39 One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” 40 But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” Luke 23:39-42 I have always wondered what was going through this second man’s head as he asks Jesus to “remember me when you enter into your kingdom.” When I used to believe that the kingdom Jesus proclaimed was a spiritual kingdom and not a physical kingdom, it seemed a little easier to interpret. This man believed that Jesus was going to his heavenly kingdom and wished that Jesus would remember Him when He got there. (As an aside, that would be some remarkable pose for someone who believed that they were mere moments away from Hell. It leads one to ask, is that where he thought he was headed?). But even with this, to my reckoning, incorrect understanding of the nature of the Kingdom of God, there is still the question of how this crucified brigand seemed to have comprehended what Jesus was doing on the cross when none of Jesus’ closest followers did? How did this one man become so spiritually discerning? But Jesus’ kingdom is not, after all, where Jesus was going. The Kingdom of God is what Jesus was bringing, doing, and accomplishing, even in the middle of this tortured conversation, on earth as it is in heaven. Jesus was establishing God’s rule and reign and God’s way of doing power on earth as it is in heaven. But that brings up a more difficult question: Did this other crucified victim perceive Jesus’ resurrection in three days? Was he speaking in faith that he both understood the words of Jesus (which he likely never heard) and also comprehended it’s meaning (which none of the disciples did) that Jesus was going to die and rise again three days later and thus establish the Kingdom of God? That would be a miracle of comprehension and insight indeed! But no, I don’t think that is what this crucified Brigand is saying. We are so used to thinking of Jesus as God that we easily forget that the first century Jews were not anticipating the Messiah to be divine Himself. The Messiah was the one who was going to establish God’s kingdom, not his own. The Messiah may sit on a throne, but it would be God’s throne and He would be ruling in God’s name. It would not be his own kingdom. Therefore, it was plausible that a Messianic candidate could work for the establishment of God’s kingdom and fail to see it’s fulfillment, and yet still be a part of what God would ultimately do in the future. Judas Maccabeus and His family were thought to have Messianic qualities for a while, but when they turned out to be like all the other world rulers, that sentiment died away. Nevertheless, I don’t think any first century Jew would think that Judas and his brothers themselves did not serve their country and their God well through their efforts. They would certainly be part of the “righteous” who would be raised from the dead on the last day. In the same way, I think that this crucified Brigand is confessing to Jesus that he believes that Jesus’ way of doing the kingdom was much more in line with God’s own vision than the route he and his unfortunate partner took. “We are being treated justly, for our punishment fits our crime. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Finally, this man confesses to Jesus that he believes Jesus will be vindicated in the end. Like the great martyrs and the men and women of faith, Jesus would be part of the righteous who will be resurrected on the last day and enjoy the fulfillment of the coming Kingdom of God. In other words “You will get your kingdom someday. And when you do, remember me.” Amazingly, Jesus assures him that, with that confession, he is already in. “Today you will be with me in paradise.” “Paradise” and the Kingdom of God are not the same thing. What Jesus seems to be referring to here is the temporary but beautiful holding place where the righteous wait for the day of final resurrection. We also call this “heaven”. It is God’s space within God’s creation that will one day be joined to earth forever when all things are made new. This man would be in a place of peace and rest until that day comes, and He would be with Jesus and all the holy ones who are waiting for that day. All this because of a simple, humble, confession. It is amazing that with all the injustice that He Himself suffered, Jesus is willing to forgive our disobedience immediately upon confession and repentance. With one labored breath, this crucified brigand went from being a rejected kingdom of God revolutionary to being an accepted member of Jesus’ own kingdom of God revolution which would indeed be vindicated in three days.
When we confess that Jesus is Lord, we can be assured of peace in the after-life, and we can have the solid hope of resurrection in the future. What God did for Jesus in the resurrection, He will do for all of those who put their faith in Jesus’ and His way of doing the Kingdom of God. But the promise is not ONLY future. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, God brings His future into our present when we put our trust in Him. Do you want to experience a new, resurrected life? Put your faith in Jesus and in His way of doing the Kingdom of God and the Holy Spirit will be given to you as a down-payment and a promise of the future that awaits you and the rest of God’s beautiful and good Cosmos. This is good news for you, and for plant earth.