We find an interesting exchange in the Gospel of Luke in the 23rd chapter. The setting is the crucifixion of Jesus along with two criminals. Here is the account beginning with verse 39: “One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
First we have one of the criminals asking Jesus to save himself and them.
Then we have the second criminal calling out the first criminal for expecting Jesus to save them. He states, “We are punished justly…”. In other words, we don’t have any justification to expect Jesus to save us. We deserve what we are getting because we are guilty.
And then, after calling out the first criminal for expecting Jesus to save them he said to Jesus, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Didn’t the second criminal just do what he called the first criminal out for doing? Didn’t he just ask Jesus to save him? Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom, sounds a whole lot like save me!
Lastly, we have Jesus responding to the second criminal’s request to remember him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Now there is an assumption many christians make concerning this dialog between Jesus and the second criminal. Many christians assume based upon Jesus response to the second criminal that the second criminal is in heaven. I would say, based upon Luke’s account that is a correct assumption.
But there is another assumption many christians make along with their first assumption that the second criminal is in heaven. Likewise, many christians assume the first criminal is not in heaven. And I don’t think there is anything in this text to support that assumption.
Keeping to contextual integrity we have the second criminal making a request of Jesus. Jesus in return response to the second criminal’s request. Many assume because Jesus didn’t include the first criminal that must mean he wasn’t going to be with Jesus in paradise. But that is an assumption without support.
Case in point. I had a couple of friends over watching a game and they were talking about going to a car show in Indy later that day. After the game one of my friends said to me, “You want to go to the car show?” I said, “Sure, let’s go. I’ll drive.”
Question: Did my friend and I go to the car show? Or did my two friends and I go to the car show?
Just because Jesus in response to the second criminal’s request didn’t include the first criminal doesn’t mean the first criminal wasn’t included and isn’t in paradise. We should be careful in our assumptions about a person’s eternal destiny.