Luke 23:42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

What did Christ christ_thievesmean when He said these important words?  Today, we will examine these words in the context of other passages to determine if our belief conforms to what the Bible actually says.  First, let us consider what our Lord Jesus told His disciples prior to His crucifixion:
John 14:1“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”  Notice Christ declared that He will return at a later time to take His disciples to be with Him.  In other words, Christ was going ahead of the disciples to prepare the place for them.  He did not imply at any time that the disciples would go with Him.
Next, consider what Peter said in Acts 2:

Acts 2:34 For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, “‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand 35 until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”

Peter made it clear that David did not ascend into heaven.  Instead, 1 Kings 2:10 says “Then David rested with his ancestors and was buried in the City of David.”
Finally, Paul encouraged the Thessalonian saints with these words:
1 Thess. 4: 13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.
So when the Lord Jesus returns, those who are asleep in Christ will rise first.  Even more important, notice what Paul wrote to the saints: “For we believe that Jesus died and rose again.”  Our belief is that Christ ascended into heaven after God raised Him from the dead.
In light of these passages, how should we understand the statement Christ made to the thief on the cross?  To interpret Christ’s statement as saying “today, I am going to paradise and I am going to take you with me” would not be consistent with other passages in the Bible.  An understanding that would be consistent would be to interpret Christ’s statement as saying “this day, I am making a declaration that at the appropriate time, you will be with me in paradise.”  Paul admonished us not to be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.  Believing the gospel of the kingdom is the first step in transforming our minds in order that we may understand what was written.