The question arises because Jesus promised the criminal who was being executed alongside him a future life in Paradise. Jesus said: “Truly I tell you today, You will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43) Note that Jesus did not say where that Paradise would be. Did Jesus mean, then, that the evildoer would join him in heaven?
First, let us consider whether that evildoer met the qualifications for heavenly life. Humans with heavenly prospects have been baptized in water and with holy spirit and are thus spirit-begotten disciples of Jesus. (John 3:3, 5) Another requirement is that they conform to God’s moral standards and manifest such qualities as honesty, integrity, and compassion. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11) They must also remain loyal to God and Christ till the end of their earthly course. (Luke 22:28-30; 2 Timothy 2:12) Only by meeting those requirements can they show themselves worthy of being resurrected and qualified for the weighty responsibility awaiting them in heaven, namely, serving as priests and kings with Christ over mankind for a thousand years.—Revelation 20:6.
In contrast, the evildoer alongside Jesus lived as a criminal and died as a criminal. (Luke 23:32, 39-41) True, he showed a respectful attitude when he said to Jesus: “Remember me when you get into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42) Nonetheless, he had not become a baptized, spirit-begotten disciple of Jesus, nor had he built a record of upright conduct and faithful endurance. Does it seem reasonable that Jesus would promise him heavenly kingship alongside his faithful followers who had proved their integrity?—Romans 2:6, 7.
To illustrate: If a man asked your forgiveness for stealing your money, you might decide not to press charges. But would you trust him to run your business or to take care of your family? You would reserve such responsibilities only for those in whom you had the utmost confidence. Likewise, those who are given the hope of life in heaven must provide a solid basis for confidence that they will uphold God’s righteous standards when they rule over mankind. (Revelation 2:10) The evildoer, though apparently sincere in his last-minute plea, provided no such basis.
But did Jesus not tell the evildoer that he would be with him in heaven that very day? That could not be, since Jesus himself did not enter heaven that day. Instead, he was “in the heart of the earth”—the grave—for three days. (Matthew 12:40; Mark 10:34) Even after his resurrection, he remained on earth for 40 days before ascending to heaven. (Acts 1:3, 9) Thus, the evildoer could not have been in heaven with Jesus that day.
Into what Paradise, then, was the evildoer to enter? After resurrection, he will be in the earthly Paradise, over which Jesus will rule. (Acts 24:15; Revelation 21:3, 4) To learn more about that Paradise and God’s requirements, speak to any one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.