One of the criminals who were hanged [on cross next to Jesus] railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”
And he said,“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:39-43
I love these verses. Always have.
The criminal is so contrite, so aware of his sin — and humble, fearing God. Something must have happened to him while hanging next to Jesus because Matthew’s Gospel has both thieves mocking Jesus (as I blogged about here).
Perhaps as the criminal observed the way Jesus faced death, he realized his own sin. A look at the Savior broke him. And he repented.
Here Jesus is about to die, and the repentant criminal asks to be remembered when Jesus enters His kingdom. What kingdom would a dying man have? Somehow the criminal sensed that Jesus’ kingdom was other-worldly. While Israel looked for a Messiah who would usher in a worldly kingdom (and so did the disciples), this criminal rightly understood the nature of the kingdom of God.
And Jesus confirms the criminal’s sense about the kingdom. Jesus tells the criminal he will join Jesus in paradise – His eternal kingdom. And what an encouragement to us, to know that the moment we leave this life, we enter His presence!
Finally, I love the word paradise. When I think “paradise,” I first think the pre-fall Garden or a gorgeous restful place. But what makes Jesus’ eternal kingdom paradise is one thing: His presence. Jesus said the criminal would be “with me in paradise.”
Which brings me to one of my favorite passages:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. Revelation 21: 1-4, 22-23
What makes the new Jerusalem – God’s eternal kingdom – so amazing?
The presence of the Lamb.
That’s paradise! And that’s what the criminal next to Jesus enjoys forever! Being with Jesus.
“For today, you will BE WITH ME in paradise.”
Dear Jesus: I sometimes feel badly that I don’t long more for eternity, for the time that I will be with You forever. Help me to at least imagine Your presence with me here more often. And help me to draw closer to You so that my longing for Your company in paradise increases. Amen.