All the people in this world can be categorized as one of the two criminals from Luke 23—they are either the one who repents of his sins or the other who doesn’t. You cannot stand in the middle. The Lord, who was crucified between the two criminals, went through the impossible so that we can be forgiven.
Luke 23:39-43 reads, “One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, ‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’ And he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ And he said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.’”
Actually, both criminals had spoken against the Lord, but one of them had a change of heart. I feel so touched that through God’s mercy, this man’s eyes were opened. His change was incredible. He then believed that the Lord would be the King, and that His kingdom would come. What was the Lord’s response to this man when He was suffering the greatest agony? He did not say to him that he would go to Hades, but that he would be with Him in paradise. This is the first mention of “paradise” in the Bible. This word was never used in the Old Testament, yet it fits perfectly here.
I mentioned last week that the soldiers did not break Jesus’ legs because He was already dead. John 19 clearly states this to fulfill the Scripture – “Not one of his bones will be broken.” Instead, the soldiers pierced His side with a spear. We now understand that the Lord’s riven side is a scar of love showing we belong in His heart. When the soldiers reached the two criminals and saw they were still alive, they broke their legs. Hence, we believe that the Lord arrived at paradise first, followed by the repented criminal shortly after.
Upon the Lord’s arrival, Hades was no longer Hades, but for the very first time, it was called paradise! His presence indeed made all the difference!
The saints in the Old Testament were anticipating the coming Saviour. They offered sacrifices and were also saved. They trusted the prophecies written in the Bible, and desired for a better country. Now imagine their joy when Jesus went to Hades and changed it into paradise! I believe the whole place must have been shaken! The Son of God became a Man as the Bible foretold. Isaiah 9:6 reads, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…” Isaiah 53 was entirely fulfilled. The Lord personally went to Hades and proclaimed the great news of joy! He cried “It’s finished!” on the cross.
There was one issue yet to be resolved: people of the Old Testament time had not been perfected. Put simply in modern terms: the forgiveness they received was like the concept of paying by credit cards–no cash was withdrawn at the moment of spending. During their time, the Lord had not died to save them, but all the oxen and lambs they offered symbolized that the Lamb of God would come and die for them. Abel offered the firstborn of his flock, which involved the shedding of blood. Abraham also offered lambs. Throughout history, countless lambs were offered as sacrifices. Lambs are one of the whitest and most tame among all animals. The people in the past were able to enjoy the fruits of the cross in advance. However, they were not yet perfected because the problem of sins had not been dealt with.
Hebrews 9:11-15 reads, “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation), he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.”
Here, it says that the Lord’s death has redeemed the people from their sins under the first covenant–this refers to the saints in the Old Testament. When the Lord went to paradise, they must have been so thrilled! The Lord had overcome Satan, sin and death! Can you imagine what precious words the Lord must have said to them when He arrived? Abraham had been looking forward to it for a long time, and how amazing that the Lord came to him! Abraham and the others would have been overjoyed to see the Lord! He might have talked to them about His victory of love on the cross, of how He overcame Satan, sin, and death, and that He would soon be ascending to heaven. Actually, the Lord’s presence alone would bring so much joy. And their level of joy must have increased! Therefore, it’s fitting for the Lord to call the place “paradise” because He would be there. The first mention of “paradise” was from Him. He went there, and He would also take them up, and they would be uplifted even more!