief time while still of this world, the crucified thief could certainly be the first New Testament believer to enter heaven following Jesus’ crucifixion.
Jesus entered heaven the day He died, having overcome sin, death and the grave. That same promise of entering heaven immediately upon death awaits every believer in Jesus:
Rev. 2:7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.
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