1-1-10 " Today you will be with me in Paradise"
37 The thieves (and Barabbas) would have been tried
along with Jesus; they would have been present at His trial. Roman law
required that the death penalty be executed the same day as it was
given. The crucifixion being quite early in the day, it seems almost
certain that the four cases to be tried that day would all have been
heard in the same room. The behaviour of the Lord must have really
given those other three something to reflect on.
An interesting point comes out of the Greek text of Lk.
23:39: " One of the criminals who were suspended reviled him"
(Diaglott). Ancient paintings show the thieves tied by cords to the
crosses, not nailed as was Christ. Hanging on a tree became
an idiom for crucifixion, even if nails were actually used (Dt. 21:23
cp. Gal. 3:13; Acts 5:30; 10:39). If this were so, we see the
development of a theme: that the whole ingenuity of man was pitted
against the Father and Son. Christ was nailed, not tied; the tomb was
sealed and guarded; the legal process was manipulated; the Lord was
flogged as well as crucified (see the reconstruction offered above in
the 'Background' section).
The Sayings From The Cross (3):
" Today you will be with me in Paradise"
It is all too easy for us to see the thief on the cross
as a pawn in the game of the Lord's crucifixion. But there is real New
Testament evidence that we are to see in Him our personal
representative. Thus Paul challenges us to be " co- crucified" with
Christ (Rom. 6:6; Gal. 2:20 cp. 1 Cor. 11:1). To be crucified together
with Christ immediately sends the imaginative mind to the thief on the
cross- the one who was literally crucified together with Christ. It is
doubtful if the Spirit in Paul would speak of 'co- crucifixion' without
deliberate reference back to the thief. Our Lord matched the idea of
the word " Kingdom" in the thief's plea with the word " paradise" .
Occurring only three times in the New Testament, it is hard to resist
the conclusion that in Rev. 2:7, our Lord's mind was back in the
agonizing conversation with the thief: " To him that overcometh will I
give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise
of God" . It was to the thief on the cross, some years earlier, that
Christ had made the same promise of paradise. It may be significant
that Rev. 2:7 was specifically addressed to those who were zealous by
nature, hating laxity, yet who had left their first love. The thief may
well have been a 'zealot' who had once turned to Christ, but whose real
faith had slipped away. But to any who overcome, the same promise of
paradise is made.
It has often been pointed out that the brief words of
the thief encompass all the basic beliefs of the One Faith. He believed
in the sinfulness of man, the supreme righteousness of Christ,
salvation by grace, the second coming and judgment seat of Christ, and
the Kingdom. Yet not only did he believe those things as abstract
principles. As he beheld, at close range, the sufferings of God's
peerless son, the reality of those principles really came home to him.
Perhaps he was a slave who had committed a relatively petty crime, but
as a slave he had to be crucified. All prisoners and most condemned men
feel keenly their relative innocence and the unfairness of it all. But
with quite some pain he gasped: “...and we indeed justly". He
came to deeply understand the basic principles, and appreciate their
personal bearing to himself. He knew the basic principles of the true
Gospel, but it was his co- crucifixion with Christ that made him grasp
hold of them for dear life. Job too went through the same process,
thanks to his typical suffering together with Christ: " I have heard of
Thee by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth Thee" (Job
42:5). And us? The thief, not to say Job, represents us. If we are
truly co- crucified with Christ, the basic elements of our faith will
not be just a dry doctrinal skeleton. The coming of the Kingdom, the
doctrine of judgment and the atonement, these will be all we live for!
For they were all the thief had to live for, during his hours of co-
crucifixion. In passing, this surely means that we will regularly want
to remind ourselves of those basic doctrines, e.g. by way of public
lectures or re- reading basic preaching material.
It is possible that the thief had a really deep Bible
knowledge. “Remember me when thou comest in thy Kingdom" is
almost certainly reference to Gen. 40:14, where Joseph desperately and
pathetically asks: “But think on me when it shall be well with
thee...". Joseph went on to say “...here also have I done nothing
that they should out me into the dungeon" (Gen. 40:15). This is very
much the spirit of “This man hath done nothing amiss...". It
could be that when he asks to be remembered for good, he had in mind
Abigail's words: that when David returned in glory in his Kingdom, " my
Lord, then remember thine handmaid" . This was prefaced by her asking:
" Forgive the trespass of thine handmaid...a man is risen to pursue
thee, and to seek thy soul: but the soul of my lord shall be bound in
the bundle of life with the Lord thy God: and the souls of thine
enemies, them shall he sling out" (1 Sam. 25:29-31). And David's
response was marvellously similar to that of the Lord to the thief: "
Go up in peace to thine house; see, I have hearkened to thy voice, and
have accepted thy person" (1 Sam. 25:35). It would seem that the thief
saw in David a type of the Lord, and saw in Abigail's words exactly the
attitude he fain would have. And the Lord accepted this.
It is recorded in the other Gospels that both the
thieves " railed on" Christ, joining in with the crowd to " cast the
same in his teeth" (Mt. 27:44). We must see the words of the repentant
thief in Lk. 23 against this background. There he was, knowing the
truth, having fallen away, now facing his death. In his self-
centredness, he grew bitter against the one he knew to be his saviour.
Despite the difficulty and pain which speaking whilst crucified
involved, he made the effort to lambaste his saviour, as well as he
knew how. But as he watched the Lord's silent response, sensing the
deep spiritual communion with the Father which was then happening, he
experienced a wave of even greater anger and remorse- this time,
against himself. 'I could have made it, I could have repented, but now
it's too late. I've added insult to injury, I've blasphemed and mocked
my only possible saviour, in this my hour of desperate need'. So he
fell silent, whilst (we may infer) the other thief kept up his insults
and selfish pleas for immediate salvation. And he watched the suffering
saviour, literally from the corner of his eye. Remember, the thieves
were crucified next to Jesus. Indeed one wonders whether the other
thief had also once been a believer when he says “Art not thou
the Christ?" (Lk. 23:39 RV).
Such was the holiness, the supreme righteousness of the
Lord, that the thought grew within him: 'Perhaps even now, while I've
got life, I could ask for forgiveness, and a place in the Kingdom?' We
can be sure that he grappled within himself with this thought, before
ever presenting it verbally to Jesus. He would have seen the Lord's
demeanour under trial, and the beauty and graciousness of His character
and essential being must have made a deep impact upon the thief. When
he speaks about Jesus having " done nothing amiss" , he is repeating
what he had heard hours before (Mk. 14:56); and the Lord's confident
words of Mt. 24:64 were still ringing in his ears when he spoke of
wanting mercy when this crucified man came again in glory to establish
His Kingdom (cp. Lk. 21:42). And yet this perceptive man had just
blasphemed Jesus with all the vicious vitriol he knew (" cast the same
in his teeth" is the forerunner of 'a kick in the teeth'). It was
supreme faith in and appreciation of the love and mercy of Christ which
led him to make his request. I see the very fact he could make that
request as a wonderful triumph of human faith over the weakness of
human flesh when afflicted. That request was born out of a healthy fear
of God. Before speaking to Jesus, he rebuked the other thief: " Dost
not thou fear God...?" (Lk. 23:40). Appreciating the enormity of his
sin, the repentant thief had come to fear God, to imagine the day of
judgment and condemnation of sin. We dare to imagine the nervous tone
of voice in which he then spoke to Jesus: " Lord, remember me (i.e. for
good) when thou comest into thy Kingdom" (Lk. 23:42). He was pleading
for acceptance at the day of judgment, provoked to do so by a fear of
God's coming judgments. This was surely a spiritual pinnacle. The pain
of his own sufferings, coupled with his close observation of the
supreme holiness of Christ as he hung on the cross, had led him to
appreciate his own sinfulness, and had inspired one of the greatest
levels of faith in the mercy of Christ which mankind has reached. And
so he received the ultimate assurance: You will be with me,
in the Kingdom. The question of where the comma should be placed
becomes irrelevant when we imagine how the Lord would have gasped for
each word. There would, as it were, have been a comma between each
Day by day, we must imagine even for a few moments our
Lord's vertical body as it hung there, that perfect mind within it,
fighting to maintain that ultimate spirituality which He had achieved.
" Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy Kingdom" . Perhaps we
could silently pray those words day by day, night by night, for the
next while. Perhaps we could unite with other believers in discussing
and tackling a failing which we each have: the failure to meditate upon
the sufferings of the Lord as much as we ought to. Never a day, a
morning, an afternoon, should slip by without a thought for Christ's
cross. " Gethsemane, can we forget?" . Yes, Lord, day after mindless,
spiritually empty day.
The thief was confident, in faith, that he would be
heard. But how he would have hung upon every one of the quiet words
which the Lord muttered in response, travelling over the few metres
which separated them. " Verily I say unto thee this day: with me shalt
thou be in Paradise" (Rotherham). We believe that to have been the
emphasis in His words (1). 'Yes, I can
really tell you, here and now, you will be in the Kingdom!'. Think of
the spiritual ecstasy which would have come over the thief! God had
caused him to triumph in Christ! He, the lowest sinner, had entered the
highest rank of saints- those who have been directly assured that they
will be in the Kingdom. Daniel, the disciples and Paul seem the only
others in this category- along with the thief.
Crucifixion was a slow death. Mercifully, our Lord died
abnormally quickly. Remember how Pilate " marvelled that he were
already dead" . Normally men lingered in agony for days before death.
The thief lived a little longer. He would have seen Christ's death, "
the lonely cry, the anguish keen" ; the men taking the body from the
cross. We can infer that he was still conscious when the soldiers broke
his legs- if he was obviously dead, they would not have bothered. " But
when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already..." (Jn.
19:33) seems to imply this. The reason for breaking the legs was to
stop the criminal having any chance of running away. Surely, amidst the
waves of his pulsating pain, he would have marvelled at the way in
which Christ was truly the lamb of God, seeing that " not a bone of him
(was) broken" . There he was, assured of the mercy of Christ at
judgment day, hanging on the cross, in physical agony which it is hard
for us to enter into. In some ways, he continues to be a type of us.
Whether we are dying of cancer, crippled with arthritis, emotionally
trapped in a painful relationship, chained to a demanding job, we too
can have every assurance of Christ's mercy. " To him that overcometh" ,
Christ has promised the paradise of the Kingdom, just as he did to the
thief. Brethren and sisters, in the light of this let us truly be
inspired to overcome. Effectively, we are waiting to die, however young
we may be. Agonies of every kind afflict us. There is just no human
But like the repentant thief, our mind must be full of
the vision of our dying saviour, triumphing in His holiness, freely
confessing our sin and the justice of God's condemnation of it,
thrilling with the certainty of our Hope- of being in the Kingdom with
Christ. Not for the repentant thief the increasing bitterness of the
other man. As his bitterness grew, so the serenity and hope, and
anticipation and joyful expectancy of the Kingdom rapidly increased for
our crucified brother. The bitterness and disillusion of the world
should not be ours, as the pain rages within and around us. Ours should
be the strength and (somehow, amidst it all) peace of
Christ's example. And the thief is alluded to later on in the NT as a
symbol of us all. The Lord’s promise to him that he would
‘be with him’ is the very language of 2 Cor. 5:8 and 1
Thess. 4:17 about us all.
(1) Always in the OT, “I say unto thee this day"
was used as a Hebraism to bring home the utter solemnity of some great
truth (e.g. Dt. 4:26,39; 8:19). It's worth noting that the comma is
placed after 'today' in the Curetonian Syriac version of the New
Testament; the Syriac versions would reflect better the original
Aramaic in which the Lord likely spoke. See B. M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New
Testament (London: United Bible Societies, 1971), pp. 181,182.