The people stayed there before the cross watching Jesus. As for the leaders, they jeered at him. ‘He saved others,’ they said, ‘let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.’ The soldiers mocked him too, and when they approached to offer him vinegar they said, ‘If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.’ Above him there was an inscription: ‘This is the King of the Jews.’
One of the criminals hanging there abused him. ‘Are you not the Christ?’ he said. ‘Save yourself and us as well.’ But the other spoke up and rebuked him. ‘Have you no fear of God at all?’ he said. ‘You got the same sentence as he did, but in our case we deserved it: we are paying for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong. Jesus,’ he said, ‘remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ ‘Indeed, I promise you,’ he replied, ‘today you will be with me in paradise.’Lk 23:35-43
The Kingship of Jesus Christ is a matter not often mentioned in modern times. However, during the time of Jesus most Jews expected that the Messiah would be a king, one who would liberate the nation of Israel from Roman occupation.
Jesus did indeed come as a king but his kingship is of a kingdom that “is not of this world.” Those expecting a warrior messiah who would expel the Romans were disappointed in the young man from the humble town of Nazareth who spoke of peace. Both Jesus’ humility and his rejection of violence were reasons why many rejected him. This is evidenced in the people’s choice of Barabbas over him (Mark 15: 6-15) for Barabbas had led an insurrection against the occupiers and he advocated violent resistance. Some Jews however discerned Jesus’ kingship and the true nature of his kingdom. Jesus’ kingdom is the Kingdom of God. Giving testimony to this is the way in which he was greeted upon his entry into Jerusalem, the crowd shouting “blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord” (Luke 19:38).
It is ironic that at the moment of his ultimate rejection, the crucifixion, the kingship is publicly proclaimed and acknowledged. The inscription above Jesus’ head, “This is the King of the Jews”, proclaims his kingdom in three different languages-Hebrew, Greek and Roman – that is, to both Jews and Gentiles. Pilate defiantly refuses to remove this inscription, despite the protest of Jesus’ enemies and advises the Chief Priests “what I have written, I have written” (John 19:21).
Jesus’ kingdom is on offer to all those who repent and believe. There is no ‘time limit’ on its availability. This is seen in the good thief’s repentence. He had led a dissolute life, engaging in petty thievery. However, moments before his death he heard Jesus’ words of forgiveness offered for those sinning against him: “Father, forgive them for they know what they do.” These words were a grace that transformed his heart and opened his eyes to see who Jesus really was and what he had to offer; “remember me when you come into your kingdom”. Although this was a last-minute conversion by the ‘good thief’ it was one that assured him a place in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Like the good thief, we too can share in the reward of the Kingdom of Heaven. One hopes, however, that ours is not a last minute conversion but rather that we live a life in which our eyes, ears and hearts are forever opened to Christ the King.
Director, Mission & Identity