You have probably heard that two other criminals were crucified at the same time as Jesus. According to Luke 23:39-43, one joined with the rulers and soldiers by mocking Jesus’ ability to save them. But the other criminal eventually changed his mind and showed evidence of true faith in Jesus. As I recently read this account, I came away with two questions.
- What evidence is there that he was a true believer?
We have all heard about death bed conversions. Someone cries out to God at the end of his life and we all wonder if God saved him. There are no years of life to follow to see the change of life. We just hope that it was real and that God saved him. As we look at this man, we have only a few minutes of his life to examine. Is there any evidence that he was a true believer?
a. He admitted his own sinfulness (41).
When the first criminal joined in the mocking of Jesus, the other one rebuked him. Don’t you fear God? Don’t you recognize that you have been condemned to die? Don’t you realize that you and I deserve this punishment? What he was doing is showing true repentance. Repentance is a change of mind about your own sin against God. None of us can have a right relationship with God without repentance. This man asked the other one if he didn’t fear God. They had been caught in some criminal activity and had gotten the punishment they deserved. It wouldn’t be long before they would have to stand before God and answer to Him for their sins.
b. He recognized Jesus’ innocence (41).
In the short time he had known Jesus, he had seen something different about Him. Jesus didn’t have the harsh looks of a hardened criminal. He didn’t have the loud mouth of a braggart. He didn’t even complain about his cruel treatment. The other criminal recognized that Jesus had been falsely accused and was innocent. But Jesus was more than just innocent. He was completely perfect—without sin. Although he was “numbered with the transgressors” (Isa. 53:12), he was not a transgressor. Although he was accused, he was not guilty. Although he was crucified for a crime, he was not a criminal.
2 Cor. 5:21 – “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
Somehow, the other criminal recognized that Jesus was innocent and was convinced that he was who the others didn’t believe He was.
c. He asked the Lord for mercy (42).
When all of these thoughts came together in his mind, the other criminal responded in faith. He believed that this horribly battered and bloody man on the cross next to him was the Christ and that He would one day rule His kingdom as promised in the Old Testament prophecies. (This is a good place to stop and think about those who were taught as children and don’t seem to remember much of anything. God is able to bring to memory what they learned as a child at a later time.) Believing that Jesus was the Christ, he asked Him to remember him when he came into His kingdom.
This is amazing faith. He actually believed that this dying man was the Christ and that even though He was about to die, God would somehow raise Him up and set Him on the throne of David. That is almost impossible to believe. But he did believe.
- Why did he change his mind?
The other criminal didn’t always believe in Jesus. In parallel passages, we find that both “robbers” were reviling Jesus (Matt. 27:44; Mark 15:32). But something changed this one’s mind. What was is that made him think differently?
a. He had probably heard about Jesus before.
Jesus was a known commodity in Israel. People came from all over to hear and see him. Stories of blind men being given their sight, dead people being raised, crippled people walking, and demon-possessed freed. Surely this criminal had heard about Jesus, and what he had heard finally confronted him in this strange situation. As he interacted with Jesus, he had to consider who Jesus actually was.
b. He saw Jesus’ humble demeanor (34).
Everyone was mocking Jesus while He hung on the cross. But Jesus’ response was not revenge. He could have called 10,000 angels (Matt. 26:53) but he let them crucify Him. And when they did it, He asked God the Father to forgive them for not truly understanding what they were doing (Luke 23:34). Who was this man who willingly took this torture without complaining or fighting back?
Someone recently asked me what I thought about the other religions. Had I ever considered that one of them might be the real one? One of my thoughts about this is based in who Jesus is. When you read through the gospel and see how He responded to people, you see a loving, compassionate, righteous, and truthful person who wants everyone to be made right with God. I don’t know of another religion that offers such love from God.
c. He was awakened.
During the crucifixion, there were a number of signs that took place (3 hours of darkness, graves opened and dead coming to life, the temple veil torn, an earthquake, etc.). However, none of them is listed before this conversation between Jesus and the criminal. So, I don’t think the signs were what changed his mind.
I think the main reason why he changed his mind is God. Like all of us, he was dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1-3). He had been living a life of sin that finally experienced the wages of sin. But just before his death, God did something in his heart to give him spiritual life. He was blind toward God but was given spiritual sight just hours before he died.
In response to this man’s faith, Jesus told him that he would be with Him in Paradise that very day. That is an amazing truth. This man (at the end of his life with no hope and nothing good to present to God) was forgiven of his sins and given eternal life. Whether at a young age or right before death, God has promised to save those who repent of their sin and place their faith in Jesus. It is still true today.