During this week which we observe our Lord’s crucifixion and celebrate his resurrection, countless are the people who have found comfort in the words that Jesus spoke to the thief on the cross: “Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43) Jesus said this in response to his request: “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.” I, along with countless millions of Christians, have understood his request as a simple statement of faith and Jesus’ response as reassuring him that he would be in heaven with him that day. “Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.”
Mormonism, however, rejects that interpretation. “To the thief on the cross who asked to be remembered after death, the Savior responded to give him what hope he could: ‘Today shalt thou be with me in paradise, ‘ That is to say, today you shall be with me in the world of spirits, where you will be taught the gospel and your inquires will be answered. (See Smith, Teachings, p.309) Jesus did not lend any credence to a death-bed repentance or (sic) the malefactor. What Jesus did do was give recognition to the seeds of faith and repentance which were evidenced by a penitent man. As always, the Lord’s efforts were directed toward offering as much hope as possible to one who would turn from darkness unto that everlasting light.” (Life and Teachings. . .p. 186, emphasis added)
The LDS Bible Dictionary says this: “For example, when Jesus purportedly said to the thief on the cross, ‘Today shalt thou be with me in paradise’, the Bible rendering is incorrect. The statement would more accurately read, ‘Today shalt thou be with me in the word of spirits’ since the thief was not ready for paradise.”
The two different interpretations of this statement is another in a long list of examples illustrating the great difference between Mormonism and Christianity on the most fundamental of all doctrines, namely, how a person will live eternally with Jesus. Again this Holy Week I will be praising my Savior for the incredible love and acceptance he showed the thief – and he has shown me.