“Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”
The circumstances are never too adverse, nor the hour too late, to offer the gospel of Christ to someone.
Jesus was crucified between two criminals (thieves)—one on each side of His cross. At first the two men both joined the onlookers in hurling unbelieving rhetoric at the Lord (Mark 15:32). But one of the thieves obviously had a change of heart as the hours elapsed. He rebuked the other thief by pointing out Jesus’ sinlessness (Luke 23:40–41) and then expressed his need of salvation: “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” (v. 42). And Jesus graciously answered the thief’s request.
The dying thief’s conversion is an extraordinary story. At Calvary there was nothing convincing or favorable about Jesus. From man’s vantage point He was dying because He had been completely rejected; even the disciples had deserted Him. Jesus appeared weak, disgraced, and ashamed. When the thief uttered his plea for help, no one was pointing to Jesus and saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
Given the circumstances, it is difficult to comprehend how Christ could be concerned with the immediate salvation of a wretched thief who was justly being executed for his crimes. But our Lord cared very much about the destiny of that man’s soul. Jesus’ desire to see sinners saved was constant, because He came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). His concern for the unsaved is the supreme example and motivation to us in reaching out to others.
The thief’s salvation is also a clear illustration of the sovereignty of God in redemption. So often the church wants to attribute someone’s salvation to human cleverness in presenting a well–crafted message at just the right time and in the most appropriate place. But salvation is always the direct result of God’s intervening grace. The sovereign work of God’s Spirit, not circumstances, gave the thief a saving understanding about who Jesus was and what His death was accomplishing.
Suggestions for Prayer: Ask God for the courage to reach out with the good news of salvation no matter what the circumstances.
For Further Study: Read John 4:1–42. What excuses could Jesus have used for not talking to the woman? ✧ How did He keep His focus during His conversation with her?
The Lord’s reply was astonishing. He prefaced it with the word truly, because what He was about to say was hard to believe. That a cursed criminal, whom the Jews would view as unredeemable, would be promised entrance to God’s kingdom was an outrageous affront to their sensibilities.
The promise that this redeemed sinner would be with Jesus in heaven that very day invalidates the Roman Catholic teaching regarding purgatory. It also eliminates any system of works-righteousness, since the penitent thief had neither the time nor the opportunity to perform enough good deeds to merit salvation.
The wonderful promise that he would be with Jesus in Paradise (heaven; 2 Cor. 12:2; cf. Rev. 2:7 with 22:2, 14) speaks of his full reconciliation to God. He would not merely see Jesus from afar, he would be with Him. His restoration would be full and complete.
23:43 Jesus rewarded his faith with the promise that that very day, they would be together in Paradise. Paradise is the same as the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:2, 4), and means the dwelling place of God. Today—what speed! With Me—what company! In Paradise—what happiness! Charles R. Erdman writes:
This story reveals the truth to us that salvation is conditioned upon repentance and faith. However, it contains other important messages also. It declares that salvation is independent of sacraments. The thief had never been baptized, nor had he partaken of the Lord’s Supper.… He did in fact boldly profess his faith in the presence of a hostile crowd and amid the taunts and jeers of rulers and soldiers, yet he was saved without any formal rites. It is further evident that salvation is independent of good works.… It is also seen that there is no “sleep of the soul.” The body may sleep, but consciousness exists after death. Again it is evident that there is no “purgatory.” Out of a life of sin and shame, the penitent robber passed immediately into a state of blessedness. Again it may be remarked that salvation is not universal. There were two robbers; only one was saved. Last of all it may be noted that the very essence of the joy which lies beyond death consists in personal communion with Christ. The heart of the promise to the dying thief was this: “Thou shalt be with me.” This is our blessed assurance, that to depart is “to be with Christ” which is “very far better.”
From Jesus Christ’s side one person may go to heaven and another to hell. Which side of the cross are you on?
23:43 Paradise. The only other places this word is used in the NT are 2Co 12:4 and Rev 2:7. The word suggests a garden (it is the word used of Eden in the LXX), but in all 3 NT uses it speaks of heaven.
23:43 today. If the repentant criminal envisions bodily resurrection in a distant future kingdom, he is not wrong; but Jesus promises more immediate communion with Himself even in the interim between physical death and Christ’s return and the final resurrection. See theological note “The Intermediate State” on p. 2109.
Paradise. A Persian word for “garden,” which came to mean “the place of the righteous dead” (2 Cor. 12:3; Rev. 2:7).
 MacArthur, J. (1997). Strength for today. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
 MacArthur, J. (2014). Luke 18–24 (p. 388). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1456). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Lk 23:43). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
 Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 1838). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.