“You will be with me in paradise”

Today we read of Jesus on the Cross. “The chief priests and the rulers and the people” (Luke 23:13) opposed Pilate’s decision to release him so he gave in and “delivered Jesus over to their will”.

Jesus is crucified between two criminals and one of these derides him saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us”, but the other rebukes him and says, “we are receiving the due reward for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong” (verses 39,41). Then he makes a request to Jesus which, together with Jesus’ answer, is widely misunderstood.

“‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom’. And [Jesus] said to him, ‘Truly I say to you today, you will be with me in paradise’” (verses 42,43). We have quoted exactly as in the Bible (ESV) with one little exception, we have put the comma after the word today instead of before it. The original Greek has no punctuation so translators use their own judgement as to how to punctuate the text when rendering it in English – or any other language; nearly all of them get it wrong in this case.

The question the criminal asked indicates he knew the teachings of Jesus but had turned to bad ways: maybe he learnt the prayer Jesus taught, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth …” (Matthew 6:10). Paradise is to be on earth. The whole world will become the Garden of Eden when Jesus sets up God’s kingdom (Revelation 2:7,25-27).

It is obvious to the attentive reader that Jesus is not referring to heaven in making this promise; after he came out of the tomb he said to Mary Magdalene, “I have not yet ascended to the Father” (John 20:17). The criminal re-established his relationship with Jesus and because of his faith he received this promise of a place in the paradise of God’s kingdom. He had remarkable faith whereas all the disciples had lost theirs.

A closing thought is to note the mistake some make in saying that since the criminal was not baptized – baptism is not essential. They forget that the meaning of baptism from then on was a symbol of the death and resurrection of Jesus as Paul makes plain in Romans 6:3-8. The whole world is to be a paradise! What wonders await those who will be with Jesus at that time! May we be there! And how soon now?