Bible Study – The second saying of Christ from the cross

“Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”

There were also two others, criminals, led with Him (the Lord Jesus Christ) to be put to death. And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” And they divided His garments and cast lots. And the people stood looking on. But even the rulers with them sneered, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Christ, the chosen of God.” The soldiers also mocked Him, coming and offering Him sour wine, and saying, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself.” And an inscription also was written over Him in letters of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.” But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:32 to 43).

Come with me in your imagination back two thousand years or so to the city of Jerusalem. Walk with me along the Via Dolorosa - the way of Suffering - to the place known as Calvary. There we see a large outcrop of rock that, from a distance, looks like a skull. It's called Golgotha and it's a place people would not normally visit, but it was a place people did visit when there were crucifixions. There in that place we see three crosses erected and from each cross hung a dying man. Our Lord Jesus Christ hung from the centre cross, two thieves, one on each side, hung beside Him.

From Calvary, from the Cross, our Lord Jesus Christ spoke seven times. Already we have seen that as He was bound to the cross, as the nails were driven into His hands and into His feet and as the cross was raised and plunged into its socket, shaking His bones out of joint in awful agony, instead of the cries and screams, the curses and swearing typical of those being crucified our Lord Jesus Christ prayed repeatedly, again and again, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” (Luke 23:34).

Our Lord was to speak six times more as He hung on the cross. The second time He spoke He spoke in response to what someone on the cross next to Him had said. One of the thieves crucified with Him spoke to Him: “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42). And the crucified Saviour with the crown of thorns pressed into His head and the marks of the whip on His back, dying in agony and shame spoke: And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43).

Now we come to look at this saying, one of the most wonderful sayings of our Lord. What would you have given to be the first to walk through the gates of heaven after the Son of God? That was the privilege reserved for a murderer and a thief and from this brief conversation we will learn five things:

1. The Lord Jesus Christ Did Not Die Alone

The Pharisees, the religious leaders of the day did not mix with lower types. The Scribes and the Jewish authorities, drove a wedge between themselves and other people because they regarded certain people as polluted, dirty and beneath their dignity. But our Lord Jesus Christ was so different from those religious leaders. Christ mixed with the people around Him. He was not high and mighty, He didn't consider anyone as scum. He sat and ate with tax collectors in their houses and He didn't avoid the prostitutes. He certainly condemned their sin, but He met with them and spoke to them of the grace of God. These actions filled the self righteous Jewish leaders with disgust and led them to make bitter accusations against Christ. One of the bitterest was: “How is it that He eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners?” (Mark 2:16). But: This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. (1 Timothy 1:15).

Because of His actions it was a calculated insult by the “righteous” to have Him die with sinners. They believed that since He loved sinners so much that He talked with sinners, met with sinners and ate with sinners, then He should die with sinners. So when they arranged the death of The Lord they arranged that on one side of Him and the other there would be sinners so that He was surrounded, as it were, by thieves and criminals, the people whom He had spent His life amongst.

But there was another reason: Seven hundred years before Isaiah, under the inspiration of God, had written:
He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3). But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him (Isaiah 53:5 ). And He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:12).

So it was the sovereignty of God that led to Jesus being numbered in His death with the transgressors. By this Christ's death fulfiled Scripture and this should be a great comfort since even the vilest, wickedest act of man, the death of the Lord Jesus Christ, is governed by a Sovereign, Omnipotent God.

2. The Power of the Words of the Lord Jesus Christ

At this horrific blood stained spectacle, the words of our Lord made the way of salvation pain and clear, and those words were to addressed to a thief.

Christ prefaced the promise to the thief with these words: “Assuredly, I say to you” Why did He say that? Why didn't He just say: “Today you will be with Me in Paradise”. Why did He have to say: “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise”.

In fact He actually said: “Truly, truly,” or “surely, surely”, or “verily, verily I say to you”. In Aramaic, the language that the Lord Jesus Christ spoke, repeating a word like this was the way to emphasise something. So these were words with emphasis. This was to emphasise that the Lord who was dying in shame on that cross was the same Lord who had spoken with authority during His earthly life. Although He was bleeding, although He was dying, and although He was being mocked and jeered at, when He spoke He spoke with the same authority as He had before.

In those days the Rabbis, the teachers in the synagogues, when they commented on the Scriptures they spoke like this: “Rabbi so and so says this and Rabbi such and such said that”. All they gave was someone else's words. The Prophets when they came said: “Thus says the Lord”. Again the words they spoke were not their own. But the Lord Jesus Christ said: “I say to you”. This was a claim to Deity. His “I” was a revelation of His Deity. It was Christ saying “I am God”.

There was authority in the words of Jesus and we know that from the gospels. With a word He cast out demons. With a word He stilled the storm. He spoke to the blind and they saw. He spoke to the deaf - to those who couldn't hear - and they heard Him. He spoke to the dead - to those who couldn't respond even if they wanted to (and anyway didn't even have the desire to respond because they were dead) - and they were restored to life. There was authority in the words of Jesus because it was God speaking and the proof was what happened when He spoke. He spoke and people were changed. Here on the cross He spoke to a thief and said: “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” And the thief knew His words were true and he died knowing that that day he would enter heaven alongside the One who he had just called Lord.

3. The Thief on the Cross

Now thirdly let's learn about the man who the Lord Jesus Christ spoke those words to. We know this man on the cross alongside our Lord was a murderer, the Bible says so. He had taken other peoples lives. We know he was a thief, again the Bible says so and we know he was responsible for a riot or a rebellion because the Scriptures say so. Here was a man who had murdered, who had stolen and who had caused a riot, but at nine that morning he had been crucified. Very soon he would be dead and he knew it. Here was a bitter, bitter man. As the people in the crowds that day went by they mocked Jesus and he too joined in the mockery of Christ. And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself, and come down from the cross!” Likewise the chief priests also, mocking among themselves with the scribes, said, “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Even those who were crucified with Him reviled Him. (Mark 15:29 to 32). He joined in the very same mockery, with the very same words. He added to his sins because he doubted who Jesus was and what He claimed to be. Yet it was to this man that the Lord Jesus Christ said: “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”

Some people believe that Christianity is a religion of pulling your socks up and doing good and all will be well with you. Jesus never taught that, the apostles never taught that and the Bible doesn't teach that. It was to a thief, a murderer and a rebel rouser, it was to a bitter, scornful, cynical man, to one who was as black as black could be that Jesus said: “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” Showing to us that eternal life and salvation is for sinners - and that's what the gospel is all about.

4. The Promise made

Fourthly we learn how it is that the Son of God could make such a promise to such a person. How could the Holy Son of God promise this vile sinner paradise?

Here is the Lord Jesus Christ, holy and pure with not a spot of sin upon Him. Here is this thief, this murderer, this vile man, as black as black can be. They have nothing in common, except the sin of the one (the thief) is being borne by the other (the Lord Jesus Christ). How could this be?

Between nine o'clock in the morning and noon a change came over this man. At nine o'clock he was an unrepentant damned sinner, spitting and jeering and swearing at Christ. But a little before noon he was changed. The fear of God had come over him, and he said so to his colleague. “Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.” But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” (Luke 23:39 to 41).

He realised the One on the central cross was without sin. He realised that Christ was God, and he spoke to Him as God, because he realised that the cross was not the end of Christ, and he realised that any hope for him rested on the Person on the middle cross. The dying thief saw by faith that the Man on the middle cross was God and that He would rise and reign - even though all he saw with his eyes was a dying crucified man. His mockery turned to prayer, his defiance turned to submission, his denial turned to confession and his rejection to acceptance. Can all that be said about you?

5. Lessons To Learn

So finally what is there for us to learn from this incident?

Some think “The church will take care of me”. Some think “I'm not ready to call on God”. Some think “I'm alright, I'm not as bad as others” and some think “I don't feel close to God, I'm not ready to turn to God – not just yet”. Remember, this thief had nothing to do with a church. He was never baptised, he never went to communion, he never heard a sermon, he never gave any money to the church, he was a thief and a murderer and he died a thief and a murderer. We don't know anything about his feelings, but we know that at nine o'clock that morning he had nothing to do with God and yet by noon the Lord Jesus Christ had promised paradise to him.

He did know in his mind that he was unfit to meet God. He did realise that he needed a Saviour and he did call upon Jesus Christ to be his Saviour.

Some people believe: “I'll be alright. I'll make amends” or “I'll leave it till I'm at deaths door then I'll look for a saviour”. This thief never made amends, he died on that cross.

Someone once said that: There is one example of death bed repentance in the Bible, it's this dying thief (death bed repentance does happen). But there is only one example of death bed repentance in the Bible because death bed repentance is rare!

Making amends can't save you. Doing good can't save you. The way to God, the only way to God, is through His Son.

On the other cross was another thief. He was as close to Christ as the other man. He had seen what the other man had seen and he had heard what the other man had heard. All he wanted was to come off the cross, because of the pain and the shame. All he wanted was to carry on living, but he died damned. You can be near Christ and die lost. You can live your life under the preaching of the gospel and go to Hell.

Christian, we give up on people too easily. If you met a murderer and a thief and a rebel. If you met someone who mocked Christ, you'd give up on them pretty quickly wouldn't you. But the grace of God can reach down to the worst of sinners and sudden conversion is a fact. Saul of Tarsus stormed up the Damascus road intent on killing Christians and arrived in Damascus as a Christian. This thief went before him.

Here we see the power and grace of God, Who can turn a rebel into a godly man, Who can turn the most unlikely around. One day we will be sinning and the next moment we will be in paradise with Christ without our sins and then we will know that the things of this world are not important.

Richard Brown