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.” (Luke 23:39-43 NASB)
When this passage is discussed, it seems most of the conversation has to do with whether or not Jesus and the thief really went to heaven that day. Seriously? With a ridiculous understanding of the views of afterlife in that day, this really wouldn’t be a problem. But I can’t find anyone asking how the thief knew that Jesus’ “Kingdom” came after the cross?
There are a lot of assumptions in the thief’s request. First, that Jesus was a King, because His circumstances didn’t really bear that out. Second, that Jesus’ Kingdom lay beyond the cross. Jesus had told His disciples that, but how did this guy know? And even the disciples He told didn’t get it, yet this thief, without having been told, gets it.
Perhaps, again, a basic understanding of what people believed about afterlife in that day would help. But think about this, how was the word, “kingdom” used for Jesus throughout all of the Gospels? Remember that those reading/hearing this live outside of Palestine. So, what would they have thought from the word choice of Luke? Would they have thought of Jesus going to “heaven”?
What I don’t have right now is access to apostolic fathers’ writings on this passage. I’d like to know what they thought of it. Chances are good that in the process of just trying to survive and combat the various heresies of their day, this issue didn’t really come up. So, I’m not sure this would be found.
The reason I found this so fascinating is because this thief seemed to know so much, yet made such serious mistakes, and was then able to be redeemed. Think about that. You may not, but I often really struggle with shame in knowing but not doing the good I know to do. It’s not that I’m brilliant and others aren’t. It’s more that I’m a total idiot because I refuse to let the deeper meaning of what little I do know have the affect on my behavior that it should.
I see in this character the genius to connect dots beyond what he could see in front of him, and conclude that this dying Religious Rebel wasn’t done. How did he do that? And beyond that, how, knowing that this man knowingly committed such crimes, could Jesus permit him access? I know who Jesus is, and yet I make choices that contradict what I know. I live as if Jesus is not my Lord and Savior and Master and Creator. How then can this Jesus accept me? How can this Holy One of Israel permit me to spend time with Him, even invite me into His presence? That’s what’s crazy. Not that the thief knew who Jesus was, that’s merely amazing. That this thief, knowing, sinning, and having asked, is then accepted by Jesus is what is so crazy.
Can grace really be that vast?
What’s your view through the knothole?
(By the way, if you want my view of whether or not the thief and Jesus really went to “paradise” ask in and comment, and I’ll comment my answer – but you won’t really like my answer. It’s too simple.)