Christ and the Two Thieves

Jesus is always ready and willing and has power to save. The two thieves who were crucified with Him had an evil past and even displayed a negligent attitude while hanging on the cross. They were so hardened that even in facing death, they mocked Jesus. Yet one of the thieves had a sudden change of heart as he reflected on his previous life. His conscience was burdened by his sin which burned like fiery coals in his heart. As he neared the gates of death, he recognized that he must give account to the righteous Judge, and he trembled at that thought. He had no place to hide from the condemnation of his guilty conscience. 

He heard Jesus praying for His enemies. Perhaps he had already heard that this was the Messiah. He clearly recognized: “This is the Man who can help me, even now.” In a similar manner in which a drowning person grasps an arm extended to rescue him, so the thief turned to Jesus and said: “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). From a human standpoint, one would not expect Jesus to react to this wicked man’s cry for help, seeing that He himself was suffering excruciating pain. But the love of Jesus to sinners is so great that even while experiencing the bitter pains of death, He heard and reacted to the cry of this deeply fallen individual and rescued him. 

The thief on the cross calling for help saw the gates of death and hell open to receive him, and he saw no way out. To rescue such a wretched evildoer from the miserable curse of sin and to save him from the power of Satan and condemnation and secure for him a place in Paradise is something that only the One given all power in heaven and on earth can do. Yes, Jesus Christ is mighty to save!

But Jesus only saves those who come to Him in the right manner. The thief who was repentant and believed was assured a place in Paradise by Jesus. Unrepentant and unbelieving individuals will find the door of the kingdom of heaven shut for them. The thief craving forgiveness humbly acknowledged his punishment, openly confessed his guilt, and reprimanded his fellow thief who also hung there on the cross for his attitude and foolish talk. The transformation in the heart of the first thief was so radical that he turned away from his sin and turned to Christ. Despite the mocking mob below, he claimed the innocence of Jesus. A mocking thief had turned into a repentant individual seeking grace. 

The faith of this thief was even more remarkable than his repentance. With his natural eyes, he could only see a crucified individual seemingly forsaken by man and God. And nevertheless, he called him Lord of a kingdom into which he wanted access. There was no thought of an earthly kingdom. But his plea: “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom,” clearly shows his confidence that Jesus is king of a supernatural Kingdom. 

The Holy Spirit had enlightened him so that he saw in this Man of Sorrows the promised Messiah. The Savior assured him a place in the Kingdom of Heaven by saying: “Today, you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). The thief on the cross was saved in his final hour, similar to someone rescued from a shipwreck and coming away merely with one’s life. But what about the other thief on the cross? He did not take hold of the opportunity and suffered damnation where the “worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48). 

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