The Seven Last Sayings of Jesus
The Seven Last Sayings of Jesus
“Today, You Shall Be With Me In Paradise”
Luke 23:33, 39-43 reads,
When they came to the place called The Skull, there they crucified him and the criminals, one on the right and the other on the left... One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself, and us!” But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong!” And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”
What This Teaches Us about Grace. This criminal’s encounter with Christ assures us that God loves to forgive! None are beyond the reach of redemption.
The common label, “thief on the cross,” is somewhat misleading. In our modern language, a thief is a petty pilferer who commits crimes against property. Greek has a term for that: kleptes. But here the word is lestes, which describes a robber, a violent villain, one who commits crimes against person. Thus, NASB translates, “criminal.” This man might have been a scary person to be around. He may have committed assault, even murder. But Jesus is the Great Physician who came to heal sinners.
Through Him, all sorts of murderers, adulterers, idolaters, and thieves have found forgiveness (Acts 2:36-38, 1 Cor. 6:9-11, 1 Tim. 1:12-16).
It is not clear exactly how much information the criminal knew about Christ, or when he gained it. It is possible that he had heard John the Baptist (Luke 3:1-22, and maybe even been baptized by John), or one of the apostles (Luke 9:1-11), or one of the seventy sent out to preach the coming kingdom (Luke 10:1-20, cf. 24:18), or even Christ Himself during one of the many times He taught the multitudes. If so, perhaps the teaching didn’t make enough of an impression on him to cause him to change his behavior. The determination to repent escaped him. Nevertheless, he held on to what he heard.
When he contemplated his present end, he was forced to deeply consider it.
In any case, we ought not think that the criminal’s confession was insincere due to the desperation of his plight—after all, the other criminal seems to have known the same information (“Are You not the Christ?”), and yet hurled abuse and scorn. The penitent criminal felt miserable for his own sins. He heard Jesus’ claims and believed them—that Jesus was innocent, that Jesus had authority to forgive, and that despite His cross, Jesus would somehow go on to conquer and reign. He cried out for mercy. He received it, just seconds before the door swung shut forever. Praise God for His willingness to forgive any of us!
None are beyond the reach of redemption. So long as one has breath, he has the opportunity to repent, even at the eleventh hour (Matt. 20:1-16), even on death row, even with a terminal illness. Now, one should never put off his conversion another moment, for such a luxury is rarely afforded, and by then is rarely sincere. Wherever you are at right now, it is not too late to be saved!
What This Does Not Teach Us About Grace. Many, when shown what the Bible says about the role of baptism in salvation, will retort, “What about the thief on the cross? He was saved, but he was never baptized.”
True, but the criminal’s experience simply is not relevant to the discussion. The criminal lived and died under the old covenant. When Jesus spoke these words to the criminal, personally forgiving him (as He had done for many others; Luke 6:48 for example), He was very much alive, and still under the old dispensation of the Law of Moses. One who uses the thief on the cross for proof that baptism is unnecessary might just as well use Joshua or David—they were saved without baptism, too; and for the exact same reasons. Baptism into Christ would not be proclaimed until after the resurrection (Matt. 28:18-20, Acts 2:38).
What This Teaches Us About Death. Jesus’ statement proves that there is conscious life after death. Jesus assured the criminal that “today,” on that very day, he would “be with” Him in Paradise. The criminal didn’t have to wait millennia for fellowship with Christ, and his spirit would not switch off to unconsciousness—they would be together. Christ’s promise to the criminal assures us that death does not separate us from Christ (Romans 8:36-39). What courage this grants us when facing death, whether through persecution or natural causes, that when we depart, we shall “be with Christ” and “that is very much better” (Phil. 1:23)!