Matthew 25:31-34 (HCSB)
When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels, with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations, will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on His right and the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right, “Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
This is a portion of the answer given by Jesus to His disciples in private, when they had asked Him about several things including the sign of end of the age. (Matthew 24:3) Jesus explains to them, as seen above, that end of the age is signaled by His return. That is when His kingdom comes. In order for a person to inherit that future kingdom, such a person must then repent now (in this age), and give to Christ their believing loyalty. For those who do so, they then are considered to be “…blessed by My Father.”
The Criminal On The Cross
While undergoing crucifixion along with Jesus, one of the two criminals who were hung on both sides of Him asked Jesus about being remembered by Him when He would in the future come into His kingdom…
Luke 23:39-42 (HCSB)
Then one of the criminals hanging there began to yell insults at Him: “Aren’t You the Messiah? Save Yourself and us!” But the other answered, rebuking him: “Don’t you even fear God, since you are undergoing the same punishment? We are punished justly, because we’re getting back what we deserve for the things we did, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me, when You come into Your kingdom!”
This criminal recognized who Jesus was. He also acknowledged who he himself was: someone who was being, “punished justly,” “getting back what we deserve for the things we did.” In other words, this criminal repented. Not only did he repent, but he also saw His authority and he gave Christ his loyalty. He did this by not only acknowledging that Jesus had a kingdom, but by also petitioning Him to be remembered by Him when He would come into His kingdom.
How did Jesus respond?
Luke 23:43 (HCSB)
And He said to him, “ I assure you: Today you will be with Me in paradise.”
In other words, what Jesus was encouraging the criminal with was that after his death the next thing that he will experience is the bliss of what it is like to be remembered in the next age, when Christ comes into His kingdom (paradise). At that time, the criminal will then awaken from his death by crucifixion, suddenly finding himself “blessed by My Father.” He will find himself to be a victor, resurrected and in the same place where all of the others who had ever repented and given their allegiance to Christ (those who “washed their robes”) throughout history before they had died.
And, where is that?
Where the tree of life is…
Revelation 2:7b… 22:14 (HCSB)
“I will give the victor the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in God’s paradise… Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates.”
The Third Heaven
It should be noted that Paul also described paradise in this same vein, equating it with the “third heaven.” (2 Corinthians 12:2-4) The third heaven (paradise) is where the criminal desired to be found after he would be resurrected. Again, he wanted to rise from the dead as a victor; someone who gets the crown of life instead of the alternative the second death…
Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. The victor will never be harmed by the second death.
We must remember, Christ did not go to where the tree of life was after He died. If you recall, He said this to Mary Magdalene on the morning of His resurrection…
John 20:17a (HCSB)
“Don’t cling to Me,” Jesus told her, “for I have not yet ascended to the Father.”
Where was Jesus those three days?
Jesus had already told of where He would go when He died…
Matthew 12:40 (HCSB)
For as Jonah was in the belly of the huge fish three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.
Where then is the criminal now?
He is “asleep” awaiting the trumpet of God, which will in the future announce when Christ will come into His kingdom…
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (HCSB)
We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, concerning those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. Since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, in the same way God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep through Jesus. For we say this to you by a revelation from the Lord: We who are still alive at the Lord’s coming will certainly have no advantage over those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are still alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.
We who believe and are still alive now get to meet the Lord at the same time that the criminal does! Do these words encourage you?
What Our Goal Should Be…
Just as the criminal desired to be remembered by Christ when He comes into His kingdom, paradise in the next age, our goal should also be the same. It is what Paul described when he wrote to the church in Philippi…
Philippians 3:10-11 (HCSB)
My goal is to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, assuming that I will somehow reach the resurrection from among the dead.
May we all one day reach such a goal, awakening from the grave to the resurrection of life…
John 5:24-29 (HCSB)
I assure you: Anyone who hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not come under judgment but has passed from death to life. I assure you: An hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in Himself, so also He has granted to the Son to have life in Himself. And He has granted Him the right to pass judgment, because He is the Son of Man. Do not be amazed at this, because a time is coming when all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come out — those who have done good things, to the resurrection of life, but those who have done wicked things, to the resurrection of judgment.
Godspeed, to the brethren!