One of the criminals who were hanged railed at Him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” And He said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”

Luke 23:39-43

All four Gospels, in recounting the Crucifixion, mention that Jesus was crucified in between two criminals, one on His right, and one on His left. These weren’t petty crooks, but hardened criminals. They were deemed by the Romans not worthy of prison, but not even worthy of life. And not only that, they were to be punished with the most severe of capital punishments utilized by the Romans, crucifixion.

One of the criminals actually has some faith that Jesus can do something for him. He rails at Jesus, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39) He believed Jesus had some power, but was self-absorbed in seeking it only for his own good.

The other criminal speaks up, rebuking the first and recognizing the truth about himself. He says to the first criminal, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds.” (23:40-41) In other words, the thief admits that he is guilty and deserving of punishment. He then turns to Jesus and says, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your Kingdom.” (23:42)  He recognizes Jesus as a King. And asks Him simply for remembrance. He doesn’t ask to be saved, or rescued, only remembered.

Jesus responds by saying, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (23:43) His answer reveals a promise in three parts, showing control, compassion and completion. “Today” indicates an immediate response. “With Me” is a personal promise. And “Paradise” means that the thief will be put in the place where Adam and Eve once walked intimately with God.

Psalm 25:6-7 says: Be mindful of Thy mercy, O Lord, and of Thy steadfast love, for they have been from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth, or my transgressions; according to Thy steadfast love remember me, for Thy goodness; sake, O Lord! There is no one who hasn’t done something stupid in his or her youth. In the span of eternity, one can argue that a person of any age is still in his or her youth. There is no one who doesn’t have something in the past that they are ashamed of. The repentant thief had a past that was so shameful that he was seen as unworthy not only to not breathe free air, to be locked away and never be free again, but rather deemed unworthy to breathe any air. And yet this man was the first to be promised by Jesus that he would enter Paradise. This should give comfort to all of us. We are not criminals hanging on crosses, deemed unworthy to live. We might have some sins and some shame to go along with them, but we still have time to repent and live. If this thief was granted Paradise, in his last breath and after a lifetime of shame, certainly there is hope for each of us.

I want to share with you something by author Chris Hughes, about the repentant thief:

“How does the thief on the cross fit into your theology? No baptism, no communion, no confirmation, no speaking in tongues, no mission trip, no volunteerism, and no church clothes. He couldn’t even bend his knees to pray. He didn’t say the sinner’s prayer and among other things, he was a thief. Jesus didn’t take away his pain, heal his body, or smite the scoffers. Yet it was a thief who walked into heaven the same hour as Jesus simply by believing. He had nothing more to offer other than his belief that Jesus was who he said he was. No spin from brilliant theologians. No ego or arrogance. No shiny lights, skinny jeans, or crafty words. No haze machine, donuts, or coffee in the entrance. Just a naked dying man on a cross unable to even fold his hands to pray.” (

I don’t think Jesus is concerned with the number of mistakes we’ve made, but how we’ve repented from those mistakes. The repentant thief had made a lifetime of mistakes, and in one act of repentance, Jesus offered Him salvation. We should not wait until our deathbed to turn to Christ, because we don’t know when this will come. However, we should be reassured that even if we’ve done nothing up to this MOMENT, we can seize this moment and turn to Christ. We can do that in any moment.

Have mercy on me, O God. Have mercy on me.
Reject not, O Master, the prayer of those who sing Your praises, but in Your loving-kindness be merciful and grant forgiveness to them that ask with faith.
(Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, Ode Three, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)

The lesson of the repentant thief is that it is never too late to turn to Christ, even in our last breath.