The good thief’s request, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” was granted. Jesus said, “this day you will be with me in paradise.” The most noticeable feature of Jesus response is “this day.” It’s hard to believe the concept I was taught as a child of purgatory. The word “purgatory” comes from a Latin term that means, “to purge.” Purgatory, according to Catholicism, is a place of purification for those who are not bad enough to go to Hell, but not good enough to go to Heaven. So one spends a duration of time in Purgatory and then finally he can go to Heaven. How long it takes in purgatory to purge away our sins before we are acceptable for heaven differs for everyone. Time in Purgatory can be shortened by prayers, by good works, by attending Mass, by penance, and by the purchasing of indulgences. Jesus’ words in the bible, like these to the dying thief, must be twisted all out of context to allow for the doctrine of purgatory. Even “The New Catholic Encyclopedia” frankly acknowledges that “the doctrine of purgatory is not explicitly stated in the Bible.” It’s not even implied, in my opinion.

When we leave this world, believers go immediately to be in the presence of Christ. I don’t believe the Bible support “soul sleep” or any kind of intermediate waiting place. Paul wrote the Philippians about his struggle with wanting to live or die and concluded that in the end his desire was to “to depart and be with Christ.” Further, Paul wrote to the Corinthians and said, “absent from the body means to be present with the Lord.” More importantly, Jesus words were spoken to this dying thief with the emphasis on “today.” To counter that promise with the prediction of more pain and suffering in the world to come for who knows how long, before we got to be with Jesus, is to destroy the comfort and assurance God’s word was meant to give us. Further, when Jesus said he would go and prepare a place for us, his words made it clear that it was something he was looking forward to also. He even said he would not drink of the wine cup of fellowship until he drinks it with us in heaven, meaning how important the time of his reunion with every believer. No, when Jesus said “today” he meant immediately. I believe in His promise to me!

One dying believer wrote his family this letter: When I die, if my family wishes to inscribe anything on my gravestone, I would like it to be the promise of Jesus Christ in Hebrews 13:5; “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” For in due season the springtime will arrive…Then, when the resurrection sings itself in the robin’s glad song, and bursting buds defy the death grip of winter, and you walk upon the yielding earth near my grave—remember that my soul is not there, but rather it is absent from the body, present with the Lord. And somewhere, the atoms that make up my brain, my heart, my body, will be sending out resurrection radiations of a frequency too high for any earthly Geiger counter to record. But if you place the meter of God’s Word alongside that cemetery plot and adjust the settings to Hebrews 13:5, you will receive this reading: “He hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” Matthew 24:35