Summary: It was a terrible thing to be crucified. It also added insult to injury to be crucified between two obvious criminals. But there's a story here and a lesson. This brief passage relates one of the most amazing prayers and promises in the entire Bible
This Day You Will Be with Me in Paradise
One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: 'Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!' But the other criminal rebuked him. 'Don't you fear God,' he said, '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.' Then he said, 'Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.' 43 Jesus answered him, 'I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.'" (Luke 23:39-43)
It was a terrible thing to be crucified. It also added insult to injury to be crucified between two obvious criminals. But there's a story here and a lesson. This brief passage relates one of the most amazing prayers and promises in the entire Bible.
Before we get into the story, however, it's important to realize that Jesus' crucifixion with other criminals was no accident of history. It is a fulfillment of prophecy:
"He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth....
He poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors." (Isaiah 53:9, 12)
The words most of us say in this life will not be known two thousand years later. However this criminal’s words are known. . Luke writes: ”One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: ‘Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’” (v. 39)
Our translations don’t bring out the full force of this man’s cursing. Luke in fact reported that the criminal blasphemed against Jesus. This was not ordinary rudeness. This man’s hostility was rage at full volume.
He was one of the many on Calvary to taunt Jesus. First were the Jewish rulers (v. 35), and then the Roman soldiers (vs. 36-37), and now this criminal. All three of them were low enough to look at a man in agony, soon to die, and still sneer at him.
We know that Jesus could have done what they asked - " Save yourself and us." . But it wasn’t the nails or the presence of Roman soldiers that kept him there. The Son of God had more than enough power to climb down. And they invited him to prove it. ‘If you are the Messiah, do it.’ It was the love for us that kept him on the cross.
Right at the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, as he faces virtually the same temptation as right at the start. In the wilderness, two of the three challenges the devil put to Jesus was for him to prove himself:
“If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” (Luke 4:3)
“If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here.” (Luke 4:9)
Jesus didn’t yield then and doesn’t yield now. Certainly he could have proven who he was by avoiding death, but that would not be how he would save people from their sin. As has been said by many, the greatest miracle would not have been Jesus coming down from the cross, the greatest miracle was that he stayed on the cross. He heard their taunts and their challenges, and he refused to move
People in great pain will say anything, and a man suffering crucifixion was in unimaginable agony. So harsh words are understandable.
Both criminals had equal access to Jesus. Both could read Pilate's notice, "This is the king of the Jews" (Lk 23:38). Both could see and hear everything that was going on.
Take a look at the first criminal. Like the Pharisees and religious leaders, he hurled insults at Jesus (Lk 23:39). Imagine that.. A crucified criminal joined the choruses of others, mocking and attacking the Lord. How long did these insults come from his lips? One hour? Two hours? Three hours? We don't know. We aren't told.
Listen to his mockery: "Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!" (Lk 23:39). Unknowingly, he hit on the truth. This criminal was desperate. He was looking for a way off the cross. He knew he was dying. He knew the pain was going to get worse. Maybe, just maybe, Jesus would perform a miracle and save him. Or maybe, just maybe, the authorities would have mercy on him because he was on their side and against Jesus.
He wanted to get off the cross, yet this first criminal had no fear of God. He remained defiant of God. So, standing on the threshold of death, he mocked and rejected Christ. His heart was so hardened by sin that he did not care for his soul. Even at the last hour he would not repent. The Bible speaks of such men who have rejected God throughout their lives.