“I tell you the truth, today you wll be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
So said Jesus, on the cross, to “the other criminal”. A saying that has been precious to me for some time, not least because of the implications for the way in which God saves by grace not works. The model sinner, whose saving faith could not be accompanied by any good works. Such a verse makes very clear that God does not save us because of our works (as instrumental cause), but by faith. James 2 makes clear that genuine faith will be accompanied by good works, but Luke 23 makes clear that such good works are the outworking of faith in space and time not an essential component of it.
But I want to reflect on this verse from another angle today. What we can learn from this verse about what awaits the believer after they die.
- Today There is much that we need to wait for God to do for us after we die. We need to wait until we will hear Jesus’ voice and come out of our graves (John 5). We need to wait to be reclothed with new bodies (2 Corinthians 5). We need to wait for immortality and glory (1 Corinthians 15). But still something can be said that is true for “today”.
- With me The true believer will be with Jesus the moment they die. No longer with us. But with Jesus.
- In paradise Given Jesus is at the right hand of God. Given Jesus has a resurrection body, but nobody else does yet. Given we’re waiting for reclothing, the final new creation and so on… It’s hard to imagine what life with Jesus “today” will look and feel like. It’s tempting to start to grow very unappealing mental pictures of a limbo, not-really-existing, type of reality. These last two words disallow that. The description of life with Jesus while we wait is “paradise”. Yes the new creation, with new bodies, with others will be far, far better. But the day the believer dies, they enter the presence of Jesus – and that is described accurately by Jesus as “paradise”.
All of which echoes another verse that I love: Philippians 1:23
“I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far”.
The same triplet is there
- “to depart and be”. He’s talking about what happens when he departs, not several thousand years later. He must be, or the verse would make no sense in its context.
- “with Christ”
- “better by far”