There was a written notice above him, which read, THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong. Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
This piece of scripture is unique to the Word of God. Our Lord is being crucified, and there is a thief next to him on a cross that asks Christ to remember Him when He comes into His Kingdom. He knows and admits that he is a thief and turns to Christ and acknowledges to the other sinner on the cross, to Christ and the crowd that he knows that Jesus is innocent, and by his statement he acknowledges that Christ is the Messiah.
There is no scripture to back up what I am about to write and the following is purely hypothetical, but it might give us an explanation to why the thief said and did what he did upon the cross.
Let’s look at the facts. Christ had been captured and was scheduled to be crucified. The thief had been captured and was also scheduled to be crucified for his crimes. They were both incarcerated. They were both inmates, and I honestly believe that there is the possibility that they had a conversation in a jail cell before the crucifixion. They were on the same schedule, and everything I have been able to find indicates that they would have been in the same holding area awaiting to be killed.
There would have been a period of time that our Lord was incarcerated awaiting his death sentence to be carried out. And as my research has shown me, men that await death sentences in their waning hours, much of the time want to confess their sins, get things off of their chests. I believe that this was the case 2000 years ago in the jail facilities where Christ our Lord was being held, incarcerated with the men he was about to share space with on Golgotha. I believe there were conversations that took place. And since there was no one present except for those who died that day on that hill, the conversations that took place will remain a secret until the day we are present with the Lord when I believe all will be revealed.
I believe that the thief that asked Jesus to remember him had talked with Christ hours before His death. I also believe that Jesus possibly told him, I am the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. I also believe that the other sinner on the cross even in the jail cell may have sneered at Jesus even hours before the disciples witnessed him doing it at the crucifixion. There was a lot of talk going on around this situation. The Roman soldiers even took jest in hanging a mock sign above Jesus’ head declaring Him the King of The Jews. So everyone, everywhere was aware of what was taking place, it was big news…even in jail. It is inconceivable to me that these conversations about Jesus being crucified did not carry into the cells where they were being held. Jesus had created quite a stir in Jerusalem.
A dying man is fearful. I believe in his last moments that a dying man awaiting execution would do anything to escape what is about to happen to Him. I am sure that there were those in the cells with Christ that had heard all the talk about Him being the Messiah, and I am sure that many there in jail with Him, possibly pleaded their cases with him. It is possible many said to Him if you are the son of God to save yourself, and rescue us as well in the hours before his crucifixion.
The thief that was next to Jesus seemed to get it. Whatever was talked about between the thief and Christ while they were in jail, if there was a conversation, worked. The thief was repentant. He knew that Christ was innocent. The Bible tells us that a man comes to Christ as the Holy Spirit draws him. The thief declared that he in fact knew that Jesus was from God, when he asked the other man of the cross as he was making fun of Christ,” what’s wrong with you, don’t you fear God”? This indicates to me that he knew Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God. I believe that this knowledge came in an intimate conversation between a man and his creator in a dingy, dirty jail cell, as Christ was awaiting His own crucifixion. This shows me that even in his darkest hour as he was about to be crucified, Christ was still reaching out in love to save that one sheep. Our Lord knew that the thief was soon to die with him on the cross. This would be the only opportunity the thief would ever have to accept Jesus as Lord. In love if Jesus was there in that jail cell with the thief, there is no doubt in my mind that this scene as described above would have actually taken place.
John tells us in John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”.
The thief believed and testified of Christ that day on the cross, and Jesus told him that he would be with him that day in Paradise. But I believe that the deal may have been sealed hours before as Jesus witnessed to Him in a jail cell, and He became the first believer. Yes the first believer was an inmate.
But how about Jesus, dying alone on the cross? What did the thief mean to him?
I believe the Father blessed his Son with this strange companion during his last hours — a believer, and a very strong believer at that. Jesus had often found displeasure at the unbelief he saw around him. His own disciples did not realize what was happening as he died on the cross as they ran and scattered when he was arrested.
Jesus’ own followers failed to understand, but the thief did, and even on the cross I believe that brought our Lord satisfaction and comfort. The thief became a prize pupil, he was a criminal, but had great faith; I have no doubt, bringing joy to Jesus’ heart.
Jesus was forsaken in that darkest hour, even by the Father as he bore the sins of humanity and took on himself the wrath and punishment of God, so that He could redeem the sins of all mankind. But he did not die alone. The Heavenly Father sent him a believer to die with him. The man was a common thief, but nevertheless a believer with mighty faith; a man who could see past the wood and nails and blood, and see a heavenly kingdom that Jesus was about to go to. And he is a believer who wants to go with Him. Jesus answers him with his last breaths of life, “Yes, you’ll be with me there — today in paradise. We’ll be together in Paradise, you and I.”
It could have happen as I have just written, as there was no Matthew, Mark, Luke or John there in jail to with them record their conversations, if such events took place. One thing is for certain, on the cross the thief acknowledged Jesus as Lord and asked him to remember him, and Jesus did. What a story of grace, even upon the cross, he was giving salvation to the “one” who was lost. What a Savior, what a Redeemer is our Lord Jesus Christ.