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.” (Luke 23:39-43)
On Good Friday, three men hung on a cross. The first was Jesus. He knew God well and loved Him. He was a Son of Man, a child of Adam; and the Son of God; a child of God. He represented believers who know God, those who pray and study His word. He wasn’t afraid to die because he knew heaven was paradise, goodness beyond human imagination, with our loving God in control.
The second knew God existed but, during his lifetime, only cared about himself. Like the Jewish leaders, he was jealous of Jesus and wanted to be God. He was a liar and a cheat and just like those who murdered Jesus. He threw the same insults: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us.” (not only yourself, but me too!) During his lifetime, he chose to follow the enemy, not God. We see the enemy in this criminal by his words and the words of the Jewish leaders. Remember when Jesus was confronted by the devil in Luke 4:3-12. “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread, … throw yourself down from here … He will command his angels … they will lift you up in their hands.”
This criminal is not Satan, just influenced by Satan. Satan was an angel who chose darkness after knowing God intimately. He knew God’s love, yet still chose to be in control. Hell was created for Satan and those like Him. Satan has already used his free will to reject his God, so Jesus didn’t ignore Satan in order to give us valuable information. “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”
This criminal doesn’t represent Satan but those who follow a dark path with Satan. Jesus ignores them because they’ve used their free will to follow the enemy. He gives them over to darkness and uses the enemy to make their world darker hoping they’re so miserable, they seek light. These are the bullies and thieves who steal our joy and make life gloomy for us. Know your enemies will be appropriately punished. When this thief dies he will go to Hades where the rich man went who didn’t help Lazarus (a poor man) sufficiently. It is a place of darkness where thieves will stay until Judgment when they meet Jesus face to face and learn Jesus loves them and can be their Savior from darkness. The thief will choose to follow Jesus or continue life in darkness. If he chooses darkness over Jesus, he will be sentenced permanently to hell. If he chooses light, he will go to heaven. For more information see https://www.jodyarmstrong.org/2020/10/06/daily-devotional-luke-1619-21-the-parable-of-the-rich-man-and-lazarus-part-1-what-is-hades-online-bible-study-commentary-in-easy-english-day-325/
The third criminal doesn’t know God’s love so fears him. He knows God has the power to send him to hell but doesn’t know him well enough to know that he won’t until he has experienced both darkness and light. Up until now, his life has been dark. But talking to Jesus, he sees the Light. This criminal hasn’t done many, if any, good deeds and didn’t obey the Ten Commandments. But he admits his sin and recognizes Jesus has a kingdom. Apparently that is the minimum needed for paradise. We are saved by God’s grace, not by our ability to be good and do good.
Again, I know many disagree with me on who God saves and doesn’t save. In the end it won’t matter because Jesus is the final judge. What matters is that Jesus loves us so much, he died on the cross for us. But I believe strongly in Romans 11:32: “For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.” I feel there is hope for all until Judgment Day.
Father God, I’m praying for my enemies as you command. But I pray with Your love, not my own. I forgive my enemies knowing they will receive justice from You, perhaps with hell on earth or in Hades after death, but I trust you to take revenge. My enemies don’t know Your love. Perhaps their parents weren’t as loving as mine or they were hurt in a horrendous way. Lord, I trust you for judgment because only You know their hearts. I know if my enemies end up in heaven, they will have discovered Your love, and their hearts will be changed. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.