The thief was not the only one who received the mercy of Christ as he died. Jesus looked out over those who crucified him and said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34). They could make him bleed and weep, but they could not make him hate.
And when the moment of his death was near, Jesus cried out, "It is finished," and bowed his head and gave up his spirit (John 19:30). By this he meant more than "my life is over." He meant, "I have fully accomplished the redeeming work my Father sent me to do." A lifetime of sinless obedience to God, followed by a horrific suffering and death—that was why he came. It was finished.
The meaning of what he accomplished was symbolized by a surprising event nearby in Jerusalem . In the holy place of the Jewish temple, where only the high priest could go and meet God once a year, the curtain split as Jesus died. "Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom" (Matthew 27:50-51). The meaning is this: When Jesus died—when his flesh was torn—God tore (from top to bottom) the curtain separating ordinary people from himself. The death of Jesus opened the way for the world into intimate, holy, personal, forgiven, joyful fellowship with God. No human mediator is needed any longer. Jesus split open the way for direct access to God. He has become the only necessary Mediator between us and God. The early church said it like this: "Since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh . . . let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith" (Hebrews 10:19-22).
The work of redemption was finished. The payment for reconciliation between God and man was. Now it only remained for God to confirm the achievement by raising Jesus from the dead. This is the way Jesus had predicted and planned it. More than once he said, "We are going up to Jerusalem , and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise" (Luke 18:31-33).
It happened three days later (parts of days were reckoned as days: Friday, Saturday,and Sunday). Early Sunday morning he rose from the dead. For forty days he appeared numerous times to his disciples before his ascension to heaven. The physician Luke, who wrote the New Testament book by that name, said that "he presented himself alive after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God" (Acts 1:3).
The disciples were slow to believe that it had really happened. These were not gullible primitives. They were down-to-earth tradesmen. They knew people did not rise from the dead. At one point Jesus insisted on eating fish to prove to them that he was not a ghost.
"See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have." And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, "Have you anything here to eat?" They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them. (Luke 24:39-43)
This was not the resuscitation of a corpse. It was the resurrection of the God-Man, into an indestructible new life of kingly rule at God's right hand. The early church acclaimed him Lord of heaven and earth. They said, "After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high" (Hebrews 1:3). Jesus had finished the unparalleled work God gave him to do, and the resurrection was the proof that God was satisfied.
 C. S. Lewis, "What Are We to Make of Jesus Christ?" in C. S. Lewis: Essay Collection and Other Short Pieces, ed. Lesley Walmsley (London : HarperCollins, 2000), 39.
By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: www.desiringGod.org. Email: mail@desiringGod.org. Toll Free: 1.888.346.4700.