Summary: The second word of our Savior on the cross is directed to one of the thieves crucified with him. An analysis of Jesus’ second word on the cross, as set forth in Luke 23:43, teaches us about salvation.
Jesus was crucified between two thieves. One of the thieves mocked Jesus. But the other thief rebuked him.
Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:42-43).
Herbert Lockyer, in All the Last Words of Saints and Sinners, says,
"The last words of both saints and sinners about to enter eternity, what they had to say before their stammering tongues lay silent in the grave, demands our deepest attention and most earnest concern. If, when the soul is face to face with eternal realities, true character is almost invariably manifest, then we can expect the lips to express glorious certainty or terror concerning the future."
I want to continue a series looking at the last words of neither a saint nor a sinner, but at the last words of our sinless Savior, Jesus Christ. After Jesus was nailed to the cross he spoke seven short phrases before he died. Luke 23:43 is the second of the seven last words of Christ.
The second word of our Savior on the cross is directed to one of the thieves crucified with him. An analysis of Jesus’ second word on the cross, as set forth in Luke 23:43, teaches us about salvation.
I. The Request (23:42)
First, notice the request. The thief said to Jesus, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42).
The dying thief asked Jesus to remember him when he came into his kingdom. The thief had been caught for the crime of theft and was being justly punished for his sin. At first he joined with the others—the Jews, the Romans, and the other thief—in mocking Jesus (Matthew 27:44). After all, the whole world, it seemed, had turned against Jesus. He who proclaimed to be the Savior of the world hardly seemed to be the Savior of anything in the present circumstances.
But then, by a miracle of God’s grace, his heart was changed, and he realized that the man being crucified next to him was none other than the Lord of Glory. He rebuked the other criminal and said to him, “Don’t you fear God, since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong” (Luke 23:40-41). Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (23:42).
This is a marvelous request! It is a request offered in simplicity and humility. He recognized that he was a sinner, but now he also recognized that Jesus was indeed the true Savior. He asked Christ to remember him when he came into his kingdom.
Friends, we were like that dying thief. We were under the just condemnation of the law. We had sinned against God and his law. Perhaps we had even mocked God and Christ. We were rebels against God and his holiness. We were not interested in God or the things of God.
But then, by a miracle of God’s grace, our hearts were changed, and we realized that the One who was crucified was none other than the Lord of Glory. And we cried out in words similar to the words of the dying thief, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
II. The Response (23:43)
Notice Jesus’ response to the request. Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
Jesus promised the thief that he would be in paradise. Now paradise is simply another word for heaven. This thief, who had lived a life of sin and rebellion, was now going to spend eternity in heaven because of his trust in Jesus.
But more than just being in paradise, Jesus said to the thief, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” The promise is not only heaven but in the presence of Jesus himself. The thief deserved hell because of his sin but now he was going to be in heaven with Jesus. What unspeakable joy!
Moreover, he was going to be with Jesus that very day! There was no purgatory. There was no sleep in limbo for who knows how long. The thief, who had no opportunity for good works, went straight to paradise to be with Jesus for all eternity!
Friends, Christ’s response is the same to us as it was to the dying thief. When we trusted in Christ as the Savior sent from God, we immediately received the promise of an eternity in paradise with Jesus. We know that there is no such thing as purgatory or limbo. All of us who trust in Christ will immediately be transported into the presence of Christ in paradise the moment we die. What a great hope we have!