Where’s the Thief on the Cross? Hades or Heaven?
By Dr. Nicholas Schaser – Israel Bible Center
In Luke’s story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, Jesus describes both individuals dying and going to “Hades” (ᾅδης; Hebrew Sheol), the realm of the dead (Lk 16:23). However, this view of the afterlife seems to conflict with what Jesus tells his neighbor while he’s on the cross: “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Lk 23:43). Jesus’ promise seems to suggest that after he and the robber die that day, the two will be together in heaven. So, which is it? Do the deceased go to Hades or Heaven?
What is Paradise?
In ancient Jewish-Greek literature, “paradise” usually refers either the Garden of Eden in Genesis or the heavenly realm of God. According to the Septuagint, “The Lord God planted a paradise in Eden and placed there the human he had formed” (Genesis 2:8 LXX). Speaking of God’s dwelling above the earthly realm, Paul describes a visionary experience in which he saw the “third heaven”—a place that he calls “paradise” (2 Cor 12:1-4). Revelation combines these two locations when Jesus declares, “to the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (Rev 2:7). But in their visions of the divine abode, neither Paul nor John has entered the afterlife; they see the heavenly realm in visions, but they have not “died and gone to heaven.”
A Paradise in Hades
Jesus himself goes to Hades (Sheol) after he dies, not to heaven. In a speech to the people of Jerusalem, Peter cites Psalm 16:10—“For you will not abandon my life to Sheol (שאול), or let your holy one see decay”—as a prophecy of Jesus’ resurrection. The disciple asserts that the psalm “foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to Hades (ᾅδης), nor did his flesh see decay. This Jesus God raised up [from Hades], and of that we are all witnesses” (Acts 2:31-32).
Thus, when Jesus tells the thief on the cross, “today you will be with me in paradise” (Lk 23:43), the place that they will both be that day is Hades. But there is a paradise in Sheol where Lazarus resides in the “bosom of Abraham” (16:22)—a place of post mortem peace and repose with the rest of the righteous departed who await resurrection.
Just as Jesus is raised from Sheol after three days, so too will those who follow him be raised on the last day.