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The Thief in Paradise
"He said to Jesus, Remember me when thou comest into thy Kingdom. And he [Jesus] said to him [the penitent thief], Indeed I say to thee this day, thou shalt be with me in Paradise." `Luke 23:42,43`
Those who consider salvation to be an escape from everlasting torture to a paradise of pleasure, and dependent only on accidental circumstances of favor, think they see exemplified in this narrative the doctrine of election--that our Lord Jesus, pleased by the consoling words of the one thief, elected him to heaven, and equally elected that the other should suffer to all eternity, unpitied and unrelieved. Truly, if God has made salvation such a lottery, such a chance thing, those who believe it to be such should have little to say against Church lotteries, and less against worldly ones.
But this is not the case. This scripture has been much misunderstood. To get its true importance, let us take in the surroundings and connections.
The Lord had just been condemned, and was now being executed on the charge of treason against Caesar's government, in saying that he was a king; though he had told them that his Kingdom was "not of this world." There, upon the cross above his head, written in three languages, was the crime charged against him: "THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS." Those about knew of his claims and derided him, except one of the thieves crucified alongside. Doubtless he had heard of Jesus and his wonderful character and works, and said in his heart: This is truly a strange and wonderful man. Who can know that there is no foundation to his claims? He certainly lives close to God. I will speak to him in sympathy: it can do no harm. Then he rebuked his companion, mentioning the Lord's innocence; and then the conversation above noted took place.
We cannot suppose that this thief had correct or definite ideas of Jesus--nothing more than a mere feeling that, as he was about to die, any straw of hope was better than nothing. To give him credit for more would be to place him in faith ahead of all the Lord's apostles and followers, who at this time had fled dismayed, and who, three days after, said: "We [had] trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel." `Luke 24:21`
We can have no doubt as to the importance of his petition. He meant that whenever Jesus reached his Kingdom power, he desired to be favored, cared for. Now note our Lord's answer. He does not say that he has no kingdom; but, on the contrary, he indicates by his response that the thief's request was a proper one. The word translated "verily" or "indeed" is the Greek word "amen," and signifies "So be it," or "Your request is granted." "I say to thee this day [this dark day, when it seems as though I am an impostor, and I am dying as a felon], thou shalt be with me in Paradise." The substance of this promise is that, when the Lord has established his Kingdom it will be a Paradise, and the thief will be remembered and be in it. Notice that we have changed the comma from before to after the word "today."
This makes our Lord's words perfectly clear and reasonable. He might have told the thief more if he had chosen. He might have told him that the reason he would be privileged to be in Paradise was because his ransom was then and there being paid. He might have told him further that he was dying for and ransoming the other thief also, as well as the whole gaping and deriding multitude before him, the millions then entombed, and the millions yet unborn. We know this, because we know that "Jesus Christ, by the grace of God, tasted death for every man," "gave himself a ransom for all," that all in due time might have opportunity to return to the Edenic condition, forfeited by the first man's sin, and redeemed for men by Christ's righteous sacrifice. `Heb. 2:9`; `1 Tim. 2:5,6`; `Acts 3:19`
The garden of Eden was but an illustration of what the earth will be when fully released from the curse--perfected and beautified. The word "paradise" is of Arabic origin, and signifies a garden. The Septuagint renders `Gen. 2:8` thus: "God planted a paradise in Eden." When Christ shall have established his Kingdom, and bound evil, etc., this earth will gradually become a paradise, and the two thieves and all others that are in their graves shall come into it, and then by becoming obedient to its laws they may live in it and enjoy it forever. We doubt not, however, that the kind words spoken in that dark hour to the suffering Savior will no more lose a special and suitable reward than the gift of a cup of water, or other small kindnesses, done to those whom this King is "not ashamed to call his brethren." `Matt. 10:42`
In the Scriptures Paradise is used to describe man's primeval state of bliss, in harmony with his Creator, before the curse and blight of sin entered into the world. This Paradise lost to mankind is promised to be restored; and in a more or less vague manner the whole creation has been and is waiting and hoping for the Golden Age thus to be inaugurated. The Scriptures present to us the thought that the Paradise state has been redeemed for man by our Lord Jesus' death, and that as a consequence a part of his glorious restitution work will be to restore Paradise--"that which was lost"--the purchased possession. `Matt. 18:11`; `Eph. 1:14`; `Rev. 2:7`
But have we a right to alter the position of the comma? Certainly: the punctuation of the Bible is not inspired. The writers of the Bible used no punctuation. It was invented about four hundred years ago. It is merely a modern convenience, and should be so used as to bring out sense, in harmony with all other scriptures.
Instances of a similar use of the word "today" in modern literature are quite frequent; and in the Scriptures we call attention to the following:
"Therefore I command thee this thing today." `Deut. 15:15`
"I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil." `Deut. 30:15`
"I command thee this day to love the Lord thy God." `Deut. 30:16`
"I would to God that not only thou but also all that hear me this day were both almost and altogether such as I am, save these bonds." `Acts 26:29`
Not only does the sense of this passage require the punctuation suggested, but its harmony with all the remaining scriptures similarly demands it, and there can be no reasonable or valid objection to it offered. To suppose that our Lord went to Paradise immediately, would be to suppose an impossibility, for Paradise has not yet been re-established. Furthermore, it is distinctly stated that our Lord's body was buried in Joseph's tomb, and that his soul, or being, went to sheol, hades, oblivion, and that he was dead, and not alive in Paradise or elsewhere, in the interim. The Scriptures distinctly assure us, not that our Lord came down from heaven, or from Paradise, at his resurrection; but that he "rose from the dead, on the third day, according to the Scriptures." (`1 Cor. 15:4`) Our Lord's own words, after his resurrection, were, "Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day." (`Luke 24:46`) Again he said to Mary, "I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father; unto my God and your God." `John 20:17`
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