"Today" in Paradise
There were two criminals on the cross next to Jesus. One was repentent, the other one was not.
And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he 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.
- Luke 23:39-43 (KJV)
So Jesus assured the repentent criminal that he would be in paradise with Jesus on that day.
This has created a lot of confusion, because technically the day of paradise has not come yet.
When a person dies, he essentially falls asleep, until the day of resurrection.
- Resurrection / Paradise
Some people have suggested that perhaps the comma was in the wrong place, e.g. it should have said something like "I say today, you will be with me in paradise".
|Original||Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise|
|Comma changed||Verily I say unto thee today, shalt thou be with me in paradise|
Commas weren't part of the original Hebrew and Greek, so it's certainly an interesting argument.
Careful examination of other verses that contain "Verily I say unto thee" reveal that the comma is normally placed after "thee" suggesting that "today" should be placed after the comma. However, it's not 100% conclusive that it must be done in a similar way here, e.g. it could just be the exception to the rule.
Ellen White paraphrases this verse like this:
Verily I say unto thee today, Thou shalt be with Me in paradise.
- Ellen White, The Desire of Ages, p. 750
That's interesting, because the comma here is placed after the word "today".
Here is how she explains it.
I say unto thee today, Thou shalt be with Me in Paradise. Christ did not promise that the thief should be with Him in Paradise that day. He Himself did not go that day to Paradise. He slept in the tomb, and on the morning of the resurrection He said, "I am not yet ascended to My Father." John 20:17. 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.
- Ellen White, The Desire of Ages, p. 751
Note how she uses quotes around the word "Today".
Sometimes we also need to look closer at a word, and its context.
So, for example, the word "today" in Greek can also be translated as "this day". It is a bit of a stretch, but maybe "this day" here refers to where the criminal says "when thou comest into thy kingdom" (the first day in paradise). So, a liberal translation might be something like this: "Verily I say unto thee, [The day that I am in my kingdom] shalt thou be with me in paradise".
That's probably a bit of a stretch, but worth mentioning nonetheless.
Looking at it all again, I think Jesus was talking from the criminal's perspective, e.g. the thief will die that day, will be forgiven, and will wake up in paradise. So from the criminal's point of view it was "today".
No matter how you look at it, I think it's important to see that God will forgive people, even at the last possible moment.