Attempting to interpret the verse “And he [Jesus] said to him [the penitent thief], ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise’” (Lk 23:43, RSV) raises several issues. The first centers on the word “today.” The Greek word used for today is quite distinct. It means “this day,” “now,” “the present day.” As presently punctuated, the verse states Jesus’ promise to be carried out that very day.
But that day Jesus did not go to “Paradise” (more about this term later). He went into the tomb where he was buried for three days. Moreover, according to John 20:17, after His resurrection Jesus said to Mary, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father” (Jn 20:17). So, three days after His death, He had not yet ascended into heaven.
Furthermore, St. Paul lists a number of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances in 1 Corinthians 15:5-7.
If Jesus did promise to take that thief to paradise that day, He did not keep His promise.
The Greek version of this verse has no punctuation. The commas in Luke 23:43 are the result of guesswork on the part of translators. I agree with some modern commentators who contend the comma before “today” should come after. Thus: “I say to you today, you will be with me in Paradise.” This would reflect a common Hebrew idiom used for emphasis: “I declare to you this day, that you shall perish” (Dt 30:18, RSV); “‘I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you” (Acts 20:26, RSV).
Now, “Paradise.” There are varying opinions about the meaning of the term. I find persuasive what the New Oxford Annotated Bible offers. In a footnote to Luke 23:43, this version notes, “Paradise (like ‘Abraham’s bosom’ in 16:22) was a contemporary Jewish term for the lodging place of the righteous dead prior to resurrection.”