In Gethsemane, which means an olive press, Jesus was pressed for the oil of His Spirit. But as the body without the spirit is dead (Jam 2:26), to give up His Spirit meant giving up His life. In life He had always sought to do the will of His Father, trusting His great love to preserve Him. But trusting Him even unto death, to preserve Him through death, was the ultimate test of faith, yet necessary to show us the way to life through death and so bind the strong man and render powerless the devil who through the power of death held the world in bondage; Mat 12:29, Heb 2:14-15. And so, as the time set by the Father approached, He was sorely tempted, to the point of sweating great drops of blood. For He could easily have fled to escape the cup of suffering set before Him, or concealed Himself as He had done before. But as in life, so unto death, He overcame the world, the flesh and the devil and once again surrendered His own will to do that of His Father. And now just hours after that surrender of His Spirit in Gethsemane, His life-blood was being poured out upon the cross, and with it, His Spirit.
In contrast to the law written on tablets of stone fifty days after the Jews’ deliverance from their bondage in Egypt, after Jesus had been glorified through His resurrection and ascension, that Spirit would come pouring out like rivers of living water on the day of Pentecost to write God’s law on human hearts; Joh 7:38-39. This was the water of rebirth, the washing of regeneration and renewal that truly saves us (Tit 3:5-6), the baptism with the Holy Spirit that John said the One coming after Him would perform (Mat 3:11); cf. Joh 3:5-8. But even now, as His life ebbed from Him upon the cross, His Spirit was having a powerful effect on all those around Him, changing the hearts of some from stone to flesh, while at the same time hardening all the more those hearts that would not allow His Spirit to write His law of love and truth upon them; cf. Joh 15:13, Mat 16:25. Such were the two criminals crucified on either side of Jesus as a type. For although both at first joined in the mocking of the crowd, and one continued to rail against Jesus with his last dying breaths, the heart of the other was strangely warmed to rebuke the first with words that expressed the marks of true repentance: a holy fear of God, God’s just reign over what is rightly His, his own guilt so that his only hope of salvation was in God’s mercy, and the righteousness of the One God provided to save us.
After rebuking the other criminal, what did this man then say to Jesus? See Luk 23:42, and notice that the use of the imperfect tense indicates that his words weren’t necessarily as succinct as we tend to imagine, but the gist of his words spoken to Jesus as his heart continued to give way to Jesus’ Spirit. Considering that Jesus was Himself dying upon the cross, deserted by His own followers, and mocked as a criminal by the religious leaders, how remarkable was this man’s faith to recognize Him as a king with a coming kingdom on that day of His death, even before He had risen from the dead or ascended into heaven, when even His own disciples were “slow of heart to believe” (Luk 24:25) after His resurrection? Cf. Luk 24:8-11. Considering that both he and Jesus were clearly about to die, what do his words indicate about his understanding of Jesus’ kingdom that was very different from the understanding of most Jews at that time? Considering the nature of the kingdom that even His own disciples were expecting and the preference they were seeking in that kingdom (cf. Mar 10:35-41, Luk 22:24), what is significant about this man’s prayer, who for such great faith and dying at Jesus’ right or left upon the cross, if led by their spirit (cf. Luk 9:55), might have had more reason and been bold to request to sit at His right or left in His kingdom? What does His prayer indicate should be our own humble prayer in regard to our place in His kingdom? What does the humble faith of the dying thief’s prayer to Jesus after His earlier mocking, as well as the supernatural understanding of His kingdom imparted to him, indicate about the power of Jesus’ Spirit, that at that time was only ebbing from Him and hadn’t even been completely given up, to transform the heart of a person in a way that might or argument simply cannot? Cf. Zec 4:6. In spite of whatever programs or apologetics that we might put together, what does this remind us is most necessary for true reformation and revival to happen among a people? And as the pouring out of that Spirit is intimately connected to the giving up of His life, what should we understand is necessary on the part of His body the Church for that same Spirit to move in hearts with the same power? How does this help us to understand why we typically see the Church growing in those locations where it is also most heavily persecuted?
What time-frame might the dying thief have had in mind in regard to his prayer for Jesus to remember him “when You come in your kingdom”? Notice that when You come is quite indefinite, and more literally has the meaning of whenever You might come, so that it is clear that he had no specific understanding of the time when Jesus might come in His kingdom, other than that because of the circumstances he wasn’t expecting it immediately. Notice too that while come in Your kingdom has the connotation of Jesus’ return to establish His kingdom on earth, many early manuscripts read come into Your kingdom (cf. the KJV, ESV, and NIV), which has the connotation of a much nearer receiving of His kingdom when He sat down at the right hand of the Father in heaven following His resurrection and ascension; cf. Psa 2:7-8, Rom 1:4. In light of Jesus response in Luk 23:43 that appears to draw a contrast to the dying thief’s expectation that His coming into His kingdom would be later rather than sooner, which of those two readings makes the most sense?