Luke 23.33-43: When they arrived at the place called The Skull, they crucified him, along with the criminals, one on his right and the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” They drew lots as a way of dividing up his clothing.
The people were standing around watching, but the leaders sneered at him, saying, “He saved others. Let him save himself if he really is the Christ sent from God, the chosen one.”
The soldiers also mocked him. They came up to him, offering him sour wine and saying, “If you really are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” Above his head was a notice of the formal charge against him. It read “This is the king of the Jews.”
One of the criminals hanging next to Jesus insulted him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”
Responding, the other criminal spoke harshly to him, “Don’t you fear God, seeing that you’ve also been sentenced to die? We are rightly condemned, for we are receiving the appropriate sentence for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Jesus replied, “I assure you that today you will be with me in paradise.”
Today is called “Christ the King Sunday.” It’s the last Sunday before Advent begins. But why is it called “Christ the King” when it’s the story of Jesus’ crucifixion?
That’s a good question.
I hadn’t even thought of that question until recently. And I’ve known the answer even less. Simply put, the answer is:
This is when Jesus was enthroned as the true King of all creation.
Like everything else Jesus did and said, the idea of kingship or ruling is put on its head. Jesus had already spoken to the disciples about what leadership is like in the Realm of G_d:
“You know that the ones who are considered the rulers by the Gentiles show off their authority over them and their high-ranking officials order them around. But that’s not the way it will be with you. Whoever wants to be great among you will be your servant. Whoever wants to be first among you will be the slave of all, for the Human One didn’t come to be served but rather to serve and to give his life to liberate many people.”
In the crucifixion, Jesus is exemplifying this way of ruling. He’s the one giving his life to liberate the people (John 10.17-18). That is, he’s the True Israelite standing in the place for the nation (see John 11.49-50).
We’ve already witnessed the events leading up to his enthronement. He had already ridden into the city and hailed as their King (Matthew 21.1-11). He had already been given the royal robe and crown and proclaimed as “King of the Jews” (John 19.1-3). The royal cupbearer brought him his wine (verse 36; cf. John 19.28-29). And finally, the royal proclamation to the world that this is her king (verse 38; cf. John 19.19-22).
All of it’s there. We just have to see it. Granted, it’s not what we expect when reading about someone becoming a king, but there it is nonetheless.
Also note that it’s this moment when Jesus fully comes into his reign. One of the criminals asked to be remembered when Jesus comes into his reign. Jesus’ assures the criminal, “Today you’ll be with me in paradise,”—not tomorrow or someday eventually.
This brings up the muddled idea of “paradise.” In a lot of Western Christian culture, “paradise” is just another name for “heaven.” It’s not. According to Tom Wright, “‘Paradise’…[was] the place of rest and refreshment before the gift of new life in the resurrection.”* We see mention of this “place of rest and refreshment” in several places: Wisdom 3.1, Luke 16.19-31 (cf. Enoch 22), and Revelation 6.9.
The idea, then, is that “paradise” is a holding place until the time of the resurrection. Jesus’ promise to the criminal then is, even though the resurrection is still to come, that future—G_d’s future—can be found in the present. Right now. Today.
And the reason G_d’s future can be found today is because Christ is King!
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC
* Wright, Nicholas Thomas. (2004) Luke for Everyone. London, SPCK. Louisville, TN, WJK.