Luke 23:39-43 – ‘and one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.
This scene on the cross is such an amazing display of the grace of God. This is exactly why God sent His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to come down to the earth and give His life for everyone, in order that they may be saved, no matter how bad of good people are.
In the verses above, the word malefactor/s simply means thief/criminal. There were two of them hanging on the cross on either side of the Lord Jesus. The first one went on about how Jesus could save Himself and these two men, so he thought that he deserved to be saved and did not glorify God. However, the other man, whose name is not mentioned, neither was the other man who railed at Jesus, that other man recognised something different about the One in the middle. How did the thief know that the Lord Jesus was different? Perhaps he heard the words of the Lord Himself when the people were nailing Him to the cross, in verse 34, when He said, “Father, forgive them…” How did the thief know that this Man was a Divine Person? No-one told him anything during his life, and he really felt the just reward for the bad things that he did that led him to be hanged on the cross.
Let us look at the words of the thief who repented in his last moments before his legs were broken and death claimed him. The first thing the thief saw about the Lord and testified is that the Lord has done ‘nothing amiss’, meaning nothing wrong. How did the thief know who Jesus is? God was working in his heart, and demonstrating that His grace extends to ALL people, no matter how bad. The thief saw that the Son of God was different and that He was the centre of the scene of crucifixion, and not any other person. The thief declared that Jesus Christ is righteous, and that he, the thief is not righteous. He conceded to his comrade that they received their rightful punishment, but Jesus had done nothing wrong to deserve the cross. We also notice that the thief recognised the perfect Humanity of Christ, and realised that this Man was like no other that the thief had met, when he testified that this man has done nothing wrong.
The next thing the thief said to Jesus was, Lord. The thief recognised the Lordship of Christ and submitted to that. In fact, the repentant thief recognised features and aspects of the Lord Jesus that not even His own disciples understood or grasped. What wonderful grace of God! By calling Jesus His rightful title ‘Lord’ the repentant thief submitted to Christ as Lord and acknowledged His Lordship. May we have the same attitude and recognise Christ’s Lordship and submit to it.
The next words to the Lord were for Him to remember the poor, helpless thief. In other words, the thief confessed his own sins and asked the Lord for forgiveness. What courage was needed for that poor thief to recognise his sin and rely on the Man, Christ Jesus, to forgive him. This is what God wants, for each of us to rely on the finished work of Jesus Christ and confess our sins and turn to Him, acknowledge Him as our Saviour.
The next thing the repentant thief said to the Lord was something that we would not have expected. He mentioned about the Lord coming into His kingdom. He realised that Christ was not yet ruling on the earth, but one day, He will come in judgement, set up His kingdom and reign upon the earth. Again, how did the thief know these things? It was God working in his heart to make the confession, and to say all these wonderful attributes of the Lord Jesus Christ in just a few verses. The disciples of the Lord were expecting Him to set up His kingdom in His first coming, but they forgot the prophecies that He must first suffer, die and then will come and reign. The repentant thief knew better, again, through the grace of God, and believed in faith that the Lord is willing to forgive him and that the Lord will rule over the earth as the King of kings and the Lord of lords.
This is a wonderful sequence of all the attributes of Christ, mentioned by a dying thief on the cross. The repentant thief confessed and believed in the Humanity and Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, as Man and God, something that is very much attacked even among the Christian circle today! The thief also believed in the forgiveness of sins by the death of the Lord Jesus Christ, and believed that he the Lord offers salvation freely to all who believe and ask for forgiveness. He also believed that the Lord will come again and rightfully rule over all the earth. In effect, the repentant thief believed in the essence of the Christian faith – the Person and perfect work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In concluding, the repentant thief did not have a chance to live for Christ on the earth, but gave a wonderful testimony to Him when dying. He was saved eternally. Unfortunately, his comrade, did not believe and died in his sins, and was lost for eternity. We do not know when the time will come that we die, but we must not wait until the last minute to accept the Lord as our Saviour, because the last minute can come all of a sudden. Hebrews 9:27 states that it is appointed for all men to die once, then the judgement. Dear reader, please do not let pride or anything in life get in your way of accepting the Lord Jesus as your Saviour. Salvation is being offered today, and free, so how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation (Hebrews 2:3)?