By Tommy Thornhill


It was no accident that Jesus was crucified between two thieves. It is a given that with God everything had been pre-arranged. With Him happens by accident Ps.119:89. So it was with Jesus on the cross. From pre-creation God had predetermined when, where and how His Son was to die Acts 2:22-23; 4:25-28, between transgressors Isa.53:12. The Holy One of God numbered with the unholy. His Son to die as if He was a criminal, dying among criminals.

I find it interesting that Jesus hanging on the cross, while ignoring and saying nothing about the taunts, jeers and insults of His tormentors, hears the words of one of His fellow sufferers, a thief. Lk.23:38; Jn.19:1943, and replies with words of assurance. We hear Jesus speak for the second time from the cross, these words of assurance to one who has shown true repentance; “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” In this statement Jesus offers hope and assurance beyond the grave. His statement removes the fear of the tomb (grave) to those who believe. The grave is not the end 1.Cor.15:35-45; Eccl.12:7. It offers hope for those who are guilty of sin and facing eternal punishment 2.Cor.5:10; Heb.9:27-28.  


Take note of the three crosses at Calvary (Golgatha). Jesus was crucified between two thieves Jn.19:16-17; Lk.23:33. Have you wondered why? We are not told for certain, but we can find some plausible reasons in scripture. It could have been to show His purpose for dying. He was dying among sinners, dying in our stead 2.Cor.5:21. “…to be sin for us.” (He did not take our sins on Himself to become a sinner, but was being treated as if He was one). Also, it could have been to show how people will respond to God’s salvation being offered 1.Tim.2:3-6. No one is too good or too bad to be saved. People, under similar circumstances and conditions will react differently at the time. Everyone is responsible for the choices made at the time. It also reveals that as long as one is alive, he/she is never beyond Jesus’ willingness and power to save 2.Cor.13:4; Heb.7:25.    

Notice the inscription above His head on the cross, written in three languages, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, “Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the JewsJn.19:19-20. These three languages covered the range of people worldwide. Hebrew for religion, Greek for culture. Latin for Roman law that ruled the world, a harbinger that after His death salvation would be available to all peoples and nations. What do the crosses represent? Lk.23:39-42. What do we see? 1. A cross of rebellion – man dying in sin in rebellion and unbelief, lawlessness, hardness of heart. Even as he was dying he continued to rail at Christ. 2. A cross of repentance – man dying to sin showing remorse, a sense of guilt as he pleads with Jesus to remember him. 3. A cross of redemption – man dying for sin. While in the flesh, Jesus was still the sinless Son of God, with ability to forgive sin and promise salvation. God’s plan to save man is revealed in His cross Eph.1:7. Purpose – redemption. Cause – grace. Cost – the blood of Christ. Location – in Christ.

We learn several things in the penitent thief’s request, “Lord, remember me when you come into Your kingdom” Lk.23:42. First he realized his sinfulness and helplessness as well as Christ’s sinlessness. He needed Jesus’ help, for he could do nothing to help himself. Remember the first beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” Matt.5:3; Rom.5:6. He is showing true repentance. He recognized Jesus as both Lord and King, thus he believed in His coming kingdom. He believed in a future life. He also believed in the 2nd coming. How he learned all these things is not revealed, but it was not a miraculous revelation as some claim. It is very possible that he could have heard Jesus preach during His three year ministry, about His coming kingdom, and may have seen Him perform miracles that proved His deity. Remember Jesus spoke to, and worked with, multitudes of publicans and sinners, so the thief would certainly would have had ample opportunity to have been in one of those audiences.      

How did Jesus reply to the penitent thief? “I say to you…,” a phrase affirming His deity, showing He had the power to speak for God Matt.17:5. He had the authority to make the promise, “Today you will be with Me in paradise.” That same evening, Jesus and the thief entered into hades, into what Jesus called “paradise.” This is the only time Jesus used the word, but it is used two other times, by Paul 2.Cor.12:4, and John Rev.2:7. The word means a garden or park, illustrative of the blessed state, place or locality of departed righteous souls. It is the place in hades Acts 2:31 described by Luke as “Abraham’s bosom.” Jesus says, “…Today you will be with Me in paradise.Acts 7:59; Phil.1:23; Jn.14:1-3. No place will be worth it if Christ is not there, and to be with Jesus is what Christians look forward to.

Question: Can people today be saved like the thief on the cross? NO! Even though I believe he was saved he is not our example today. Was the thief saved without baptism? We don’t know. There is just as much evidence that he was as to say he wasn’t. No one can say for sure either way. He could have been baptized under John’s baptism in preparation for Christ Mk.1:5, or by one of Jesus’ disciples Jn.4:1-2, and later fell back into sin. But, it makes no difference, his faith is not an example of the kind of faith one must have today. The very basis of the gospel one must believe and obey is the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus 1.Cor.15:1-4; Rom.10:9-10; Mk.16:16, and this had not yet happened for the thief to believe. But regardless, we know that he lived and died under the Law of Moses. Today we live under a different law, the Law of Christ. The Law of Moses was nailed to the cross Col.2:14. Jesus’ plan of salvation had not yet been announced Mk.16:16, and was not announced until the day of Pentecost Acts 2:14-47. Man today can be saved only under the terms of the New Testament law issued after Christ died. As long as the testator (Jesus) was alive He could save as He chose. After He died then we have to follow the terms of His will. Note Heb.9:15-17. The will is a legal instrument by which a man provides for the distribution of his goods after his decease. There has to be 1. A testator. 2. Goods to be distributed. 3. Inheritors, those who receive the inheritance. 4. Conditions to be met. 5. The death of the testator. 6. An executor to implement the provisions of the will. His will, the New Testament, spells out the terms of salvation, which is now available to any who will repent and obey the gospel as they did on the day of Pentecost and afterward.


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