Finding the true meaning of Jesus' words to a thief about paradise
In the immensity and complexity of the book we call the Bible, there are some verses that have become somewhat famous…like the Christmas text “Good tidings of great joy…” The football stadium text “For God so loved the world… the character of God text “God is love…”. Another text that is well known and deeply meaningful is spoken by Jesus to one of the thieves dying on the cross next to him, Jesus said “Today shalt thou be with me in paradise…” This text shows us the power of God’s love as expressed through the compassion of Jesus and his sacrifice and it is truly inspirational in the hope that it portrays. Now, here is a simple and very legitimate question - what was Jesus saying to this thief? What was he promising and why was he promising it? As we find out by examining so many verses of Scripture, what seems to be said is not always what is really meant. So, did Jesus really say what most think he said?
At first glance you might think there is a pretty simple answer. Again, here is the phrase that Jesus spoke when the thief asked to be remembered in Jesus’ kingdom: “Verily I say to you today you will be with me in paradise.” The easiest part of this phrase to grasp is where Jesus said that this thief would be with him in paradise, and I think that we can all agree on that. The problems arise when we try and define the logistics of his statement. Think about it – were they going directly to paradise right after they died that day? That would have been odd, as other Scriptures tell us that Jesus was to be in the grave over a three-day span before being raised. If they immediately went to paradise then paradise would, by definition, have had to have been the grave. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound much like any paradise that I would be looking forward to!
And why did Jesus use the word “today”? Was he telling the thief that the paradise arrival was imminent or was he emphasizing the fact that he was delivering his message of hope to him that day? Again, the logistics create more questions! And what about paradise? Where is it? In heaven? On earth? The Bible actually does refer to both places as a paradise, so if that is the case, then which one? Can there really be two places called paradise? You see? Still more questions! Just for good measure let me throw in a bonus question - what about the thief himself? Did his simple 30-second request of Jesus qualify him for heaven? What about all of the Scriptures that talk about following Christ as a difficult, lifelong journey towards faithfulness? Was this thief exempt from all of that?
Look, all we have done here is pile up several issues regarding this simple conversation. Please check out our September 25th, 2017 podcast, “Did Jesus and the Thief go from the Cross the Paradise?” and see how all of these logistical issues actually work out into a truly marvelous and exciting teaching of Jesus. There are answers and they make so much sense!
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