Seven words on the cross (2)
This is the second words of Jesus on the cross: “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (Lk. 23:43).
Who was the “you” Jesus is talking about here? In other words, to whom did Jesus say, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise”? He is one of the two criminals (v. 39) and two robbers (Mt. 27:38) who were crucified with Jesus. We do not know whether that one was the robber who was hanged on Jesus' right hand or the one on Jesus' left (Lk. 23:33). Although the punishment that robbers received at that time was not only crucifixion, when we see these two robbers crucified with Jesus, we can guess that they were robbers among robbers. These two robbers insulted the crucified Jesus. Look at Matthew 27:44 – “The robbers who had been crucified with Him were also insulting Him with the same words.” Here, “also” means that the two robbers insulted Jesus, just as the chief priests, along with the scribes and elders, mocked Him. Look at Matthew 27:41-43: “In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. ‘He saved others,’ they said, ‘but he can't save himself! He's the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, 'I am the Son of God.’” One of these two robbers slandered Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” (Lk. 23:39). At that time, another robber rebuked that robber and 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 (Jesus) has done nothing wrong” (vv. 40-41). After saying this, the robber said to Jesus, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” (v. 42). Here, “when You come in Your kingdom” refers to the second coming of Jesus. This robber realized this precious truth, the gospel. The Holy Spirit made him realize that he believed in Jesus and blessed him to trust in Jesus. Jesus said to this robber, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise” (v. 43). “Paradise” here means heaven.
What is interesting here is that in Matthew 27:41-44, when the two robbers who were crucified with Jesus insulted Jesus (v. 44), like the chief priests, the scribes, and elders, they said to Jesus (v. 41), “’He saved others,’ they said, ‘but he can't save himself! He's the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, I am the Son of God’” (vv. 42-43), but in Luke 23: 39-41 only one of those two robbers hurled insults at Jesus, “Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (v. 39) and another robber rebuked him, “Don't you fear God," he said, "since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong” (vv. 40-41). How could one of the two robbers who insulted Jesus said, “Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us! (v. 39), while the other robber rebuked that robber who insulted Jesus, saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom”? (v. 42) The robber who insulted (slandered) Jesus said, “Save yourself and us” (v. 39) means, ‘If you are truly the Christ, you shouldn’t let them condemn yourself and us (the two robbers) to death (punishment) on the cross but let us live without suffering (dying)’ and it was a slander mixed with mockery. And the other robber who rebuked this robber feared God and said, ‘Since we have sinned, we deserve the death sentence like this, but Jesus did nothing wrong’ (vv. 40-41). In other words, he said that even though Jesus received the same condemnation as himself and the other robber, he and the other robber deserved to be crucified because they sinned, but Jesus did not deserve to be crucified because He did not commit a sin at all. And when this robber said to Jesus, “Jesus, remember me when you come into Your kingdom” (v. 42), he wanted to enter “Paradise” (heaven) with Jesus and live forever there (eternal life), unlike the other robber, who slandered (insulted) Jesus, who only wanted salvation (life) of the body by not dying on the cross (vv. 42-43).
This is God's exclusive saving grace and work of salvation. God took pity on this robber as He wanted and gave him the grace of salvation, while hardening the other robber (Rom 9:15, 18). The robber who received mercy from God and was saved was an evildoer and a wicked man who deserved the punishment of death by being nailed to a cross because of his sins. But by God's sheer grace, he believed in the sinless Jesus Christ and received salvation (eternal life) and went to heaven. Jesus, who came to this world after leaving the heaven more splendid than the city of Zion, endured all the bitter pain on the cross and loved the robber to the end, even to the point of being nailed to death (Jn. 13:1), and saved even one evildoer and robber (Lk. 23: 43). Nobody can go to Heavenly Father without Jesus Christ who is the way, the truth and the life (Jn. 14: 6). Only by faith in Jesus Christ can we be saved and go to heaven. “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31).