Criminals in the Kingdom

Jesus of Nazareth was crucified between two criminals. They were two different men with different attitudes, and two different outcomes. Their story, however, leads me to one conclusion: someday, there will be Criminals in the Kingdom of God.

Men Suffering From the Same Condition

“One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other answered, and rebuking him 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 has done nothing wrong.” And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when you come into Your kingdom!” And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43, NASB)

This is another snapshot of an eyewitness report about Jesus, from another unlikely place. After he was unjustly tried and condemned, Jesus was taken to Golgotha, where he was crucified between two other men, both criminals who apparently had qualified for capital punishment. (Matthew calls them “robbers” but since theft did not warrant such a severe penalty, scholars say they must have been insurrectionists or repeat offenders. Luke calls them “criminals”.)

Two Criminals, Two Approaches

One of them taunted Jesus skeptically and challenged him to save them from crucifixion, while the other observed his behavior and declared that Jesus was guiltless. Three crosses: one man in the middle, two opposite opinions on either side. It’s a telling reminder that two people can see the exact same thing and disagree about what it means. One criminal looked at Jesus and exercised skepticism, demanding proof and instant gratification. “Save yourself and us!” He saw opportunity to make a getaway, but that was it. He was in effect demanding that God approach him on his own terms.

The other criminal was also hanging on a cross, and was in the same condition as the skeptic. He didn’t have long to live, and here he was being crucified next to the “King of the Jews”. However, he somehow exercised faith and saw Jesus as he truly was, able to wield authority: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom!” He never read Hebrews 11:6, but he applied it anyway. “Without faith it is impossible to please God.”

Hmmm… I wonder where those two guys are today. Come to think of it, where are YOU are today? Are you skeptical? Do you need instant gratification? Do you sometimes look at how difficult your circumstances are and shake your fist at God? Or do you say, “Lord, remember me”? No matter how tough things get, don’t lose faith. The King established his kingdom, and he has promised us a place in it. Therefore, remember Hebrews 10:23: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.” As one hopeful criminal to another, I’ll see you in the Kingdom someday!

Criminals in the Kingdom

When Christ was being crucified,
There were two thieves on either side.
One mocked him, but the other cried,
“Remember me in Paradise!”
Jesus heard his dying plea
While paying for his penalty,
And told him, “Son, you soon will be
In paradise today with me.”
If into heaven he was let–
A sinful man with much regret–
Because the King forgave his debt,
Then perhaps we’ll make it to heaven yet!
The only way to heaven is to bring
Our sin before the gracious, loving King.

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