This is an excerpt from the new book by Pastor Colin Smith called, Heaven, How I Got Here: The Story of the Thief on the Cross, Scotland, UK: Christian Focus, 2015, 96 pp. $8.99.
Crucifixion is a long, slow death, and if the Romans had their way, I might have remained suspended in agony for days. But an ancient law given to our people gave me my only hope of relief: On the Sabbath, a body must not hang on a tree overnight.
The Romans had no interest in our laws, of course, but they did care about public order. They wanted stability, and that meant showing some sensitivity to the laws and traditions of our people. Besides, the next day was the Sabbath, and not just an ordinary Sabbath either. It was the first day of a great festival.
Time seemed to stretch on forever. Then, suddenly, there was movement. Someone had come out from the city.
The soldiers immediately stood at attention. New instructions were given: ‘Kill the criminals; bury the bodies; take down the crosses so the people can enjoy their dumb festival.’
So the soldiers turned and walked purposefully toward me, armed with their clubs. One swing to the head with one of these would kill a man, and if there was any interest in relieving my pain, they could have ended my life in an instant. But that was not what they had in mind. My legs were their target.
I screamed out as the first blow slammed into my knees; then the second, and then the third. My body sagged, suspended but no longer supported. Unbearable pain seared through my aching hands.
Without the support of my legs, I no longer had the strength to lift my body and to breathe. Only a few minutes longer…
‘Now this one,’ said one of the soldiers, as they came to Jesus.
‘He’s already dead.’
‘Make sure. We don’t want any doubt.’
The soldier pulled back his spear and with full force, rammed it into the side of Jesus’ body, ripping it open with a huge gash from which His blood spilled out onto the ground.
That was the last thing I saw on earth.
I sometimes wondered what the journey of my soul leaving my body would be like. Being launched out like a shivering ghost, lost and alone in the unknown vastness of space… the thought was terrifying to me.
But the reality was very different. It felt, for me, like moving through a tunnel at lightning speed.
When the moment came I knew I was not alone. I was accompanied. I was carried. I was taken up, and I was welcomed by Jesus Himself.
Death is a dark place, but Jesus had already been through it, and He had made it a safe place for me. And watching now from the other side, I’ve seen millions of people come through safely because of Him.
If you want to know more about heaven you’ll have to wait till you get here yourself. All I can say is that this is a place of greater joy than you have ever tasted. Think of your happiest moment on earth and then multiply that happiness a million times and make it last forever.
When the moment came I knew I was not alone. I was accompanied. I was carried. I was taken up, and I was welcomed by Jesus Himself. The release was sweet. After hours of pain, I closed my eyes and was set free.
Heaven is better than you can imagine.