Saturday, December 18, 2010

Two Thieves, Part 1 of 2

Both men were condemned and given over to death. Both hung on a cross much like our Lord’s and were facing a just punishment for their sins. Both, at first, derided Jesus along with the unruly mob that stood there to relish His agony; yet one thief perished in his sin and the other was saved. Why?

I believe that those two men represented mankind just then. All of us could find our former position in the thief who derided and reviled our Lord in His agony; we were all once sons of disobedience and children of wrath. The unsaved thief typifies people today who would disparage Christians, and the Christ whom we serve, to our face. Our religion is intolerant; our religion is hypocritical, narrow and unloving. Consider the thief who hung on the cross that did not repent. Luke records the man’s only written words to Christ, when he said, “If you are the Christ, save Yourself and us,” Luke 23:39. See where he failed to come to any semblance of faith. “If you are the Christ…!” This was the same message the Pharisees and others shouted up at Him while Jesus hung from the cross. “He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him…the thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth,” Matthew 27:42, 44.

The thief did not want salvation, lest it was only to escape his torment. His faith was clearly revealed by the word, “if.” The man approached God with a demand; “Christ save me, and let me see if You are who You claim to be!” Yet Paul wrote that God is obligated to bequeath mercy upon any man, Romans 9:14-16. No man can demand salvation from the Lord; all have sinned and fallen short of any righteousness that could enter Heaven by its own merit. No, the thief was rebellious man well represented, unbelieving even unto the end and sneering in his Savior’s face even while he was dying! Surely the fellow must have known something of who the Christ was, and the miraculous life Jesus lived prior to His unlawful arrest, mock-trial, and execution. Yet this thief only wished to heap scorn on Jesus’ head. Perhaps it simply made him feel justified to mock like the crowd did so they would forget him and cast all of their contempt on the Man on the middle cross.

As my mother wrote in Just Thoughts, there are only two types of people on this earth, those being saved and those perishing, 2nd Corinthians 2:15. The thief who failed to see the truth of Christ and place his faith in Him for salvation certainly can be described as those “who are perishing” as Christ’s offer only brought to him “death leading to death,” verse 16. I think too few people concentrate on what the condemned thief can teach us. This thief was one apparently justly convicted of his crimes, and judging by the way he derided our Lord, he hardly had sympathy or remorse for his deeds. He was past feeling, as the apostle would write (Ephesians 4:19), and saw in Christ his last chance to escape, if this One he heard so much about was everything His reputation spoke of.

Herod was much like this thief. Herod wanted for a long time to see Jesus (Luke 23:8), but only because he heard that Jesus could do the miraculous. He wanted to be entertained, not enlightened; and hardly saved. As with the thief on the cross, when Jesus failed to perform, Herod mocked Him and sent Him away, Luke 23:11. How many of us are like Herod and this thief? We want God to perform for us, to jump through our hoops, and dismiss Him when He fails to appease us. Neither saw in our Lord the pearl of great price, or the buried treasure worth all earthly loss; one saw pleasant distraction and the other saw hopeful deliverance to continue his own life. Neither saw the blessed Redeemer, who is now the Judge of the living and the dead.

We know that at the first both thieves reviled Jesus, Mark 15:32. What happened to the second thief? He saw the way that Christ prayed for those who only meant Him harm, Luke 23:34. He watched the leaders of Israel deride Him while He suffered; it wasn’t enough that they had won the day, so to speak, and condemned an innocent Man; they wanted to antagonize Him while He agonized on the cross. The drawing of the Holy Spirit reached this penitent thief, and he repented. Here, in Scripture, is a genuine record of “death bed repentance,” which many deny can occur. The thief had more than pity for Christ; he wasn’t offering condolences for an innocent; he realized that this Man hanging beside Him was who He claimed to be: Israel’s Savior. It provoked the words that all present were forced to bear witness to: “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom,” Luke 23:42. How that must have galled the Pharisees! Here was their bitter foe, dying a death that apparently gave them great satisfaction, and He won another disciple while on the cross!

Luke records this tremendous moment for numerous reasons, without doubt. I perceive that one was to teach that it is only too late to repent of our sins and embrace Jesus as Lord and Savior when we are dead. The second is that salvation is an offer made by God only to those who demonstrate faith in Him and the offering for sin He made on our behalf.

His hands were nailed to the Roman cross; what could he offer God for his salvation? His feet likewise; what good work could he perform? The sign tacked over his head proclaimed to all that here hung a guilty man. He was a condemned criminal suffering under a just sentence; his plea to our Lord was one bereft of creature merit or personal worthiness—it was directed solely to Jesus as the one who could do what the thief himself could not: deliver him from the law’s claim. In this poignant moment God’s mercy and grace shine with ineffable splendor. We read: “wherefore [Jesus] is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them,” Hebrews 7:25.


  1. Hi Ian,

    This was quite informative. I admit that I haven't thought much of the thief you discuss in this post. I suppose I want to identify with the other thief who recognized who Jesus is.

    I believe sin blinds us from realizing the truth of who Christ is. We tend to be like this thief, justifying our lifestyle in the face of conviction. I agree that simply saying, If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us... was not an expression of faith, nor did he have an attitude of remorse; he just wanted to escape his just punishment.

    I also believe that we are capable of treating the Lord in the same manner, looking for escape from poverty, lack, unemployment, debt, and other things which weigh on our life. But escape is not the same as submission. Even if that thief were to have miraculously escaped, his attitude and behavior would remain that of a thief.

    I appreciate you my brother in Christ.

    Blessings and peace to you and family.


  2. Great post, Ian.

    So many are like the Jews, wanting God to produce another sign for their pleasure, rather than trusting him. Thanks.


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