Luke 23:34 - Preparation for Easter - step 2:
Three Crosses; On Which Do You Hang?
Luke 23:42 (KJV) And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when
thou comest into thy kingdom.
Luke 23:43 (KJV) And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto
thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.
This is the second of seven utterances of Jesus as He hung upon
the cross, sometimes called the Seven Words. No gospel writer
mentions more than three, nor less than one, of these utterances.
Arranged in point of time the seven "utterances" are as follows:
1. "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (v. 34).
2. "Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in
paradise" (v. 43).
3. "Woman, behold thy son! ... Behold thy mother!" (see on John
4. "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Matt. 27:46;
5. "I thirst" (John 19:28).
6. "It is finished" (see on John 19:30).
7. "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit" (see on Luke
23:46). [SDA Commentary]
The Gospels report seven utterances by Jesus as He hung on the
cross. Three of these can be assigned to the first three hours, between
9 a.m. and 12 noon. Four can be assigned to the next three hours,
12-3 p.m., during which the scene was shrouded in darkness.
It is traditional during Good Friday services to meditate on
these seven utterances. Surely there is much here for us to ponder.
[Victor Bible Background Commentary]
Only Luke tells this story of the criminals who hung beside
Jesus. [College Press NIV Commentary]
To Jesus in His agony on the cross there came one gleam of
comfort. It was the prayer of the penitent thief. Both the men who were
crucified with Jesus had at first railed upon Him; and one under his
suffering only became more desperate and defiant. But not so with his
companion. This man was not a hardened criminal; he had been led astray by
evil associations, but he was less guilty than many of those who
stood beside the cross reviling the Saviour. He had seen and heard
Jesus, and had been convicted by His teaching, but he had been turned
away from Him by the priests and rulers. Seeking to stifle
conviction, he had plunged deeper and deeper into sin, until he was
arrested, tried as a criminal, and condemned to die on the cross. In the
judgment hall and on the way to Calvary he had been in company with
Jesus. He had heard Pilate declare, "I find no fault in Him." John
19:4. He had marked His godlike bearing, and His pitying forgiveness
of His tormentors. On the cross he sees the many great religionists
shoot out the tongue with scorn, and ridicule the Lord Jesus. He sees
the wagging heads. He hears the upbraiding speeches taken up by his
companion in guilt: "If Thou be Christ, save Thyself and us." Among the
passers-by he hears many defending Jesus. He hears them repeat His words,
and tell of His works. The conviction comes back to him that this is
the Christ. Turning to his fellow criminal he says, "Dost not thou
fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation?" The dying
thieves have no longer anything to fear from man. But upon one of them
presses the conviction that there is a God to fear, a future to cause
him to tremble. And now, all sin-polluted as it is, his life history
is about to close. "And we indeed justly," he moans; "for we
receive the due reward of our deeds: but this Man hath done nothing
There is no question now. There are no doubts, no reproaches.
When condemned for his crime, the thief had become hopeless and
despairing; but strange, tender thoughts now spring up. He calls to mind all
he has heard of Jesus, how He has healed the sick and pardoned sin.
He has heard the words of those who believed in Jesus and followed
Him weeping. He has seen and read the title above the Saviour's
head. He has heard the passers-by repeat it, some with grieved,
quivering lips, others with jesting and mockery. The Holy Spirit
illuminates his mind, and little by little the chain of evidence is joined
together. In Jesus, bruised, mocked, and hanging upon the cross, he sees
the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world. Hope is
mingled with anguish in his voice as the helpless, dying soul casts
himself upon a dying Saviour. "Lord, remember me," he cries, "when Thou
comest into Thy kingdom."
Quickly the answer came. Soft and melodious the tone, full of
love, compassion, and power the words: Verily I say unto thee today,
Thou shalt be with Me in paradise.
For long hours of agony, reviling and mockery have fallen upon
the ears of Jesus. As He hangs upon the cross, there floats up to
Him still the sound of jeers and curses. With longing heart He has
listened for some expression of faith from His disciples. He has heard
only the mournful words, "We trusted that it had been He which should
have redeemed Israel." How grateful then to the Saviour was the
utterance of faith and love from the dying thief! While the leading Jews
deny Him, and even the disciples doubt His divinity, the poor thief,
upon the brink of eternity, calls Jesus Lord. Many were ready to call
Him Lord when He wrought miracles, and after He had risen from the
grave; but none acknowledged Him as He hung dying upon the cross save
the penitent thief who was saved at the eleventh hour.
The bystanders caught the words as the thief called Jesus Lord.
The tone of the repentant man arrested their attention. Those who at
the foot of the cross had been quarreling over Christ's garments,
and casting lots upon His vesture, stopped to listen. Their angry
tones were hushed. With bated breath they looked upon Christ, and
waited for the response from those dying lips.
As He spoke the words of promise, the dark cloud that seemed to
enshroud the cross was pierced by a bright and living light. To the
penitent thief came the perfect peace of acceptance with God. Christ in
His humiliation was glorified. He who in all other eyes appeared to
be conquered was a Conqueror. He was acknowledged as the Sin
Bearer. Men may exercise power over His human body. They may pierce the
holy temples with the crown of thorns. They may strip from Him His
raiment, and quarrel over its division. But they cannot rob Him of His
power to forgive sins. In dying He bears testimony to His own divinity
and to the glory of the Father. His ear is not heavy that it cannot
hear, neither His arm shortened that it cannot save. It is His royal
right to save unto the uttermost all who come unto God by Him.
I say unto thee today, Thou shalt be with Me in Paradise. Christ
did not promise that the thief should be with Him in Paradise that
day. He Himself did not go that day to Paradise. He slept in the
tomb, and on the morning of the resurrection He said, "I am not yet
ascended to My Father." John 20:17. But on the day of the crucifixion,
the day of apparent defeat and darkness, the promise was given.
"Today" while dying upon the cross as a malefactor, Christ assures the
poor sinner, Thou shalt be with Me in Paradise.
The thieves crucified with Jesus were placed "on either side
one, and Jesus in the midst." This was done by the direction of the
priests and rulers. Christ's position between the thieves was to
indicate that He was the greatest criminal of the three. Thus was
fulfilled the scripture, "He was numbered with the transgressors." Isa.
53:12. But the full meaning of their act the priests did not see. As
Jesus, crucified with the thieves, was placed "in the midst," so His
cross was placed in the midst of a world lying in sin. And the words
of pardon spoken to the penitent thief kindled a light that will
shine to the earth's remotest bounds. DA749-51
When a prominent man dies, we are anxious to get his last words
and acts. We ask, "What did he do? What were his last words and
acts?" The last act of the Son of God was to save a sinner. He
commenced his ministry by saving sinners, and ended it by saving this poor
thief.... He was on the borders of hell, and Christ snatched him from the
grasp of Satan.... D. L. Moody [Spirit Filled Life Devotional SB]
The conversion of the thief upon the cross, which is an
illustrious instance of Christ's triumphing over principalities and powers
even when he seemed to be triumphed over by them. Christ was
crucified between two thieves, and in them were represented the different
effects which the cross of Christ would have upon the children of men,
to whom it would be brought near in the preaching of the gospel.
They were all malefactors, all guilty before God. Now the cross of
Christ is to some a savour of life unto life, to others of death unto
death. (Matthew Henry's Commentary)
It may have been that while on the cross Jesus had taken
occasion to acquaint them with the nature of his kingdom. While he might
have been doing this, one of the malefactors may have continued to
rail on him while the other became truly penitent. Such a result of
preaching the gospel would not have been unlike what has often occurred
since, where, while the gospel has been proclaimed, one has been "taken
and another left;" one has been melted to repentance, another has
been more hardened in guilt. (Barnes' Notes)
The dying criminal had more faith than the rest of Jesus'
followers put together. Although the disciples continued to love Jesus,
their hopes for the kingdom were shattered. Most of them had gone into
hiding. As one of his followers sadly said two days later, "We had hoped
that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel" (Luke 24:21). By
contrast, the criminal looked at the man who was dying next to him and
said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." By all
appearances, the kingdom was finished. How awe-inspiring is the faith of this
man who alone saw beyond the present shame to the coming glory!
[Life Application SB]
Save our lives. Deliver us from the cross. This man did not seek
for salvation truly; he asked not to be delivered from his sins; if
he had, Jesus would also have heard him. Men often, in sickness and
affliction, call upon God. They are earnest in prayer. They ask of God to
save them, but it is only to save them from "temporal" death. It is
not to be saved from their sins, and the consequence is, that when
God "does" raise them up, they forget their promises, and live as
they did before, as this robber "would" have done if Jesus had heard
his prayer and delivered him from the cross. (Barnes' Notes)
Though it is certain that true repentance is never too late, it
is as certain that late repentance is seldom true.... Be sure that in
general men die as they live. (Matthew Henry's Commentary)
Jesus possessed the power to have himself removed from the cross
at any time during the ordeal. Perhaps, at a point where the
temptation to act on that power was reaching a pinnacle, God, the Father,
provided a reminder to Jesus of His purpose and the benefits of
completing the task. I don't want to imply that Jesus would have ever
backed out, but "God is faithful" and puts reminders and encouragements
in our paths to demonstrate His pressence. Maybe this train of
thought is not theologically sound, but the concept of God sending an
encouragement in the middle of my trial is very comforting. Doug King