And he said to Jesus, Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.
I. There is a reference to PLACE. "Thou shalt be in paradise." The royal garden of an Oriental palace was called a paradise. The word suggests the ideas of abundance, security, beauty, and delight. Paradise has been regained by Christ — a better paradise than our first parents ever knew; for the serpent shall never creep into it, the tempter's trail shall never pollute it, Satan shall not approach it nor taint its purity by his poisonous breath. There flows the river of the water of life, issuing clear as crystal from the throne of God and of the Lamb. There grows the tree which bears twelve manner of fruits, and whose leaves are for the healing of the nations. No law forbids those who enter there to pluck and eat. No sword of the cherubim turns every way to debar access. There the rose is without a thorn.
II. The gracious answer of Christ referred to COMPANY as well as place. "Thou shalt be with Me." The dying thief might have had doubts as to the meaning of the word "paradise." Where is it? What are its occupations and its joys? Who will be my companions? But, to prevent all painful perplexity, our Lord, in addition to the promise of paradise, added that of Himself — "Thou shalt be with Me." To be with Christ is represented throughout the New Testament as the climax of the believer's hope. Jesus said, as the greatest reward He could offer — "Where I am, there shall also My servant be." He consoled His disciples with the assurance, "I will come again, and take you unto Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also." He interceded on their behalf, saying — "Father, I will that they whom Thou hast given Me be with Me where I am." Stephen's hope in death was expressed in the prayer" Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." St. Paul said he was in a strait betwixt two, "having a desire to depart, and be with Christ, which is far better." And Jesus promised this to the dying thief — "Thou shalt be with Me." The promise of being with Christ includes perfect pardon, perfect purity, and perfect bliss. The father of the preacher, now, for some years, in the presence of that Sinner's Friend whom he so loved to publish, used to tell of a soldier he well knew, who, in reward for character and long services, received from the commander-in-chief a captain's commission. But he did not feel comfortable in his rank, for he fancied he was looked down upon by his new companions on account of his origin. There can be nothing more vulgar than to treat with dishonour those who have risen to a higher station. It needs no brains to possess money acquired by one's ancestors, and rank attained by birth is not necessarily allied to genius, virtue, or achievements. To affect to despise those who, by rising from a humble origin, prove that they have merit as well as rank, is a mark of a mean and little mind. We will hope the soldier was mistaken, for British officers are gentlemen. But he felt uncomfortable, and asked to be restored to his former position. The commander-in-chief, guessing the reason, ordered a grand parade at the garrison, then, calling him by his title, walked up and down with him in familiar conversation. After this he no longer imagined that he was regarded with disfavour by his new associates. If we may compare the poor paltry distinctions of earth with those of heaven, this is what Jesus did to the dying thief. He said — "Thou shalt be with Me." I will welcome thee at the threshold; I will lead thee by the hand into the palace; I will introduce thee to its glorious inhabitants, the angels and the spirits of just men made perfect; thou shalt be with Me.
III. Our Lord's reply related to TIME. "To-day.''
1. This proves the continued conscious existence of the soul after death. Surely if the dying thief had been about to fall into a deep sleep for hundreds or thousands of years the promise of being that day in paradise with Jesus would have been inappropriate and delusive.
2. We also learn that the soul of a believer is at death fitted to be at once with Jesus. There: must have been plenary and immediate absolution for the penitent thief. If on that very day with Jesus, on that very day fit to be with Him, and therefore purified from all sin.
(1) But is it just that a man who has lived in wickedness should, on repentance, be taken at once to paradise, as though he had never sinned? This would indeed be a difficulty were it not that Jesus died for sinners. A crucified Christ solves the mystery. Because His perfect obedience and atoning death satisfied the claims of law, those who trust in Him are delivered from the condemnation of that law. "He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities."(2) But apart from considerations of justice, is it suitable and tit that a man who has all his life been a wilful transgressor, should, on repentance, go to dwell with Jesus? Certainly, if lie is no longer what he was. Consider. You have a ship about to sail with a valuable cargo; but she cannot leave the harbour till the title turns. Presently she swings round with the altered current. Now weigh anchor and set sail! If some one were to say "No, not yet, you are too hasty, the tide has only just turned," would you not despise the folly of such an objection? And in this dying thief the stream of his soul, which had been running down to death, had turned and was now flowing up to life, and why should not he take it at the tide and with it enter heaven?
3. We learn that earth is very near to heaven. "How glorious the hope — there may be but a step between me and paradise!"(1) Let us then be patient in affliction. Are we repining because of trials, murmuring at some difficult duty, some painful sacrifice? What? when angels and departed friends may be weaving our chaplet of victory, tuning our golden harp of praise, and gathering round the threshold to bid us welcome! Shall we give way to impatience, when this very day we may be in paradise?
(2) Let this nearness make us steadfast in resisting temptation. Shall we give up the fight when on the point of winning the victory? Shall we turn back in the journey when round the rock just before us we may be within sight of home?
(Newman Hall, LL. B.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.