The Thief on the Cross

Passion week is almost upon us. Luke 23:39-43 records the familiar death-bed conversion of the thief on the cross. I recently studied on this topic and discovered seven truths that the repentant thief understood. These truths must be embraced in order to gain peace with God. Here’s the passage:

One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? “And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”

So, here are the seven observations:

  1. The repentant thief recognized the brevity of this life: He understood the temporary nature of life because he knew he was dying. There is biblical support for this knowledge (Psalm 103:15-16; James 4:14). We also should be concerned about what happens to us when this life ends.
  2. The repentant thief understood the reality of the afterlife: He understood that life after death was just as real as this present earthly life. This explains why he spoke with such confidence about Christ’s coming kingdom (Luke 23:42). Scripture teaches the reality of the afterlife, because God has designed part of man to live forever (Ecclesiastes 3:11). All people will exist forever, either with God in his kingdom or forever separated from him in a place of conscious torment (Daniel 12:2; Matthew 25:46).
  3. The repentant thief understood his guilt before God: He understood this fact when he said, “And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds” (Luke 23:41). While he was a criminal being punished for his crimes, the Bible is clear that we all are sinners, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
  4. The repentant thief understood the uniqueness of Jesus Christ: He understood Jesus to be God, according to Luke 23:40, “But the other answered, and rebuking him said, ‘Do you not even fear God?'” He further understands Jesus by saying, “but this man has done nothing wrong” (Luke 23:41). Christ was sinless perfection and was different than any man he had ever encountered. Jesus is not one among equals, but the unique God-Man (John 8:58-59; 20:30-31; Revelation 19:16).
  5. The repentant thief understood that Christ had the power to save him: He understood his own guilt, but he also understood that this extraordinary man, Jesus, could do something to save him. “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom!” (Luke 23:42). Jesus had the ability to help people with their primary problem: their guilt and sin before a Holy God. The solution to this sin problem is found in Christ alone (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Timothy 2:5).
  6. The repentant thief understood that he could not be saved through his own good works or any act of self-righteousness: Since this thief was nailed to a cross, he understood there were no acts of self-righteousness he could perform. He could not join a church, do good deeds, or even be baptized. He was in a helpless position; just like us. We cannot do anything to merit God’s favor. God sees our acts of self-righteousness as filthy rags, if we are using them to gain favor from Him (Isaiah 64:6).
  7. The repentant thief understood that it is never too late to ask God for salvation: He knew his death was imminent, yet he still believed it was not too late to cry out for mercy and receive the divine grace the Jesus offers. Jesus gave him immediate assurance of salvation, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).

No matter what you have done, or how long you have lived, or how close you are to death, it is never too late to ask God for salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2b). However, once you die and you pass into the eternal realm, then it is too late (Luke 16:19-31; Hebrews 9:27).

Here is the challenge for all of us today:

  • Do you know these spiritual realities?
  • Do you understand the brevity of this life?
  • Do you understand the reality of the afterlife?
  • Do you understand your personal guilt before God?
  • Do you understand Christ’s uniqueness and power to save you?
  • Do you understand the ineffectiveness of self-righteousness?
  • Do you understand that it is not too late to trust Christ for salvation?

If so, do what the repentant thief did and trust in Christ alone for your salvation.

[print_link] [email_link] [adapted from Dr. Andy Woods]

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