[Arguing against the notion of Purgatory, Wright says:] In particular, we must take account of the well-known and striking saying of Jesus to the dying brigand beside him, recorded by Luke (23.43). ‘Today,’ he said, ‘you will be with me in paradise.’ ‘Paradise’ is not the final destination; it is a beautiful resting place on the way there. But notice. If there is anyone in the New Testament to whom we might have expected the classic doctrine of purgatory to apply, it would be this brigand. He had no time for amendment of life; no doubt he had all kinds of sinful thoughts and desires in what was left of his body. All the standard arguments in favour of purgatory apply to him. And yet Jesus assures him of his place in paradise, not in a few days or weeks, not if his friends say lots of prayers and masses for him, but ‘today’.
In fact, there are so many things said in the New Testament about the greatest becoming least and the least becoming greatest that we shouldn’t be surprised at this lack of distinction between the post-mortem state of different Christians. In the light of the most basic and central Christian gospel, the message and achievement of Jesus and the preaching of Paul and the others, there is no reason whatever to say, for instance, that Peter or Paul, James or John is more advanced, closer to God, or has achieved more spiritual ‘growth’, than the Christians who were killed for their faith last week or last year. Remember the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20.116). Those who worked all day thought they would be paid more, but those who came at the last hour were paid just the same. Is the vineyard owner not allowed to do what he likes with his own? Are we going to grumble because he is so wonderfully generous?
If we are to be true to our foundation charter, then, we must say that all Christians, living and departed, are to be thought of as ‘saints’; and that all Christians who have died are to be thought of, and treated, as such. The arguments regularly advanced in support of some kind of a purgatory, however modernized, do not come from the Bible. They come from the common perception that all of us up to the time of death are still sinful, and from the proper assumption that something needs to be done about this if we are (to put it crudely) to be at ease in the presence of the holy and sovereign God. The medieval doctrine of purgatory, as we saw, imagined that the ‘something’ that needed to be done could be divided into two aspects: punishment on the one hand, and purging or cleansing on the other. It is vital that we understand the biblical response to both of these.
I cannot stress sufficiently that if we raise the question of punishment for sin, this is something that has already been dealt with on the cross of Jesus [emphasis mine]. Of course, there have been crude and unbiblical versions of the doctrine of atonement, and many have rightly reacted against the idea of a vengeful God determined to punish someone and being satisfied by taking it out on his own son. But do not mistake the caricature for the biblical doctrine. Paul says, in his most central and careful statement, not that God punished Jesus, but that God ‘condemned sin in the flesh’ of Jesus (Romans 8:3). The idea that Christians need to suffer punishment for their sins in a post-mortem purgatory, or anywhere else, reveals a straightforward failure to grasp the very heart of what was achieved on the cross.
—N.T. Wright, For All the Saints