The thief on the cross has always fascinated me. Not the one that ridiculed Jesus, but the one that recognized Him for what He was. I don’t know why but he is one of the first people I want to see when I get to heaven. All of our accounts of Jesus, in particular on the Friday he died, are from his disciples or those close to the disciples. The thief witnessed Jesus in a different way from the others.
Up until that day, they presumably had no contact with one another. In fact if not for Jesus, the thief would have been one of hundreds of other unnamed people crucified at the hands of the Romans. However on this day, the thief and his brief conversation with the Lord became etched forever in the Bible and the implications ring true to this day.
Picture the thief, hanging in agony next to Jesus. He managed to see through the man that was beaten and bleeding, torn and hanging by the nails in His hands and feet, not resembling anything human, much less anything holy. He saw past the mocking sign, “Here is Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” He ignored the taunts, “Save yourself, if you are truly the Son of God, come down off that cross.” He even engaged the taunts of the other criminal although he was finished and knew it really didn’t matter.
This man, this criminal, whose life had been lived solely for himself, saw through what was left of the man to glimpse the Son of God.
Several things come to mind. First, this man gave us an example that it is never too late to turn to the Lord. I don’t say this as an admonition to wait until the last minute, but rather to show that God has almost limitless patience for us to turn to Him. Second, the thief’s “deathbed conversion” shows us that there is only one way to God and that is by faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. At this point, the thief was past his ability to do “good works” to earn his way into heaven. He simply realized who he was and realized who was hanging next to him. He acknowledged who Jesus was and asked to be remembered.
Those next words probably even shocked the thief a little bit. Presumably, with the Pharisees and Sadducees hung up on the Law and keeping every bit of it, this thief knew he had no chance to be saved. How sweet those words must have been to his ears, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in Paradise!”
This dying man must have felt the sweet release that comes from surrendering your life to God. He must have been at peace, even knowing that his life on earth was ending, while recognizing that his eternity in the presence of the Lord was just beginning.
What joy! What peace! What hope in Him!