Study 5 THE PENITENT THIEF
TEN NEW TESTAMENT CONVERSIONS
by Francis Dixon
(Scripture Portion: Luke 23:32-45)
Here is a moving account of a man who trusted the Saviour in his dying hour. The heart of it is in verses 42-43, and close to these two verses we have the urgent request of the man and the immediate response of the Lord. The way of salvation through personal faith in Christ is made clear to all. We notice that Jesus was not alone in His death because on each side of him was a criminal (look up Isaiah 53:12 and compare Luke 23:32). Our Lord’s main purpose in coming into this world was that He might save sinners (Matthew 1:21; Luke 19:10; 1 Timothy 1:15) and here we see Him doing this gracious work of saving a lost soul. There are three reasons why this incident makes a special appeal:
- 1. We read of the salvation of a bad man. Whatever we appear to be on the outside or whatever we like to think about ourselves, we are in fact really bad people; we are sinners in God’s sight (Romans 3:20,23). Compare Isaiah 53:6; Isaiah 64:6. This dying criminal had broken the law of the land and had been condemned to death for that reason. We may therefore feel encouraged to know that salvation is available to bad people, like ourselves.
- 2. We read of a man who was saved at the eleventh hour – just before dying. Thank God, as long as there’s life there’s hope! As long as a man can repent he can be saved, even when he is dying (Isaiah 55:6-7). The promise of John 6:37 holds out until the moment of death, but what a solemn thing it is to be so near to death and to be unsaved!
- 3. It happened so simply, quickly and definitely. To begin with this dying thief joined his friend in reviling Jesus – compare Matthew 27:44; Mark 15:32 – then suddenly a change took place; he recognized who Jesus was, turned to Him in repentance and faith, and received salvation. How quickly Jesus can reveal Himself to someone and how quickly that person can call upon Him for salvation and receive the assurance of salvation!
Let’s notice three things about the prayer of the man, and three things about the answer of the Lord:
1. The urgent request of the man (verse 42)
- 1. His request shows us that he believed in life after death. Quite obviously this man believed that Jesus had a kingdom; he did not believe in the theory of annihilation – that we go out like the snuff of a candle when we die! How foolish to think such a thing! Life would not make sense if it only held out hope of just a few short years of struggling and suffering down here.
- 2. His request shows us that he recognised and acknowledged Jesus Christ as Lord. It is remarkable that he acknowledged this at the time of his death. How did this come about? By spiritual revelation – look up 1 Corinthians 12:3. Evidently he saw the glory of God in the face of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4-6).
- 3. His request shows us that he believed Christ had the power to save him, so he asked Him to do it: “Jesus, remember me…” that is all, because that is all that is necessary. How wonderfully simple the way of salvation is and how easy it is for anyone, at any time and in any place, to lift up his or her heart to the Lord and say, “Jesus, remember me!” Look up Romans 10:13 again.
2. The Immediate Response of the Lord
But notice carefully the three things we are told about the way in which his prayer for salvation was answered:-
- 1. The first thing Jesus said was, “You will be…in paradise”.. It is important to notice that our Lord did not promise that the man would first of all be in purgatory; but He promised that at once he would be in paradise. There are no grounds at all for believing in purgatory as an intermediate place between earth and heaven, where the soul is purged. Purgatory is past tense (Hebrews 1:3). When we die we either go to heaven or to hell, either to paradise or to perdition. Jesus gave this man the absolute assurance that he would go to paradise.
- 2. The second thing Jesus said was, “You will be with Me in paradise”. One writer has said that this man had breakfast on earth with the Devil and supper in heaven with the Lord. So great is the grace of God that a guilty sinner can come back into fellowship with the Lord Himself. It was not simply that Jesus promised him that he would go to paradise, but that He said he would be with Him in paradise – the robber would be with the Redeemer! What a wonderful salvation this is! – look up 1 Thessalonians 4:17.
- 3. The third thing Jesus said was, “Today you will be with me in paradise”. So our Lord promised him immediate salvation and conveyed to him immediate salvation – look up and compare Luke 19:5 and Luke 19:9 – “today”.
Thank God, you can be saved now, at this very moment – not only today but here and now! – look up 2 Corinthians 6:2 and compare Hebrews 3:7.