Thief on the Cross – The Scarlet Cord

Jesus was always dutiful to ensure that His ministry as the Messiah was in accordance with Old Testament Prophecy (John 10:35, Matthew 5:17-18, John 19:28). Jesus frequently did things, "so that it would be fulfilled." Matthew particularly includes these markers in his account (Matthew 8:17, Matthew 12:17, Matthew 26:56, and more).

Most criminals who were crucified usually died from asphyxiation. With that in mind, breath was a scarce commodity to those who hung on crosses. Jesus' famous "seven last sayings" on the cross were not cheap–Jesus specifically and intentional said each saying to fulfill prophecy:

  1. Luke 23:34 "Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots."
    • Psalms 22:16-18 "For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet. I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me. They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture."
  2. Luke 23:43 "And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise."
    • Stay tuned!
  3. John 19:26-27 "When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home."
    • Jeremiah 49:11 "Leave thy fatherless children, I will preserve them alive; and let thy widows trust in me."
    • Job 29:13 "The blessing of him that was ready to perish came upon me: and I caused the widow's heart to sing for joy."
  4. Matthew 27:46 "And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"
    • Psalms 22:1 "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?"
  5. John 19:28 "After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst."
    • Psalms 69:21 "They gave me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink."
    • Psalms 22:15 "My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death."
  6. John 19:30 "When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost."
    • Daniel 9:24 "Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy."
    • Daniel 9:27 "And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate."
  7. Luke 23:46 "And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost."
    • Psalms 31:5 "Into thine hand I commit my spirit: thou hast redeemed me, O LORD God of truth."

Not Enter Into My Rest

In the previous post, we noted that Jesus' use of "Verily I say unto you today, you will be with me in Paradise" was similar to Hebrews 3, Psalms 95 "Today, if you will hear God's voice [...] enter into my rest." Inside of that ellipsis, these texts reference Israel's disbeleif and doubt in God:

Psalms 95:8-11 "Harden not your heart, as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness: When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my work. Forty years long was I grieved with this generation, and said, It is a people that do err in their heart, and they have not known my ways: Unto whom I sware in my wrath that they should not enter into my rest."

Some translations (like the NIV) say "do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah." This is a reference to Exodus 17:7 "And he called the name of the place Massah, and Meribah, because of the chiding of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the LORD, saying, Is the LORD among us, or not?" We hear strong echoes of this same doubt surrounding the Thief on the Cross:

Luke 23:33-37 "And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left. Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots. And the people stood beholding. And the rulers also with them derided him, saying, He saved others; let him save himself, if he be Christ, the chosen of God. And the soldiers also mocked him, coming to him, and offering him vinegar, And saying, If thou be the king of the Jews, save thyself."

While Jesus expressly pleads for their forgiveness, Jesus later tells John (Rev 1:7) that at Jesus' second coming, those who pierced Him will mourn, and will presumably not enter into that rest that Psalms 95:11 talks about, because of the same sins of Exodus 17:7.

But returning back to Israel: Deuteronomy 1 records the disappointing story where Israel was refused entry into Canaan ultimately because of their unbelief in God to deliver them from the giants within. As a result, that generation perished in the wilderness, and their children were the ones who entered into the land of milk and honey (Num 13:27), into the land with huge clusters of grapes, pomegranates, and figs (Num 13:23), and a land renowned for for its produce (Deuteronomy 1:25). The promised land was literally, a paradise.

A Promise to Enter Into My Rest

So now let's fast-forward forty years. Moses, and the generation of unbelievers have all died off. Those who survive are Moses' successor, Joshua; the two faithful spies from Deuteronomy 1, Caleb and Jephunneh; and the little ones who were too small to know the difference between good and evil at the time of Deuteronomy.

Joshua comes again to the edge of Israel, and decides to send two spies in. I'm not 100% sure why Joshua sent spies to Canaan, but I have two theories. First, it could have been that God instructed Joshua to send the spies in, but Scripture didn't record the conversation, like it did for Moses in Numbers 13:1, 2. But secondly, we have another example in Genesis 18:20-21, where two heavenly "spies" entered Sodom and Gomorrah to test to see if the things that they had heard were so. Ultimately, these two men were the instruments through which God delivered Lot (2 Peter 2:6-9). I think it is possible that God impressed Joshua to send these spies into Jericho so they could save any righteous souls that might be found within the city.

These two spies enter into Jericho to spy it out, and the seek refuge in the house of a harlot named Rahab. Rahab first defends the men against their adversaries, and then holds a conversation with the two spies (compare Luke 23:39-41).

Rahab explains that the news of the power and deliverance of the God of Israel had reached unto Jericho, and terror had filled the hearts of all the inhabitants (Joshua 2:9-11). Rahab then begs the spies that when they came to conquer Canaan, to inherit paradise, and to receive their kingdom from God, that they would remember her and her family (Joshua 2:12-13). In short: Luke 23:42 "And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom."

The spies respond by saying "Our lives for yours" (compare to John 15:13). They continue to say "It shall be when the LORD hath given us the land that we will deal kindly and truly with thee." The spies do not promise Rahab that she will be with them that day in paradise. Instead, Joshua 2:22 says they spent three days hiding in a mountain (compare to 1 Cor 15:4).

But even after the third day, these spies didn't enter into their rest of receiving the promised land. They went back to their Father's house and reported everything that they had seen and heard, and relayed to Joshua that they had promised Rahab to save her and her family.

Entering Into the Rest

After some time, Joshua leads Israel in crossing the Jordan. In a dramatic and public display of events, Joshua leads Israel for seven days around Jericho, with seven priests blowing seven trumpets, and on the seventh day, they march around seven times. Perhaps the reader can think of some other event in Scripture that is heralded to the world for a period of time with seven trumpets, and many other sets of seven.

Keep in mind, that the name "Jesus" comes from Joshua, that means "God saves". This was the reason that Joseph gave Jesus His name in Matthew 1:25. Thus, Joshua's victory of Jericho is a foreshadowing of Jesus' victory of Babylon in the book of Revelation. Let's look at some of the parallels in Joshua 6:22-27:

  1. Instruction of the two men to bring out the faithful and their families, who live forever with the people of Joshua/Jesus (Joshua 6:22,25; Matthew 13:41,49; Matthew 24:31)
  2. City burnt with fire, with particular note of the gold, silver, brass, and iron (Joshua 6:24, Daniel 2, Revelation 20:14-15)
  3. Permanent destruction of Jericho/Babylon, never to be rebuilt (Joshua 6:26, Nahum 1:9, Isaiah 13:17-20)
  4. Joshua/Jesus exalted by God (Joshua 6:27, Revelation 5:13)

This is tightly paralleled in Paul's writings

2 Thessalonians 1:7-9 "And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; [...] That the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and ye in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ."

The promise that the spies made to Rahab was gauranteed on the day they made it. They established that the scarlet cord would be the sign of Rahab's faithfulness to God's people. While the spies were returning to Israel, this was a time for Rahab to share the good news of her salvation that she had received from the spies. While Israel was marching around Jericho, that was the time that Jericho's doors were shut, much like in the seven days before the flood when the doors of the ark were shut. Finally, when Jericho fell Rahab, and everyone she had encouraged to join her in her house, were saved. On that day, she was finally with her deliverers in paradise (cf. Hebrews 11:31, James 2:25).

The promise that Jesus made to the thief on the cross was gauranteed on the day He made it. He established that His blood would be a covenant between Him and His people (Matthew 26:28), and that He would remember it when He received all His people into His Father's kingdom (Matthew 26:29, John 6:44). While Jesus is currently in Heaven preparing a house for us, it is our time to share the wonderful news of the assurance of our salvation. As we see the final signs of the times in Revelation being executed on our world, we will stand the test like Rahab and Noah, eagerly awaiting the return of our savior. When Babylon finally falls, we have the assurance and the example, that God will resuce us from destruction, and we will be saved. On that day, we will finally be with Him in paradise.