Yes, and I will rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.
First things first. The text does not say “for to me to die is heaven.” Many people eisegete the word heaven into the word “gain”. Consider the context though.
First, Paul tells us that Christ will be honored in his body, whether by his life or by his death. Already, because of his imprisonment, the gospel is advancing. He says this in verses 12 and 13 of this same passage.
12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.
If that is what his imprisonment has done, then imagine what his death could do!
Secondly, the word “depart” in verse 23 is not a good translation. In fact, it is a downright lousy translation. The Greek word is analyō. It appears in only one other place in the New Testament, and this is in Luke 12:36
Luke 12:36 And ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will RETURN from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately.
Yes, that is correct. The word analyō actually means “return”. It never means depart. Nor should it ever be translated depart. It means return, not depart. Why then is it translated depart in Philippians 1? Isn’t the answer obvious? Most translators are traditionalists. They know most of their readers are traditionalists. So most translators translate the word analyō as “depart” rather than “return”, because that will be less offensive to their ears and the ears of their readers.
The word means return, not depart. .
The hard choice between life and death has Paul wishing for the return of Christ, because that would be the best choice of all three. But since that isn’t a choice he gets to make, he surmises that life is the better choice between living and dying, because living would be better for the Philippian believers.
The Thief On the Cross
39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save paradise-03yourself 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.”
First things first, there is no punctuation in the Greek. Put that on hold.
The thief asks Jesus to remember him “when you come into your kingdom”. That’s a pretty weird way of asking Jesus to remember you when He gets to heaven, isn’t it. What exactly did the thief mean by the phrase, “come into Your kingdom”? Consider Matthew 16.
27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. 28 Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
Now, whatever this passage in Matthew means, let us not say it means Christ has returned with His angels to judge the living and the dead. His second coming is, after all , what He meant by coming in His kingdom. That is clear from this passage in Matthew 16. Now, in whatever moment of time we wish to place the fulfillment of this prophecy (AD 70, AD 90, still future and as yet unfulfilled), the one place in time we cannot stick it is immediately following Christ’s death at the cross. After all, Christ did not both return with His angels to judge the living and the dead and also at the same time find Himself buried in a tomb.
Therefore, did Christ come into His kingdom following immediately upon His death? No. So the thief cannot have meant for Christ to remember him after Christ’s Spirit returns to heaven in a few hours immediately after He dies. What the thief must have meant instead was for Christ to remember him when He returned with His angels to judge the living and the dead.
Remember earlier when I said there is no punctuation in the Greek? Well, rather than the text reading “I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” it should read instead as, “I say to you today, you shall be with Me in Paradise.”
What did Jesus mean by Paradise? He meant what the thief meant, of course. He meant a future day when Christ will return with His angels to raise His elect and to judge the living and the dead.