Final Words: “Today You Will be With Me in Paradise”

Final Words: “Today You Will be With Me in Paradise” March 25, 2024

Jesus show us what mercy looks like in his Final Words: “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

I remember my junior year of college I had to take a class called “The Life of Christ.” It turned out to be one of the most difficult classes I took while in college. The professor was new and not really great at her job yet and so we were always a little confused about what was expected of us. Turned out, we grossly underestimated what was expected of us and as the day of our final exam approached, all of us were in a bit of a panic.

So that led to about a dozen or so of us to venture off campus to one of the few places nearby that was open all night—Denny’s. At Denny’s we had plenty of space because there weren’t that many customers at 10 o’clock at night and there was limitless caffeine for our late-night cram session.

We spent the first ten minutes looking at the syllabus, looking at the review sheet for the exam and complaining about all that we were going to have to cram into our brains that night. We whined about how woefully unprepared we were. After a bit of this someone suggested that we get to studying and then someone else suggested we pray. For some reason, in these situations and despite the fact that everyone else there was training for ministry, everyone looked at me to say the prayer. So I agreed to pray and closed my eyes and said the first thing that came to my mind: “God as we prepare for this test tomorrow, we ask for mercy and not justice.” The only way we were going to pass this test was going to be an act of God’s mercy. At least, that’s how we all felt.

The reality is, when it comes to passing the test of life, the only chance we have is an act of God’s mercy. We should never be so quick to hope for justice; if we were to get what we deserved, it would not be so great. But the Good News is that God does not give us what we deserve. He gives us mercy.

As we look to Jesus on the cross and the second of his final seven words, we will see God’s mercy in action. We will see his mercy flowing to a man who deserved the fate he was receiving and granting him hope in the life to come. In this post, we will see how Jesus lived, and how we too can live, the Merciful Life.

Author interruption: I apologize for the lack of posts the past several months. Life and work have been quite busy. I intend to do much more writing in the near future. You can also check out the podcast I host with my good friend Matt on Spotify. You can also join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter and Threads @revsteve83

Mercy in action on the cross. “Plaque with the Crucifixion” Public Domain.

Mercy Defined

Before we dive in deeper, we should pause to properly define the word mercy. The noun “mercy,” according to the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, “signifies concrete expressions of compassion and love.” Mercy describes tangible and practical expressions of love done willfully by one person to another. Easton’s Bible Dictionary defines mercy as “compassion for the miserable.” Mercy is acts of kindness and love to those in dire need and dire predicaments. On the night before my Life of Christ final exam, my classmates and I were in dire need of a transfusion of knowledge. But there are many, many others in far worse predicaments than we were that night. Mercy is acts of kindness toward the poor, the widowed, the orphaned, the foreigner, the stranger, the unhoused, and the sick.

Mercy and Forgiveness

Mercy is very closely associated with forgiveness. It is God withholding judgment that leads him to relationships with people. We, in our natural, sinful states, are in the dire predicament of facing sin’s consequence, death. Thus, we are in dire need of someone to rescue us from that fate. The two men hanging on the crosses on either side of Jesus, like the rest of humanity, were facing the consequences of their own actions and facing the fate all people share: death.

Mercy Displayed

The two men who were crucified with Jesus are described in our English Bibles as “thieves” or “robbers.” Based on the fact they are being crucified and other information we have here, we can deduce some information about them: they are almost certainly from the poorer classes, as Romans used crucifixion to punish slaves and the poor and as a deterrent to the rest of society. They are probably Jewish, as indicated by one of the men’s understanding of Jesus and God’s kingdom. And, given that crucifixion was their punishment, there was probably some violence involved in their crimes. Some commentators suggest that the best word to describe these men is “bandit.”

Both these men are facing their literal, physical death, but they are also facing their spiritual death as well, as they will die outside the life-giving relationship with God. They are both in dire need of forgiveness for their sins so they can be reconciled with God their father. In this story, they stand in for all of humanity: one will reject Jesus’ offer of forgiveness, just as many in this world do; the other will humbly beg for it as others in this world do.

Jesus’ Mercy on the Cross

There is a fascinating connection between the words we studied yesterday, “Father, forgive them…” and the words we are studying today: “…you will be with me in Paradise.” Here is a quick timeline of events:

  • Both bandits were mocking Jesus along with the crowd, mockingly urging him to save himself—and them!
  • Jesus prays to God to forgive those who are killing and mocking him. This prayer was obviously uttered out loud, otherwise the eyewitnesses Luke relied on in the writing of his Gospel would not have heard it to repeat to him.
  • One bandit hears this prayer, and perhaps his heart is changed. He recognizes that while he deserves to be on his cross, Jesus does not deserve to be on his.
  • The bandit has heard the possibility of forgiveness. He chastises the other bandit, acknowledges his guilt, and then humbly begs Jesus for mercy.
  • “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He is looking far ahead, to the end of the ages, when Jewish people believed God would resurrect the dead and bring them into a renewed Eden. Salvation was a future tense thing for most Jewish people; it would come at the end of the age when God would raise the righteous dead and bring his rule to bear over his people in a new Garden of Eden. He is hoping that Jesus will remember him at that time.

“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Let’s break this down word-by-word:


  • Word occurs 11 times in Luke and 9 times in Acts
  • Signifies the dawning of the era of messianic salvation and the fulfillment of the plan of God. It means that God’s kingdom, the messiah’s rule over God’s people, and salvation from sin and its consequences is here right now, in the present.
  • Underscores the idea of present fulfillment of Jesus’ ministry & salvific fulfillment present in the church. As Jesus performed miracles, healing people, restoring them to fullness; as Jesus welcomed sinners and included them in his movement, these were signs that the Kingdom was already present and was being fulfilled. As the church did the same thing in its early days, it was a sign that the kingdom of God was a present reality and that salvation was possible right now.
  • Jesus is saying that salvation is not a distant reality, but is available today.
  • The thief was hoping Jesus would remember him in some distant future when the Kingdom would be fulfilled. Jesus goes abundantly beyond this hope by mercifully offering this man salvation today.


  • Originally referred to a garden or pleasure park such as a king would possess. Comes to Greek from Persian.
  • Used to describe the Garden of Eden.
  • Used three times in the New Testament. Here, in Rev. 2:7, where it refers to the restoration of the Garden of Eden, and in 2 Corinthians 12:4 where Paul uses it to describe the place God dwells.
  • Here it most likely refers to the abode of the righteous dead.


Jesus is promising this bandit that on that day he will be present with him in the realm of the righteous dead, the upshot of which is:

  • The bandit does not have to wait for the chance for acquittal at the last resurrection, he can receive it now.
  • He does not have to wait for his salvation, he can receive it now.
  • He can know before his death that Jesus has secured his salvation.

Jesus has mercifully forgiven this man and has assured him of salvation. He deserves to be on the cross, while Jesus does not. He does not deserve paradise, while Jesus does. Yet, out of his mercy, Jesus declares that their fate will be the same. Jesus saw this man in his dire need of forgiveness, heard his pleas for that forgiveness, and gave him the mercy of that forgiveness, the mercy of being able to die knowing that his is forgiven and that he has received God’s salvation.

The bandit did nothing to earn nor to deserve this mercy. What he deserved was death. He had ignored God’s laws his whole life and engaged in acts of thievery and banditry. He was a violent man who was receiving his just deserts.

Mercy Offered

This man’s fate is the one all people share. As Romans 3:23 says, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” and as Romans 6:23 says, “for the wages of sin is death.” The consequence for our sin is death, separation from God, who is life. Just like these bandits, all people face this deserved consequence for our acts of rebellion against God.

So we are in sin, facing death. We are miserable. We are in a miserable, dire predicament and in dire need of help, of rescue. Fortunately for us, God, in Jesus, has decided to have compassion for the miserable and has demonstrated this mercy on the cross.

The Good News is that Romans 3:23 is not a full sentence. The Apostle Paul writes, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are all justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Love that word “and” right there. Paul, in explaining what happened on the cross, says that Jesus justified all people, or made them right with God. All people are now declared “not guilty” where before they were “guilty.” Paul uses an image from his day of redemption, or the price paid to set a slave free. We were consigned to be slaves to sin and separated from God forever. Jesus, however, on the cross, paid the redemption price to set us free and rescue us from that fate. Rather than receiving what we deserve, we are now able to receive what we need, and that is forgiveness and salvation from sin and its consequence.

Mercy Received

On the cross, Jesus demonstrated the ultimate act of mercy. He saw all people facing the same horrible, miserable fate and in dire need of rescue. On the cross, Jesus stood in for us, an innocent man dying for the guilty, including those hanging with him. On the cross, Jesus gives us the mercy of salvation, of redemption, of freedom from sin and death.

This bandit, in his last moments, recognized that Jesus had what he needed, and he begged him for it. And Jesus went above and beyond this man’s hope; where the man was expecting salvation at the end of time, Jesus gave it to him that day. Jesus promised him he would be saved that very day. The weight of God’s mercy far surpasses the weight of our sin. As the back of a van I saw earlier this week said, “God’s mercy is far greater than your mistakes.” How true indeed that is.

Be Merciful

So just as we who have been forgiven should be forgiving, so too we who have been shown mercy should show mercy.

Earlier in Luke’s gospel, Jesus has commanded his disciples to “be merciful, as your Father is merciful.” This comes in the context of Jesus commanding his disciples to love their enemies, to bless those who curse them, to pray for those who persecute them, to do to others what they would want others to do to them. In order to be merciful, as God is merciful, one must do good to their enemies and lend to people without expecting repayment. In other words, treat others better than they deserve; treat others better than they treat you. Turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, give to those who are stealing from you. Loving others may involve some self-sacrifice on your part.

This does not mean that we continue to allow others to hurt us; Jesus says nothing against removing ourselves from danger or hurtful situations. If you are in a situation where you are being abused, get out! Jesus does not mean that you have to stay in that relationship and take it. What Jesus does mean, however, is that if we are to be merciful as God is merciful, we willingly choose to treat others better than they may deserve and better than they have treated us. It means we don’t retaliate in kind to their actions. The cycle of violence and abuse and hatred ends at us.

The Importance of Emotional Maturity

This requires of us, then, a level of emotional maturity that does not come naturally to all people, and, in fact, goes against human nature. I had a seminary professor who described emotional maturity as the distance between input and output. In other words, someone might do something harmful to you. That’s the input. Human nature might dictate an in-kind and immediate reaction. You punch me, I punch you. You insult me, I insult you. But the more emotionally mature we become, the more we are transformed by God’s mercy in our lives, the more distance we can put between the input and our output. We can choose to respond not in kind but out of mercy. We can choose to let it go. We can choose to not return the insult. We can choose to demonstrate kindness to the person instead. Emotional maturity gives us the ability to not react immediately and to put time in between the action and our response to it. And that time and distance gives us the ability to process what happened and choose to act out of mercy instead of vengeance.

I remember when I was a youth pastor a long time ago, I received an email from one of my student’s parents and for whatever reason this email made me really, really angry. I wanted to reply right away and just go off on this person. I ignored it and told myself I would reply the next day.

The next day rolled around, and I got into my office and pulled up the email and said, “Nope, still angry. I’ll try tomorrow.” And during that time, I was able to process the email and try to see things from the parent’s perspective and try to empathize with her. When I went to check my email the next day, I had received another email from the parent apologizing for the previous email and that the situation she was upset about had resolved itself. By this point, I was able to sympathize with her frustration and respond kindly. It doesn’t always work out like that, but I was able to look at myself and say, “hey, growth!” By delaying my response, I was able to help myself get into a merciful posture and I was able to give the parent—my enemy in that moment—a chance to reconsider their words. Mercy was able to reign.

We live a merciful life when we have developed the emotional maturity to treat people not as they deserve, but as we would want to be treated by them. We live the merciful life when we, like Jesus, can see people in their distress, in their misery, and treat them kindly. We demonstrate mercy when we practically apply love to their desperate need for forgiveness.

Mercy to the Miserable

This goes beyond loving people who have wronged us but loving people who are enduring other forms of misery: poverty, illness, incarceration, homelessness, loneliness. The early church’s primary means of mercy in action was through almsgiving. They gave to people in need. They looked after the poor and the afflicted and the widowed and the orphaned. They showed mercy through tangible acts of kindness and generosity to those who were in dire need.

Do you know why it became something of a cliché that abandoned babies were left at the doors of churches? It’s because in the Roman imperial times, Romans would rid themselves of unwanted babies by leaving them in the dump outside the city. This form of infanticide was fairly common and generally accepted as a practice. Christians however would go out to the dumps to find these abandoned babies and adopt them as their own children. Soon, instead of taking unwanted babies to the dump, Romans would just cut out the middle part of the process and leave them with known Christians. They had a reputation of mercy, of kindness to those who were unwanted.

If there is anything the church has a reputation for, let it be that. Let us be known as a people who help people in need, who tangibly demonstrate God’s love and mercy through acts of love and mercy for our neighbors.

To show mercy is to engage in practical actions of love and compassion. Mercy is the very heart of God, expressed best in Jesus sacrificial death on the cross. His interaction with the bandit is a perfect example of Jesus’ mercy in action. We are to be merciful, as God is merciful. Jesus wants us all to live the Merciful Life.

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