B. Last words of hope:
With forgiveness still on His mind in His last moments on the cross, Jesus turned to the repentant thief and said, “Truly I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Lk 23:43). In this life, we will never know this man to whom Jesus spoke these comforting words. All we know is what the repentant thief said to the other criminal who was crucified along with him, “Do you not fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation?” (Lk 23:40).
We could say that the one to whom Jesus promised Paradise was a God-fearing man who was caught by the authorities while in the wilderness of criminality. He knew that he was receiving just punishment for his sins of a wayward life. But on the cross, his mind was turned toward meeting the God against whom he had sinned in leading a wayward life on earth. He then turned to Jesus in remorse of repentance, and asked for a last possibility of hope against the One whom he had sinned. In remorse, he asked Jesus, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom” (Lk 23:42).
We do not know how long he had known Jesus, for he called Jesus by name. But we do know that he understood that Jesus was coming into His kingdom, though he did not know all that this kingdom entailed. He was not a nonreligious person. So Jesus, that we might be reminded of the authority He had even in His last hours on earth, expressed to us through His words to the thief what He had previously said, “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins …” (Mt 9:6).
The announcement of the angel at the time of the birth of Jesus was correct: “For to you a Savior is born this day in the city of David, who is Christ the Lord” (Lk 2:11). Jesus was “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29). And in His final moments on the cross, Jesus was doing His business for which He came into the world, that is, bringing forgiveness of sins to the world.
While on earth, Jesus had the divine authority to forgive sins between man and God. He was on the cross in order to seal the deal between God and man. “He Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, so that we, having died to sins, might live to righteousness; by whose wounds you were healed” (1 Pt 2:24). So just as a last reminder while on earth, Jesus wanted us to remember why He was there that day nailed to a “tree.” He was there on our behalf.
What the repentant thief realized the moment he drew his last breath, is what all those who believe in Jesus will realize when they, too, do the same. They will in that same day be with Jesus in Paradise. It is for this Paradise of God that we all hope.
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat of the tree of life that is in the paradise of God (Rv 2:7).
[Point C. tomorrow]