#2 “Today You Will Be With Me In Paradise”
“One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at Him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:40-43).
It was no accident that the Lord of glory was crucified between two thieves. There are no accidents in a world that is governed by God. Sovereignty tells us that God either causes something to occur or He allows it (letting natural law and freewill choices run their course of action).
God was presiding over that scene. From all eternity he had decreed when and where and how and with whom his Son should die. Nothing was left to chance or the caprice of man. All that God had decreed came to pass exactly as he had ordained, and nothing happened save as he had eternally purposed.
Was not the Savior numbered with transgressors to show us the position he occupied as our substitute? He had taken the place which was due us, and what was that but the place of shame, the place of transgressors, the place of criminals condemned to death!
Crucifixion was probably the most horrible form of capital punishment ever devised by man. The ancient Persians practiced it. When the Persian ruler Darius conquered Babylon, he had 3,000 leading citizens crucified. Later crucifixion became a mode of Greek execution. Following the destruction of Tyre, Alexander the Great crucified 2,000 men of military age.
On occasion, the Jews resorted to crucifixion. In the inter-biblical period, Alexander Jannaeus (103-76 B.C.) crucified eight hundred Pharisees who had been involved in a revolt. The Romans, however, were most noted for the practice. In 71 B.C., following a slave revolt in Rome, six thousand recaptured slaves were crucified on the Appian Way leading to the city (Vos 1999, 439).
The verb “crucify” (46 times in the New Testament) was used by the inspired writers of the New Testament to depict the mode of Jesus’ death. But not his only—two other men were crucified at the same time as Christ. All four Gospel writers are emphatic that two criminals were crucified—one on either side of the Savior (Matthew 27:38; Mark 15:27; Luke 23:32; John 19:18).
While Jesus hung on the cross, He never once uttered a defense. He didn’t yell out, “You’ve got the wrong man. I didn’t commit an offense worthy of death. You are crucifying an innocent man.” In fact, not only did Jesus utter no defense…none of His disciples protested His persecution. Not one disciple spoke out on Jesus’ behalf. They all remained silent as they watched their friend and teacher suffer intense pain.
Interestingly enough…the only person who spoke out in defense of Jesus was a convicted criminal…a thief…a robber…an unrighteous, sinful man. This thief had the courage and the faith to stand up for Jesus. And this impressed Jesus so much that He told the man that he would join Him in paradise. This is a wonderful story.
Another important lesson which we may learn from the crucifixion of Christ between the two thieves, and the fact that one received him and the other rejected him, is that of the sovereignty of God. The two malefactors were crucified together. They were equally near to Christ. Both of them saw and heard all that transpired during those fateful six hours. Both were notoriously wicked; both were suffering acutely; both were dying, and both urgently needed forgiveness.
Yet one of them died in his sins, died as he had lived – hardened and impenitent; while the other repented of his wickedness, believed in Christ, called on him for mercy and went to Paradise. How can this be accounted for except by the sovereignty of God!
To whom does God offer forgiveness? Is it to the best amongst us? Is it to those who have met some preconditions? We get a small glimpse of love that is measureless and an ever so miniscule peek at God’s infinite reservoir of forgiveness, when we hear those second words from the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise”.
Being crucified on the same day, and hanging on either side of the Lord, on their own, deserved, crosses, were two evil-doers. One of these, even though hanging and dying, and coming near the end of his life, only to face God in judgment upon his death, joined in with those who mocked and hated Jesus. “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and save us, too, if you are able!”
But his former partner in robbery, murder, and rebellion rebuked him. For now, upon a cross and facing death, this second sinner has a change of mind about his life. The sentence of death brings home to him the truth that he is worthy of wrath and punishment because of his constant refusal to submit to the moral will of God. In this humbled state, he turns to Jesus, recognizes him as Lord, and cries for mercy and pardon. Perhaps he has bee encouraged by overhearing Jesus’ prayer for His enemies.
And he may have reasoned, “Am I not a life-long enemy of God?” Though he has no lifetime of good deeds to present, though he can only say that he is unworthy of pardon, the good and merciful Lord Jesus, from His own cross, assures this man of eternal life.
Thief on the cross a pattern for salvation?
To argue that the example of the thief on the cross is a pattern of salvation today involves an unwarranted assumption and a faulty view of biblical chronology.
When the Lord was crucified, he was positioned between two robbers, both of whom, at some point during the six hours of agony, reproached him (Matt. 27:44; Mk. 15:32). The Greek grammar suggests a repeated verbal assault. However, as the ordeal proceeded, a change occurred in one of the thieves. This aspect of the case is only recorded by Luke.
“And there was also a superscription over him, THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. And one of the malefactors that were hanged railed on him, saying, Art not thou the Christ? Save thyself and us. But the other answered, and rebuking him said, Dost thou not even fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said, Jesus, remember me when thou comest in thy kingdom. And he said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise” (Lk. 23:38-43).
Several important facts come to light by a careful analysis of this paragraph.
By comparing Luke’s record with that of Matthew and Mark, it is obvious that there was a change in the man’s view regarding Jesus. Instead of reviling the Lord, he glorified him and petitioned the Savior. And Jesus graciously responded to his change in behavior.
The penitent thief had a good deal of information concerning Christ. Exactly when he learned these facts is not specified. But there are two possibilities. Either he considered what he heard about Christ during that six-hour episode and became convinced of his royalty, or else he already knew about the Savior from earlier circumstances.
Here’s a thoughtful question. Isn’t it possible that he had been exposed significantly to information about Jesus earlier in his life, had been impressed by it, and later regressed into a life of crime?
Note some things about the man’s beliefs.
- He acknowledged the existence of God.
- He believed in a standard of right and wrong.
- He confessed that he and his companion had transgressed divine law.
- He conceded they were being punished “justly.”
Additionally, he confessed the innocence of Christ. The Teacher had done “nothing amiss.” And remember, the Lord was being crucified for his affirmation of being the “Son of the Blessed One” (Mk. 14:61, 62). The robber’s statement, therefore, is basically an acknowledgement of the truth of Jesus’ claim.
Then consider this. The penitent thief believed that Christ was a “king” and that this act of murder would not terminate the Savior’s life. Rather, the Lord would “come in [his] kingdom.” And he was confident that Jesus would be able to bless him in that future state. At the very least, these expressions indicate that the thief believed it was possible to have association with the Lord after both of them were dead.
God is not interested in what we once were; instead, He is interested in what we can become. Many people in the Bible overcame a turbulent past, and became great and faithful servants of the Lord.
- Abraham, the father of the Hebrew nation, at one time worshipped other gods (Joshua 24:2).
- David, the third King of Israel, although he committed adultery, became a man after God’s own heart.
- Paul, the great apostle of Jesus Christ, at one time had Christians arrested and killed.
Although at one time these men lived ungodly lives, they were given another chance and eventually they became great servants of the Lord, and so can we. We must forget our past failures and focus on our future successes.
The Authority of Christ
Having said that, let us now focus our attention in another direction. The careful Bible student must acknowledge that there are different periods of sacred history, in the course of which, certain religious requirements may vary. Abraham was never commanded to be baptized or to observe the Lord’s supper.
In today’s era of religious history, we are not obligated to observe the Passover, or to offer animal sacrifices. Jehovah has had different requirements in different periods of history.
Christ Had Authority to Forgive Sins
During his personal ministry, Jesus possessed the authority to forgive men’s sins personally and directly, upon whatever terms he chose. For example, once while in the city of Capernaum, the Lord encountered a man who was paralyzed. The unfortunate gentleman had been conveyed to where Christ was by four of his friends.
When Jesus saw “their faith,” he said to the palsied man, “Son, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5). Then, in order to establish his “authority” in the matter of personally forgiving sins “on earth” (2:10), Christ healed the man of his malady.
(2) The fact is, while Jesus was on earth he had the authority to dispense blessings directly based upon the circumstances at hand.
Our time is running out. Since life is so unpredictable, we may only have a short time left. We need to place our faith in Jesus and receive God’s wonderful gift of salvation before it is to late.
During his personal ministry, Jesus possessed the authority to forgive men’s sins personally and directly.
For example, once while in the city of Capernaum, the Lord encountered a man who was paralyzed. The unfortunate gentleman had been conveyed to where Christ was by four of his friends. When Jesus saw “their faith,” he said to the palsied man, “Son, your sins are forgiven” (Mk. 2:5). Then, in order to establish his “authority” in the matter of personally forgiving sins “on earth” (Mk. 2:10), Christ healed the man of his malady.
The fact is, while Jesus was on earth he had the authority to dispense blessings directly based on the circumstances at hand. At the time of his death, however, his authority was made resident in his testamentary “will” (Heb. 9:15-17). And the terms of that will specify baptism as a condition of pardon (Mk. 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Pet. 3:21).
No one has the legal right to eliminate that condition by appealing to something the Lord did during earthly ministry before his final will was ratified. The heavenly kingdom takes precedence over the former.
It becomes very apparent, therefore, that those who appeal to the case of the “thief on the cross” as a specific example for conversion today are mistaken in several particulars.
- They do not comprehend the differencebetween the Savior’s earthly ministry and his current reign from heaven; and,
- They have thrust aside the plain demands of the New Covenant.
Paradise … Ash noted that “In some elements of first-century Judaism, (this word) described the heavenly abode of the soul between death and the resurrection.” Without much doubt, this is the meaning here. After Jesus rose from the dead, he stated that he had not yet ascended to the Father (John 20:17); therefore, Paradise is not identified as the final abode of the blessed. It is the same as “Abraham’s bosom” (Luke 16:11).
The term paradise is used in the New Testament to refer to the future dwelling place of God’s people (see 2 Cor 12:4; Rev 2:7). The reader should not become so concerned with the question of the intermediate state that the point is missed. Luke is reminding his readers of that which he has told them often. God forgives penitent sinners, while the impenitent (the rulers, the soldiers, and the other criminal) are excluded from the blessing.
A Cross of Love
The cross of Christ was a cross of love. Early in his ministry Jesus declared: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up” (John 3:14; cf. 12:32-33). He then affirmed: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son” (John 3:16).
A Cross of Sacrifice
The cross of Christ was a cross of sacrifice. Paul reminded the saints in Ephesus that Christ loved them, and the expression of that love was that he “gave himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for an odor and a sweet smell” (Ephesians 5:2).
A Cross of Peace
The cross of Christ was a cross of peace. Jesus was able to implement a plan of reconciliation by which sinful humanity could be at peace with the holy God, from whom sin had demanded a separation (Isaiah 59:1-2; Romans 5:1ff; Ephesians 2:1ff). This was provided for both segments of humanity, so that “in Christ” no longer is there Jew or Greek; Christians become “one” in him (Ephesians 2:13-18; Galatians 3:28).
A Cross of Joy
The cross of Christ was a cross of joy. In considering the Savior’s determination to implement the plan of salvation, the writer states that the “author and perfecter of faith,” for “the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). The Savior’s joy over the potential salvation of the human family eclipsed the shame of the cross!
The Use of “Hell” in the New Testament
There is a great deal of confusion among religious folks regarding this word due to the fact that the English form “hell” actually represents three different terms in the Greek New Testament.
The term “hell” is found twenty-three times in the King James Version of the English Bible. There is a great deal of confusion among religious folks regarding this word due to the fact that the English form “hell” actually represents three different terms in the Greek New Testament. Let us give consideration to this matter.
The Greek hades is translated “hell” ten times in the KJV. Most recent versions transliterate the term, bringing it directly into English as Hades.
Hades is used for the general abode of the spirits of the dead, whether good or evil. Jesus affirmed that he possessed the keys (authority to open) of “death” (the receptacle of the body) and “Hades” (the realm of the departed soul) (Rev. 1:18).
Both death and Hades will be emptied at the time of the judgment (Rev. 20:13-14), i.e., the grave will give up the body, and the spirit sphere will surrender the soul.
By means of a figure known as a synecdoche (the whole put for a part), Hades is sometimes used to designate a limited region of the spirit world. Depending upon the context, that region may either be one of punishment or reward.
For example, Jesus warned that the wicked inhabitants of Capernaum (who had rejected his teaching) would go down into Hades (Mt. 11:23; Lk. 10:15). When the cold-hearted rich man died, his spirit was found in Hades, a place of torment and anguish (Lk. 16:23-24).
On the other hand, when Christ died, while his body was resting in Joseph’s tomb, his soul was in Hades (Acts 2:27-31), which elsewhere is called “Paradise” (Lk. 23:43). This seems to have been the same state as “Abraham’s bosom,” a place of comfort (Lk. 16:22,25).
When Christ promised to build his church, and declared that the “gates of Hades” would not prevail against it, he may have been suggesting that when he died, Hades would not retain his soul, thus preventing the establishment of his kingdom. Or, he may have been proclaiming that the church would share ultimately in his victory over death at the time of the resurrection.
The apostle Peter wrote that: ”. . . God spared not angels when they sinned, but cast them down to hell, and committed them to pits of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment . . .” (2 Pet. 2:4).
Here, “hell” is from the Greek term tartarosas, a participle, the noun form of which is Tartarus (so rendered in the footnote of the ASV). This is this word’s only occurrence in the New Testament.
Originally it simply denoted a deep place; it carries that significance in Job 40:13; 41:31 in the Septuagint. Homer, the Greek poet, spoke of “dark Tartarus . . . the deepest pit” (Iliad, 8.13). Here, it is used of the abode of evil angels prior to their banishment to Gehenna, their ultimate destiny (cf. Mt. 25:41).
The ancient Greeks, however, applied the word to the region of the wicked dead. Since there is no indication that Peter assigns an extraordinary meaning to the term, it is reasonable to conclude that it denotes that area of Hades in which both rebel men and angels are punished preliminary to the day of judgment.
The final and eternal abode of those who die apart from God is Gehenna. The word is found twelve times in the Greek New Testament. In eleven of these instances, it is Jesus Christ himself who employs the term. The fact is, the Lord spoke of “hell” more frequently than he did of that state called “heaven.”
Gehenna is a transliteration of an Old Testament Hebrew expression, “the valley of Hinnom,” which denoted a ravine on the southern side of Jerusalem. This valley was used by certain apostate Hebrews as a place where their children were offered into the fiery arms of the pagan god Molech (2 Chron. 28:3; 33:6).
It was thus an area of suffering and weeping. When Josiah launched his reformation, this valley was regarded as a site of heinous abomination (2 Kgs. 23:10-14). It finally became the garbage depository of Jerusalem where there was a continual burning of refuse.
Gehenna, being associated with these ideas, appropriately served as a symbolic designation for the place of suffering to which evil persons will be consigned following the Lord’s return. Let us now consider the New Testament passages in which Gehenna is mentioned.
Jesus spoke of Gehenna several times in his “Sermon on the Mount.” For instance, he warned that whoever addresses another: “You fool!” shall be in danger of the “hell of fire” (Mt. 5:22). This does not mean that a legitimate use of the appellation “fool” (or its derivatives) is prohibited (cf. Psa. 14:1; 1 Cor. 15:36; Gal. 3:1). Rather, the Lord condemns the explosive use of pejorative barbs for the sake of venting one’s personal rage.
Employing several examples of hyperbole (for the sake of emphasis), Christ stressed that it would be better to proceed through life with great loss (e.g. deprived of an eye or a limb), rather than having Gehenna as a final destiny (Mt. 5:29-30; cf. 18:9; Mk. 9:43-47).
On another occasion, the Lord said: “And be not afraid of them that kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt. 10:28; cf. Lk. 12:5).