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"Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise". Luke 23:43.
JESUS' PROMISE TO THE THIEF ON THE CROSS:
Religious people who believe that going to heaven on the day of their death is the reward promised by God to man, delight to quote Jesus' promise to the thief on the cross, quoted above, as clear proof for that doctrine. However, the following facts are FATAL to that view:-
The thief did not request that he might go THAT day to heaven with the Lord Jesus. He asked…."Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom". (V.42). He asked that, at some unknown time in the future, when the Lord Jesus returns to earth to set up the Kingdom of God (firstly in Jerusalem, 'the city of the great king' (Matt. 5:35) and then over all nations), that the Lord Jesus would remember him and be merciful to him, so that he might be in that kingdom with the Lord Jesus.
The Lord Jesus granted the repentant thief's request, inspired as it was by Old Testament teaching, His own teaching and by the belief of the majority of the Jews. That belief was that the Messiah would come and "restore again the Kingdom to Israel", (Acts 1:6), in accordance with the Covenant made with David. ( 2 Samuel 7:4-16. (See our study The Truth About The Kingdom of God).
On that day, both the thief and the Lord Jesus, went to their death. The Lord Jesus to a rock-hewn sepulchre and the thief to Gehenna, the rubbish tip 'in the Valley of the son of Hinnom' (as Gehenna means), outside Jerusalem, where fires where kept burning continually, to destroy all that was dumped there. Jesus did not go to heaven until some forty three days later. (see Acts 1:1-3,9,11). The thief became dust and ashes and awaits the resurrection at Christ's coming, along with many from all ages. (Acts 2:29-36; 1 Corinthians 15:20-28).
So instead of this verse (quoted at the top) teaching 'heaven going', it really teaches the great and wonderful truth of the Gospel. That is that, when the Lord Jesus comes into His kingdom, PARADISE WILL BE RESTORED, and, if people will repent of their sins and come to Christ, then they too can ask when at death's door, the thief's question, and be assured and comforted by the Lord Jesus' reply.
FIRST PARADISE LOST BY ADAM THROUGH SIN:
Our first parents, Adam and Eve, were given the first PARADISE in Eden and that involved them in having 'dominion', or, exercising kingly authority over all earthly things. (Genesis 1:26-28; 2:8) That PARADISE of Eden, meaning 'garden of delight', was located somewhere between present day Israel and the Persian Gulf, which area is often referred to as the 'fertile crescent' and the 'cradle of civilisation'. (Genesis 2:10-14)
BUT, their continuing place in Eden, the garden or PARADISE of God, depended on obedience to one simple command….GOD'S LAW, which would test their continued submission to their creator and to His will. (Genesis 2:16-17). Eve, deceived by the serpent (a crafty speaking animal), into disbelief of God and disobedience to His simple law, induced Adam, her husband, to follow her, which, regrettably for him and everyone else, he did. (Genesis 3:1-7). Adam's sin brought condemnation to death which was to be preceded by frustration, sorrow and toil…(Gen. 3:16-19), and loss of his place in the Garden of Eden, or PARADISE…. (See. Genesis 3:23-24).
FUTURE PARADISE WON BY CHRIST'S OBEDIENCE:
Prior to sentencing Adam and Eve, God promised a 'redeemer', by whom sin and death would be conquered and His original plan for man would be accomplished. (Genesis 3:16) The promised 'redeemer' is the Lord Jesus Christ, the 'seed of the woman', 'born of a woman, born under the Law'. Jesus lived and died in obedience to His Father and overcame sin "by the sacrifice of himself" (Hebrews 9:26).
Because He "became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross….God hath highly exalted Him" (Phillipp. 2:8-9), and made Him mankind's past Prophet, present Priest and future King. By following His foretold example of submission, Adam and Eve would be forgiven and reconciled again to God. The right to the first PARADISE was lost by the man Adam through rebellion against God, but the right to the restoration of PARADISE was won by the submissive "son of man" , Jesus Christ whom God has made our Lord, Ruler or Master.
PARADISE OFFERED TO US:
The "keys to the (future) kingdom of (from ) heaven", or the right to the future PARADISE to be established from heaven on this earth, were won by Jesus Christ and given by Him to His apostle, Peter .(Matthew 16:19). Peter did not keep those 'keys' to himself , nor did he save them for transferring to his 'claimed' successors, the Popes. Rather he, along with the Apostle Paul, used the keys soon after they were given to him, in opening up the door to eternal life in the Kingdom of God, or PARADISE of God, to Jews and also to gentiles like us. (Acts 3;12-26; 4:8-12; 5:29-32; 10:34-43; 13:16-41; 17:16-31).
The offer of salvation in God's coming PARADISE, is now open to all men and women on the sole condition of faith, or submission to God.
THE CONDITIONS OF ENTRY INTO PARADISE:
God laid down the condition for Adam and Eve to remain in the first PARADISE ….it was submission to Him. God has also laid down the condition to entry into the FUTURE PARADISE….That condition remains the same…submission to God. God does not want 'rebels' who do their own thing in their own way, in His kingdom. It is His Kingdom. It is His Kingdom to come….He is the Sovereign King and His WILL will be done on earth as it is in heaven
The form that the required submission must take, is not the slaying of a lamb, or the pouring out of its blood and covering ourselves with its skin. The required 'form' is set out by the Lord Jesus in His command to His apostles, to evangelise the world " He that believeth (the Gospel) and is baptised shall be saved…." (Mark 16:15-16) God grant that we may BELIEVE, BE BAPTISED AND BE SAVED (from eternal death).
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