Does the criminal on the cross demonstrate that the dead are conscious?
The organization known as the "Iglesia Ni Cristo" claims that when the dead await judgment, they remain unconscious. However, some narratives in the Bible, such as the narrative of the criminal on the cross, seem to contradict this teaching.
Luke 23:39-43 (ESV) - 39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, "Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!" 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong." 42 And he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." 43 And he said to him, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise."
Does this passage actually teach the dead are conscious? Indeed, it does.
Paradise refers to the state of believers who have died.
When Jesus said "today you will be with me in Paradise", he was communicating that he would actually be in a wonderful place with the criminal that very day. Paradise is something that must be experienced consciously in order to be an actual Paradise. Therefore, this passage rejects the INC's belief that the dead are unconscious as they await judgment.
"Today" refers to the time when the man will be in paradise.
Some, correctly pointing out that ancient Greek has no commas, say that this verse should be translated so that Jesus says "I say to you today, you will be with me in Paradise." The idea behind this proposed translation is that it makes Paradise an eventual destination as opposed to an immediate destination. This is not a proper translation.
First, it should be noted that all the major translations consider "today" to refer to the time when the man will be in Paradise. There is a reason they all agree. Jesus uses the phrase "Truly, I say to you," 76 times in the New Testament and never once does he say "Truly, I say to you today." It would be very abnormal if Jesus decided to change the way he spoke for this one statement. Clearly we should consider "today" as referring to the time when the man will be in Paradise, as all the majority translations do.
The criminal's body was in the grave, but his soul was in Paradise.
One might also argue that the criminal's body went to the grave, therefore he couldn't have actually gone to paradise. It is correct that his body was in the grave; however, the soul lives on beyond the grave, which is precisely the claim we are making. While their bodies were in the grave, Jesus and the criminal were still in Paradise together.
The criminal on the cross was conscious after his death and was with Jesus in Paradise. When the INC makes the claim that the dead are unconscious, the INC makes Jesus a liar given the promise he made to the criminal.
The criminal received the promise he was given. Let us make sure we too will enter paradise by trusting in Christ for salvation, just as the criminal did. This is the gospel.