The Salvation of a Crucified Thief

March 12, 2011

The account of how one of the thieves who were crucified with Jesus was saved provides us with valuable information concerning how people are saved. The thief heard Jesus pray, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Hearing this, the thief received explicit testimony that distinguished Jesus from the Father and made known the Father-Son relationship between them. He also heard Jesus testify of the necessity of the forgiveness of sin. 

He heard that Christ essentially signifies that Jesus was “the Chosen One of God” (23:35). He thus received testimony that explained the agency of Jesus. 

He heard soldiers mocking Jesus by saying, “If thou be the king of the Jews, save thyself (23:37). He may also have seen the superscription above Jesus’ cross that read, “This is the King of the Jews” (23:38). 

Although he had earlier reviled Jesus (Mark 16:32; cf. Matt. 27:44), he repented and rebuked (23:40) the other thief who railed on Jesus (23:39). His rebuke shows that he feared God, acknowledged that he was a sinner, and believed that he deserved punishment for his sins (23:40-41). His statement also shows that he believed that Jesus was sinless (23:41). Saying these things, the thief justified God and Jesus. 

The thief called on Jesus as Lord and asked Him to remember him when He would enter into His kingdom (23:42). He showed that He believed that Jesus had the authority and the ability to answer His request. Having heard plain testimony earlier to Jesus’ relationship to the Father, he thus did not just entrust Himself to Jesus as Lord in the sense that Jesus was God Himself; He also believed that Jesus was specially related to the Father. 

In the flow of thought in the passage, it is clear that he believed that Jesus would one day be the King of the Jews in a future kingdom. His statement also reveals that he believed that both he and Jesus would be alive again after they died. 

The thief heard Jesus say to him, “Verily I say to thee, today shalt thou be with me in paradise” (23:43). Because of his repentance toward God and faith in God and Jesus, the thief received divine assurance that his request had been heard and that he had been saved! 

After these things, he heard Jesus entrust Himself to the Father by saying, “Father, into thy hands I commend My spirit” (23:46). Hearing this, he received instruction from Jesus that displayed that He was trusting in the Father in His death, and thus by implication, to raise Him from the dead in keeping with what the Father had promised to do (cf. Ps. 16:8-11; Acts 2:25-32). 

Hearing this treatment of the salvation account of this thief, do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Chosen One of God? Do you acknowledge that you are a sinner who deserves punishment from God for your sins? Are you repentant of your unbelief in Jesus? Have you repented of your sinful deeds? 

Do you believe that He is the Christ who died for your sins and rose again? Do you believe that Jesus is the One that God has chosen to be the King of the Jews? Do you believe that Jesus is the Lord who will determine whether or not you will enter into the kingdom of God after you die? 

Believing that God has raised Him from the dead, are you willing to call upon Him and confess that He is the Lord? All who do so will one day be in paradise with Him and the crucified thief who was saved by believing in Him as the Christ, the Chosen One of God!

Rajesh

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Copyright © 2011-2017 by Rajesh Gandhi. All rights reserved.

6 responses to The Salvation of a Crucified Thief

  1. If I were unitarian and read this, I would think that you were saying Jesus Himself is not God, but that the Father dwelt in him. I only ask this because I was once oneness and the point needs some clarity.

    • I made two statements in this article that I intended to communicate plainly the deity of Jesus. I have highlighted the words and phrases below that I intended to do so:

      “Having heard plain testimony earlier to Jesus’ relationship to the Father, he thus did not just entrust Himself to Jesus as Lord in the sense that Jesus was God Himself; He also believed that Jesus was specially related to the Father.”

      “Because of his repentance toward God and faith in God and Jesus, the thief received divine assurance [from Jesus, which I intended to convey His deity] that his request had been heard and that he had been saved!”

      I do not see how these sentences and the ones below would communicate that I was saying that the Father dwelt in Jesus, especially because I explicitly say that there was a distinction between Jesus and the Father:

      “The thief heard Jesus pray, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Hearing this, the thief received explicit testimony that distinguished Jesus from the Father and made known the Father-Son relationship between them.”

      I do not think of Jesus’ praying to the Father as teaching that Father was in Jesus, but that may be how the Unitarians explain away such passages?

      I also said these things to distinguish God and Jesus and to communicate at least implicitly the deity of both:

      “Saying these things, the thief justified God and Jesus.”
      “Because of his repentance toward God and faith in God and Jesus . . .”

      I’ll read it again and think more about changes to address your concern. One major concern that I have is to move people away from an excessive focus on the deity of Jesus that is not in the text and bring out that numerous key accounts actually stress His agency in the text itself as much as or more than His deity.

      Thanks for your interest and desire to help me be clear.

      • Here is what my brain did to the sentence. “He thus did not entrust himself to Jesus as Lord in the sence that Jesus was God himself. He also believed that Jesus was specially related to the Father.” Amazing what the loss of one word and a change of punctuation will do to a thought.

        • Until I got saved, I didn’t know what ; meant. No joke. Never had a use for it till I started studying God’s word.

        • This is sobering feedback to me that challenges me to work even harder at making my sentences as clear as possible. Thanks.

  2. I just misread the”thus” and the”just”. Little confusing to me at first, but you clarified it.