Thief on the Cross: Paradise Awaits

Posted on March 28, 2022


By David Ettinger

Note: This is a fictional story based on the biblical account.

Who Is This Man?
Imri’s[1] life was almost over. It was time to decide.

He knew what he was: a thief on a cross. But who exactly was this man who hung in the middle between he and his fellow thief condemned to die with him? Imri heard the insults: “He saved others,” the Jewish leaders taunted, “let him save himself if he is the Christ of God; the chosen one.”[2] The Christ – the Messiah – of God? What does this mean, Imri wondered.

“If you are the king of the Jews,” the Romans ridiculed, “save yourself.”[3] The king of the Jews? Is this man the king of my people?

“You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself!” the crowd ridiculed. “Come down from the cross if you are the Son of God.”[4] The Son of God?

Imri’s life was slowly ebbing away, the excruciating pain ripping through his body unlike anything he could ever have conceived. Though seeking a quick end to his misery, he suddenly found himself not as anxious to depart this life. Who is this man in the middle? Why are so many people hostile toward him, especially now that he, too, has been condemned? Is he a king? The Messiah? God, who is this man!

It was time for Imri to decide, and he had to decide rightly. After all, a wrong decision five years ago had led him to this point.

Pondering the Messiah
Growing up in northern Israel, Imri and his younger brother were the only children of their industrious parents. Though they loved each other deeply, they differed in so many ways, two of them being religion and politics. Imri could remember his teen years and those fiery discussions around the dinner table.

“Father,” his brother would say, “I keep hearing talk about the Messiah. Who is this Messiah and why do so many people speak of him?”

“The Messiah, son,” his father would answer, his creased brow reflecting the magnitude of the issue, “is Israel’s savior. He is the one who will come and bring us a new age of peace and power.”

“Then why has he not come yet, father?” Imri would challenge. “With the Romans making our lives miserable, would now not be the perfect time?”

At this, Imri’s mother cautioned her husband. “Dear, please be careful what you say. Do not incite the boys.”

“Better they should know the truth than be naive.”

“I have got things to do inside!” she would say angrily rising, making no effort to conceal her disgust.

“What is wrong with Mother?” Imri’s brother asked.

“She will be fine,” his father said, dismissing the question. “But here is the answer to the question. The reason the Messiah has not come yet is because we are not worthy of him.”

“Why do you say this, father?” Imri asked.

“Because our people our cowards. We refuse to stand up to the Romans. We have let them come into our land and have their way with us, and we pander to their every wish. We are embarrassments to God, and until we take courage and act like men, He will never send us the Messiah!”

Such talk ignited Imri’s soul. He is right! We are an unworthy people. But not me! I will stand up! I will fight the Romans!

When Imri was 19, his father died. Not wishing to anguish his bereaved mother any further, he stayed home for a year, unwilling to deprive her of both husband and oldest son at once. But after a year, he had decided. Imri sat his mother down, took both her hands in his and announced that he was moving to Jerusalem to pursue “spiritual” endeavors.

Imri could tell that she did not believe a word he said. Rightly so.

A Zealot is Born
From the time Imri arrived in the holy city, he found his way to a group called “Zealots,” a rabid political faction of Jewish rebels who through violence sought to free the nation from Rome’s oppressive hand. They did this several ways. At the most extreme level, a group of 100 or more of the better-trained Zealots would hide among the rocks and trees as smaller bands of Roman soldiers marched through the land. Whenever the numbers were in their favor, the Zealots would attack these smaller bands of soldiers and destroy them.

Imri stayed away from this dangerous faction, instead favoring the more “practical” sector of Zealots. Knowing how important commerce and individual safety were to the Roman Empire, the faction Imri joined would form bands of robbers which roamed Israel from north to south. Whenever encountering foreign traders, Imri and his cohorts would attack them and steal their goods. They had no interest in harming their victims, just in stripping them of their possessions. By making the roads dangerous for visitors, traders would be dissuaded from entering Israel and doing business with Rome.

After five years of such dangerous activity, of which Imri became quite proficient, he was finally caught and arrested, the victim of a Roman stakeout, and he and a fellow zealot were sentenced to death by crucifixion.

“Meeting” the Messiah
As he was forced to carry the crossbeam upon which he would be crucified, Imri was placed directly behind a man who people were calling “Jesus,” “King of the Jews,” “Messiah” and the “Son of God.” The man was a horrid mess of blood and tattered skin, the victim of a merciless Roman scourging. How he was even alive, Imri had no idea. And despite the man’s frailness, Imri could not take his eyes off of him, for even in torment he carried himself with dignity and honor.

When they arrived at the hill of crucifixion, Golgotha, the one called Jesus was crucified first and hung on the cross. Imri was next. As the nails came smashing through his wrists, he heard something extraordinary. From behind him, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”[5]

Imri was amazed and stunned. Forgive them? How could he say such a thing? Who is this man!

As the hours passed and Imri studied Jesus on the cross, he kept mulling all that he had heard about him and wondered. Who is he? Who is he? Then, around noon, when the sun was high and bright, the sky suddenly turned dark. It was an eerie darkness for there were no clouds, wind or dust storms. It was a darkness he had never seen. A … blue darkness, one in which the sun was still in the sky.

Imri studied the sky and then looked at Jesus. This strange darkness, he reasoned, is all because of him. But how? Why? Why such an odd darkness at midday? How could he ask God to forgive those who were killing him? Why did the Jews call him “the Christ”? Why did the Romans call him “the king of the Jews”? Why did the Jewish people watching the crucifixion call him “the Son of God”? He asked his “Father” to forgive them all. His Father? The Son of God? The Messiah?

In his scorching agony, Imri thought and thought. Who is he? God, please tell me. Who is he? Is he really the Messiah? Is he the one I need to pledge my allegiance to – even now, at the very end?

His contemplations were rudely interrupted by his companion. “Are you not the Christ?” he sneered at Jesus, “Save yourself and us.”[6]

And suddenly, at that moment, it all made sense! The answer is yes! This is the Christ!

Imri felt emboldened. “Do you not fear God,” he rebuked his companion, “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.”[7]

And now, without anything holding him back, He spoke to the Messiah. “Jesus,” he said, his spirit suddenly renewed, “remember me when you come into your kingdom.”[8]

Jesus turned his head toward him, and Imri felt as if time stopped. And though he could not be sure, it appeared to him as if Jesus were actually smiling. “I tell you the truth,” he said, his words like rivers of peace cascading through Imri’s troubled soul, “today you will be with me in paradise.”[9]

At once, Imri had been lifted out of himself. Yes, he was still on the cross, but this was but a technicality. He had heard of this place “paradise.” He knew not what it was, but was certain that he would soon be there. And that it would be wonderful. He now welcomed death – awaited it, embraced it – and prayed for it to come quickly.

Dearest father, he rejoiced in the quiet of his heart, I have seen your Messiah, Your Son, my Lord and my King. Now Father, take me to Paradise where I may serve Him for eternity! Yes, Lord, take me to blessed paradise!

[1] Man not named in the Bible. Name added to enrich story.

[2] Luke 23:35

[3] Luke 23:37

[4] Matthew 27:40

[5] Luke 23:24

[6] Luke 23:39

[7] Luke 23:40-41

[8] Luke 23:42

[9] Luke 23:43