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The Repentant Thief On The Cross

INTRODUCTION: All four gospel accounts are examined in this study, to build a composite view about the two thieves who were crucified with Jesus. Jesus was in the center between these two men: one man placed his faith in Jesus and received the grace gift of the salvation of his soul, the other man did not. What an uncomplicated presentation of the gospel: Jesus is at the center of the most critical question in life, and each person must decide whether to place complete trust in Him before death!

NOTE: Bible text is taken from the 1769 King James Version (KJV).

A - What Type of Thief Was Being Crucified with Jesus?

Matthew 27:38 Then were there two thieves <3027> crucified with him, one on the right hand, and another on the left.

Matthew 27:44 The thieves <3027> also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth.

Mark 15:27 And with him they crucify two thieves <3027>; the one on his right hand, and the other on his left.

Mark 15:7 And there was one named Barabbas, which lay bound with them that had made insurrection with him, who had committed murder in the insurrection.

John 18:39 But ye have a custom, that I should release unto you one at the passover: will ye therefore that I release unto you the King of the Jews? 40 Then cried they all again, saying, Not this man, but Barabbas. Now Barabbas was a robber <3027>.

COMMENTS: Their are two Greek terms that are translated as "thief" in the KJV, and my lexicon of reference indicates that Strong's number <3027>, lhsthv is translated as thief 11 times and robber 4 times, and refers to a robber or plunderer. The term klepthv <2812> is translated only as thief. The lexicon states that <2812> denotes one who steals by stealth while <3027> denotes one who steals openly. Barabbas is described in scripture not only as a robber (<3027>, but also as a murderer. The two who were crucified with Jesus were "plunderers" given the death penalty for their deeds. The next segment looks at some other scriptures to consider some contextual characterization of the <3027> terms.

B - How Did Jesus Use this Greek Term for Thief?

Matthew 21:12 And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, 13 And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves <3027>.

Matthew 26:55 In that same hour said Jesus to the multitudes, Are ye come out as against a thief <3027> with swords and staves for to take me? I sat daily with you teaching in the temple, and ye laid no hold on me.

Luke 10:30 And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves <3027>, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.

John 10:1 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief <2812> and a robber <3027>.

John 10:8 All that ever came before me are thieves <2812> and robbers <3027>: but the sheep did not hear them.

COMMENTS: The first passage indicates activity in the open, and the reaction of Christ shows us how offensive this blatant practice was to the Lord. The mob in the second passage, bearing weapons, comes to the garden to seize Jesus, and is described by him as a mob coming to take him as they would take a thief. The Luke passage describes a violent robbery in which the thieves had no concern for the life of their victim. The two references from the gospel of John provide an interesting point using both Greek terms to establish more than just repetition of the same idea. Jesus has warned that those who would lead people away from Christ may use either deceptive or violent methods, therefore we must be on guard against either or both of those methods.

C - Beginning the Narrative of the Crucifixion

Matthew 27:31 And after that they had mocked him, they took the robe off from him, and put his own raiment on him, and led him away to crucify him. 32 And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name: him they compelled to bear his cross. 33 And when they were come unto a place called Golgotha, that is to say, a place of a skull, 34 They gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink. 35 And they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots.

Mark 15:20 And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple from him, and put his own clothes on him, and led him out to crucify him. 21 And they compel one Simon a Cyrenian, who passed by, coming out of the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to bear his cross. 22 And they bring him unto the place Golgotha, which is, being interpreted, The place of a skull. 23 And they gave him to drink wine mingled with myrrh: but he received it not. 24 And when they had crucified him, they parted his garments, casting lots upon them, what every man should take. 25 And it was the third hour, and they crucified him. 26 And the superscription of his accusation was written over, THE KING OF THE JEWS. 27 And with him they crucify two thieves; the one on his right hand, and the other on his left. 28 And the scripture was fulfilled, which saith, And he was numbered with the transgressors.

Luke 23:24 And Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they required. 25 And he released unto them him that for sedition and murder was cast into prison, whom they had desired; but he delivered Jesus to their will. 26 And as they led him away, they laid hold upon one Simon, a Cyrenian, coming out of the country, and on him they laid the cross, that he might bear it after Jesus. 27 And there followed him a great company of people, and of women, which also bewailed and lamented him. 28 But Jesus turning unto them said, Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children. 29 For, behold, the days are coming, in the which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck. 30 Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us. 31 For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry? 32 And there were also two other, malefactors, led with him to be put to death. 33 And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left.

John 19:15 But they cried out, Away with him, away with him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Shall I crucify your King? The chief priests answered, We have no king but Caesar. 16 Then delivered he him therefore unto them to be crucified. And they took Jesus, and led him away. 17 And he bearing his cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha: 18 Where they crucified him, and two other with him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst.

COMMENTS: The passages above provide the only scriptural information about when the thieves first came into contact with Jesus. Only Luke 23:32 indicates they could have observed events on the walk to Golgotha: another man carrying Jesus' cross, and words spoken to women along the way. The details of the three hour period before the overwhelming darkness are scant, and we can only wonder how this all could change the heart of a thief condemned to death.

D - Jesus Severely Mocked While On The Cross

MATTHEW 27:39 And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads,

40 And saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross. 41 Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said, 42 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. 43 He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God. 44 The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth.

Mark 15:29 And they that passed by railed on him, wagging their heads, and saying, Ah, thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, 30 Save thyself, and come down from the cross. 31 Likewise also the chief priests mocking said among themselves with the scribes, He saved others; himself he cannot save. 32 Let Christ the King of Israel descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe. And they that were crucified with him reviled him.

Luke 23:34 Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots. 35 And the people stood beholding. And the rulers also with them derided him, saying, He saved others; let him save himself, if he be Christ, the chosen of God. 36 And the soldiers also mocked him, coming to him, and offering him vinegar, 37 And saying, If thou be the king of the Jews, save thyself. 38 And a superscription also was written over him in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew, THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. 39 And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. 40 But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. 42 And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. 43 And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.

John 19:19 And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was, JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS. 20 This title then read many of the Jews: for the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city: and it was written in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin. 21 Then said the chief priests of the Jews to Pilate, Write not, The King of the Jews; but that he said, I am King of the Jews. 22 Pilate answered, What I have written I have written. 23 Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took his garments, and made four parts, to every soldier a part; and also his coat: now the coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout. 24 They said therefore among themselves, Let us not rend it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be: that the scripture might be fulfilled, which saith, They parted my raiment among them, and for my vesture they did cast lots. These things therefore the soldiers did. 25 Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! 27 Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.

COMMENTS: In Luke's account we find Jesus saying, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do," and In John's gospel Jesus makes provision for his mother's care. Three accounts make it very clear that Jesus was mocked as the Son of God, and as the king of the Jews. Luke's gospel alone relates that one thief mocked and even asked for Christ to save himself and them. Then the repentant thief berated the other for his scorn, and asked Jesus simply "Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom." The repentant thief on the cross had admitted that he deserved his punishment, but showed his recognition of Christ at a time when religious scholarship totally missed His identity, even as prophecy was being literally fulfilled at Golgotha. The faith of this thief at the zenith of his own suffering, while the Son of god seemed to be at the nadir of His strength; is a majestic display of the Lord's power in weakness to reveal truth to a lost sinner. his request was not to be physically saved, but only to be part of the coming kingdom. Jesus replied to that request with a promise for paradise that very day. No other person is recorded in scripture as receiving such a "same day" promise of paradise from the Savior.

But Jesus did say this: Luke 9:23 "And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me." and Mark 8:35 "For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it."

E - The Hours Of Darkness

Matthew 27:45 Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour. 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? 47 Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said, This man calleth for Elias. 48 And straightway one of them ran, and took a spunge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink. 49 The rest said, Let be, let us see whether Elias will come to save him. 50 Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.

Mark 15:33 And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? 35 And some of them that stood by, when they heard it, said, Behold, he calleth Elias. 36 And one ran and filled a spunge full of vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink, saying, Let alone; let us see whether Elias will come to take him down. 37 And Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost.

Luke 23:44 And it was about the sixth hour, and there was a darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. 45 And the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst. 46 And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.

John 19:28 After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst. 29 Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a spunge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.

COMMENTS: We know very little about this three hour period of darkness during mid-day, but the effect must have been very dramatic on those who experienced it. When Jesus uttered his last words at the end of the darkness, the two thieves on either side of him may have heard clearly, or they may have been past the point of comprehending the events happening around them. Looking at all four gospel accounts provides these last words by the Lord, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" "I thirst" "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit." "It is finished."

F - Concluding the Execution

Matthew 27:57 When the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathaea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus' disciple: 58 He went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered. 59 And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60 And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulcher, and departed.

Mark 15:43 Joseph of Arimathaea, an honorable counselor, which also waited for the kingdom of God, came, and went in boldly to Pilate, and craved the body of Jesus. 44 And Pilate marveled if he were already dead: and calling to him the centurion, he asked him whether he had been any while dead. 45 And when he knew it of the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph.

Luke 23:50 And, behold, there was a man named Joseph, a counselor; and he was a good man, and a just: 51 (The same had not consented to the counsel and deed of them;) he was of Arimathaea, a city of the Jews: who also himself waited for the kingdom of God. 52 This man went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. 53 And he took it down, and wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a sepulcher that was hewn in stone, wherein never man before was laid.

John 19:31 The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. 32 Then came the soldiers, and brake the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with him. 33 But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs: 34 But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water. 35 And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe. 36 For these things were done, that the scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken. 37 And again another scripture saith, They shall look on him whom they pierced. 38 And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus.

COMMENTS: Matthew and Luke indicate Joseph was given a body which he then prepared for burial and placed into a tomb. Mark gives a confirming report from the centurion that Jesus was dead, and John's gospel provides even more graphic detail of how the soldiers made sure that all three crucified men were dead before the onset of the sabbath. We know nothing more about the repentant thief that was taken down from the cross. His body may have been treated with far less dignity than the way the body of Jesus was treated. But we know that that man was alive in his spirit with the Lord, and he began to enjoy paradise that very day. There could be nothing of greater certainty than the very words of our Lord.

--- Reflections in prayer ---

Lord, may I always remember that my sin made me deserving of the punishment that you endured on the cross, and that my forgiveness is obtained just as simply as it was for the repentant thief. I acknowledge that you are the Lord god, and I want you to remember me when you come into your kingdom. Through your spirit I want to be willing to deny my selfish interests so I will take up my cross daily, for your sake, and for the gospel, to accomplish fruitful work for your kingdom. Oh Lord, please give me such a strong faith in you that even during the worst circumstance, when it seems there is no positive outcome, that I cast all my cares on you, believing in my heart even more than in my head, that you do care for me! Amen.

Published 8 April 2007