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With Me in Paradise

May 7, 2023 Speaker: Jonathan McLeod Series: Sayings of Jesus on the Cross

Topic: Heaven Scripture: Luke 23:43

Famous Last Words

Our current series is on the last words of Jesus, the seven sayings of Jesus on the cross.

When a person dies, we often want to know their last words. Sometimes last words are powerful. Sometimes they’re funny. And sometimes they’re strange.

  • “Dictionary.” - Joseph Wright, editor of the English Dialect Dictionary
  • “I did not get my Spaghetti-O’s; I got spaghetti. I want the press to know this.” - convicted murderer Thomas J. Grasso, complaining about his last meal
  • “Either that wallpaper goes, or I do.” - Oscar Wilde
  • “Money can’t buy life.” - Bob Marley
  • “I shall hear in heaven.” - Beethoven

The second saying of Jesus on the cross is found in Luke 23:43: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

What do these words of Jesus on the cross tell us about him?

Crucified with Criminals

Jesus was crucified between two criminals. In the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, the two criminals are called “robbers” (Matt. 27:38; Mark 15:27). The Greek word translated as “robbers” (lestes) can also mean “insurrectionists.” The NIV translates the word as “rebels.” 

While on the cross, Jesus was mocked repeatedly: 

  • “The [Jewish] rulers scoffed at him” (v. 35).
  • “The [Roman] soldiers also mocked him” (v. 36).
  • “One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him (v. 39).

If Jesus really is who he says he is (“the Christ of God, his Chosen One,” v. 35; “the King of the Jews,” v. 8), why is he dying on a cross? 

“We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Cor. 1:23).

Three times Jesus is told, “Save yourself.” “He saved others; let him save himself” (v. 35). They didn’t realize that he was saving others by not saving himself.

Matthew and Mark say that both criminals mocked Jesus, while Luke tells us that only one mocked him. 

Is this a contradiction? Differences in the Gospel accounts don’t necessarily indicate contradictions.

It could be that at first both criminals mocked Jesus, but at some point one of the criminals had a change of heart. Maybe the criminal had a change of heart when he heard Jesus say, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (v. 34).

Maybe there’s someone in your life who would change their mind about the gospel if they saw you act like Jesus.

The second criminal, known as the “penitent thief,” says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (v. 42). How does Jesus reply? Does he say, “Sorry, it’s too late for you”? Does he say, “Sorry, no criminals allowed”? No, Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” (v. 43).

These words of Jesus tell us that he wants to share paradise with unworthy sinners.

With Me in Paradise 

The word “paradise” (paradeisos) takes us back to the Garden of Eden. It occurs only two other times in the NT. [Read 2 Cor. 12:2-4; Rev. 2:7.] In 2 Corinthians 12, the apostle Paul talks about a present paradise, while the book of Revelation promises a future paradise (cf. 22:1-5).

By his death Jesus opens the gates of paradise.

The present paradise (i.e., heaven), the current destination of all who die in Christ, is described in different ways.

  • Enjoying table fellowship with Abraham (Luke 16:23)
  • Living in the Father’s house (John 14:2)
  • Being with Christ (2 Cor. 5:8; Phil. 1:23)

The one thing heaven is not is boring. If people can spend hours in an imaginary world (e.g., Minecraft) and not get bored, we can be sure that we will never get bored in the world that God has prepared for us.

You Will Be

Jesus says, “You will be with me in paradise.” Think about who Jesus is talking to. This man is a criminal. He’s admitted that he’s been condemned “justly” (v. 41). He had been mocking Jesus.

This man hadn’t been good enough to deserve entry into paradise. And he has no time to earn entry into paradise. But Jesus assured him that he would end up in heaven.

When there’s repentance, there will always be reconciliation.

[Read Luke 15:1-2.] Then Jesus tells three stories. Notice what Jesus says at the end of the first two stories. [Read vv. 7, 10.] The third story is the story of the prodigal son. The son eventually repents of his sin. [Read v. 21.] What did the father do when his son returned? [Read vv. 20b-23.] The older son was angry. It didn’t seem right to throw a party for the prodigal son. The older son was just like the religious leaders who grumbled in verse 2.

The only people who enter paradise are people who admit that they don’t deserve to enter.


The dying criminal thought that Jesus would come into his kingdom at some day in the future. But Jesus tells him, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” There’s no intermediate state between death and heaven. Jesus is talking about something immediate.

If you were to die today, would you go to paradise to be with Jesus?

The criminal’s conversion was an eleventh hour conversion. Some people might think, “That sounds like a good plan. Maybe I’ll wait until I’m about to die. Then I’ll put my faith in Christ.”

That’s a bad plan. [Read James 4:13-14.] “You are a mist” (v. 14). You might never live to see that day when you plan to put your faith in Christ. Today is the day to make life’s most important decision.

Three Dying Men

In his sermon on this passage, Tim Keller talks about the three dying men. The first criminal makes the easiest mistake (i.e., going along with what the world says about Jesus). The second criminal makes the hardest admission (i.e., “I’m a sinner. I need a Saviour.”). Jesus, the third dying man, offers the greatest gift (i.e., forgiveness and reconciliation with God).

The words of Jesus in Luke 23:43 tell us that he wants to share paradise with unworthy sinners.

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