Luke 23:43QUESTION: What does Luke 23:43 mean?ANSWER:
"Jesus answered him, 'I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.'"
Luke 23:43 means that God has a place where He keeps the spirits of the forgiven dead until Jesus returns and clothes them in new bodies; that Jesus secures life after death for all believers. He called that place Paradise - a Persian word meaning garden. It's used in 2 Corinthians 12:4 and Revelation 2:7, where it's synonymous with Heaven. Paradise is equivalent to Abraham's bosom (Luke 16:23), and to Eden in Genesis 2:8, which means delight. Jesus rules over Paradise, and keeps the righteous dead at rest in His Presence, fully conscious, absolutely beatific, and perfectly secure. By opening Paradise to believers, He proved that righteousness has its reward in peace with God, whatever happens in this life.
Luke 23:43 means that, while the Jewish leadership saw Jesus raise the dead, but still disbelieved Him, the penitent thief watched Jesus die, and accepted Him. In reality, the way Jesus experienced the cross and faced death shined light into each man's eyes, though each drew a different conclusion from it. The hardened thief concentrated on the condition from which he was convinced Christ could release him: death on the cross. The penitent thief contemplated his lifestyle, knew he needed forgiveness and that Jesus epitomized it; wanted hope for the life after death, and knew Jesus offered it.
The principle remains true today: sometimes people come to Jesus with inferior motives, seeking an advantage in this world; others come knowing that His purpose is to get us safely into Heaven, not merely to get us comfortably through this life. The criminals' former allegiance to nationalism and materialism had failed them. What they previously considered important no longer had relevance as they faced death. That invariably happens to people who demand that God remake this world. Technology, the latest savior in whom the unsaved put their hope, will ultimately prove as illusory. Anytime death takes us from, not towards our goals, we need to rethink our goals.
Whatever disappointments the penitent thief had suffered, in Christ on the Cross, he found the One Person who could create, awaken, and arouse faith in a kingdom that death couldn't touch. That shouldn't surprise us, since in Christ's ministry, many experienced that renewal. It summarized His entire ministry, where He personalized all faith in Himself, not in the Law.
Luke 23-43 means that, while experiencing the same fate as the thieves, Christ made infinitely superior use of it. True, both He and they had been brought to the cross by their respective ideals: their patriotism and His righteousness. Skeptics might wonder where God was if His chosen servant suffered the same fate as thieves. But Jesus proved that He solved everyone's most pressing spiritual problem by giving His own life.
Luke 23:43 means that all the circumstances of crucifixion that had overwhelmed and controlled the criminals were in turn dominated by Christ. He made even the cross a throne from which He exercised dominion over vast, lethal spiritual power, as Colossians 2:10, 15 and Ephesians 1:18-22 state. Revelation 5:5-6 and following also stress that Christ's acquiescence to death proved His supremacy over it, not His subjection to it. John was told that God's Lamb had overcome. When John turned, he saw a Lion - one and the same Person, the former figure as He seemed to be at Calvary, the latter as He really was: devouring the death that seemed to devour Him. That indeed is why God wouldn't rescue Jesus from the cross, as His detractors sneeringly suggested. By remaining there till the bitter end, by dropping off into tender arms a corpse, Jesus achieved infinitely more than He ever could by avoiding the cross or escaping the death it imposed!
Luke 23:43 means that Christ's confident assurance, kind words and dignified suffering elevated Him in the minds of both men - indeed in the minds of the callous Roman soldiers. Even Pilate's sign trumpeted His rule over Israel. We cannot overlook all that happened in the six hours they hung there together. Remember that both men began as critics of Jesus, joining with the crowd in mocking Him. As the hours passed, they both changed their views. Jesus so graciously and uncomplainingly accepted His fate, even FORGIVING those responsible for His condition. That wasn't done by men writhing in crucifixion. Violent swearing and curses and maledictions on the oppressors occurred, but not the grace Jesus expressed.
Luke 23:43 means that the penitent thief believed Jesus would survive death to establish and rule His kingdom. However flawed his view of that kingdom - a mystery not explained by the Gospels - he believed Jesus would rule there. No other understanding of his appeal is possible. He believed that, however final, irretrievable, and obliterating Moses left death, Jesus would overcome it and live again and would bring with Him all who trusted Him.