This Week's Focus Passage

‘Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise.’

This event at the end of our Savior’s work on earth is frequently referred to as an instance of an ‘eleventh hour conversion,’ by which is meant of course that it occurred in the remaining hours of the life of the thief on the cross next to the Christ. It reveals many things to the student of Scripture. We see here the compassion of Jesus with His concern for others even in the midst of His own suffering. We also see in this His sovereign power to answer the cry of a penitent sinner; His majestic grace to comfort one coming to Him that cannot physically come to Him, for he was bound to a cross by nails. We hear no other words from the lips of this dying sinner beyond these final words, yet these last words are full of gospel truth.

And one of the malefactors that were hanged railed on him, saying, Art not thou the Christ? save thyself and us. But the other answered, and rebuking him said, Dost thou not even fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said, Jesus, remember me when thou comest in thy kingdom.

This man had very few hours remaining in his life, and yet it appears to us that he gave, in that short space of time, as fine a testimony of his faith as do many who have lived for years after their conversion experience. He rebuked an unbeliever; how many professors among us have done that? In doing so, he was calling his companion to repentance. He confessed his own repentance, acknowledging that his punishment was just. He declared the sinlessless of the Christ; this man hath done nothing amiss. He declared the lordship of Jesus—which many today sadly contend against—when speaking of His kingdom. His plea, Remember me, evidenced his understanding of the forgiving grace and mercy of our Lord. And he instinctively knew that Christ would be raised from the grave for the justification of all His people. The point being that this ‘ignorant’ thief was more informed than multitudes sitting presently every week in pews of the churches in our land. Amazing grace!

But what is intended by ‘Paradise’? What may we expect that this penitent thought was meant by it? We probably hear the word, paradise, most every day. It is used by many with just as many variations of understanding. Elysium is employed by many as something of a synonym for paradise; at least in their thought pattern. This does provide us with what most of mankind think Paradise is, since dictionaries define Elysium as, ‘the abode of the blessed after death; paradise; any place of bliss.’ That ‘any place of bliss’ is the popular concept of paradise in the minds of the world.

W. E. Vine’s often helpful Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words claims that ‘Paradeisos is an Oriental word, first used by the historian Xenophon, denoting the parks of Persian kings and nobles. It is of Persian origin whence it passed into Greek…..the Septuagint translators used it of the garden of Eden, Gen. 2:8, and in other respects, e.g., Numbers 24:6; Isaiah 1:30; Jeremiah 29:5; Ezekiel 31: 8,9.’ Vine contributes further, adding that ‘In Luke 23:43, the promise of the Lord to the repentant robber was fulfilled the same day; Christ, at His death, having committed His spirit to the Father, went in spirit immediately into Heaven itself, the dwelling place of God (The Lord’s mention of the place as Paradise must have been a great comfort to the malefactor; to the oriental mind it expressed the sum total of blessedness).’

Charles Hodge was convinced, with regard to the case of the rich man and Lazarus, (Luke 16:22), that the implication of this narrative is that when Christ said that the beggar died, and that he was carried away by the angels into Abraham’s bosom, in his case the transition was immediate from earth to heaven. But this Princeton theologian goes on to assert, that, “Still more explicit is the declaration of our Lord to the penitent thief, Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise. (Luke 23:43). The word paradise occurs in two other places in the New Testament. In 2 Corinthians xii. 4, Paul says he was caught up into paradise, which he explains by saying that he was caught up into the third heaven. And in Revelation ii. 7, Christ says: He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches: To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God. There can, therefore, be no doubt that paradise is heaven, and consequently when Christ promised the dying thief that he should that day be in paradise, he promised that he should be in heaven.’

The followers of Mohammed have their own perspective. “Janna (Paradise, heaven) is called by eight names in the Qur’an….which have been translated into English as: paradise, a garden on high, a home that will last, garden of eternity, garden of everlasting bliss, gardens of delight, home of peace, home of the righteous, etc,” and, “In his commentary on Surah 55:72, Ibn Kathir (d. 1373) stated: ‘The prophet Muhammed was heard saying, The smallest reward for the people of paradise is an abode where there are 80,000 servants and 72 wives, over which stands a dome decorated with pearls, aquamarine, and ruby.” Have they been saved in order that they may sin for ever and ever, rather than being saved from their sin?

Theirs is a conspicuously worldly heaven. W. G. T. Shedd’s summary gives us the biblical and Christian reality; “Paradise is unquestionably the abode of the saved; and the saved are with Christ. The common residence of both is described as on high. When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, Eph. 4:8.” Shedd is much more in compliance with Christ’s own words when he said, ‘the saved are with Christ.’ Jesus said Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise. It is much more important and consoling that Christ said, ‘Thou shalt be with me.’ A writer of bygone days once said that, ‘heaven without Christ would be no heaven at all, and hell with Christ would be no hell.’ I submit that this is what the dying thief most wished to hear from his Lord, that he would be forever with Jesus.

David Farmer, elder
Fellowship Bible Church


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