In Luke 23, we discover a deathbed conversation. While describing Jesus' crucifixion, Luke said two criminals were crucified on either side of Him. Both men started out mocking Jesus (see Matthew 27:44). But suddenly there was a change of heart in one of them.
"The other [criminal], answering, rebuked him, saying, 'Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.' Then he said to Jesus, 'Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom'" (vv. 40-42).
And Jesus made him a promise: "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise" (v. 43). No one in Scripture is given more explicit assurance of forgiveness and heaven than this man. But how could Jesus promise instant heaven to this guy? He hadn't been baptized. He hadn't gone to church. He didn't have time to do good works. Even his prayer was pretty self-centered.
This is one of the greatest demonstrations of salvation by grace through faith, not works (see Titus 3:4-5). Here was a criminal on his deathbed who had rebelled against authority, stolen, and pillaged, and he was promised heaven that day
Let's unpack the path this criminal took. First of all, he confessed his guilt (see v. 40). He feared God and was concerned about what would happen when he died and stood before an almighty, righteous judge.
Second, he trusted Christ: "Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom" (v. 42). He recognized Jesus not just as Lord but also as King, because only kings have kingdoms. He also must have believed in a resurrection, because he recognized that though Jesus was going to die, He would live again. And he recognized that Jesus was sinless and he himself was not.
Third, he made it personal: "Remember me
" (v. 42, emphasis added). There are no two-for-one specials with salvation. You personally must turn to Christ.
Fourth, he did it publicly. If Jesus could hear him speak, presumably others at the cross could also hear him, because what he said is recorded. That's significant, because everyone else was mocking, and he had enough courage to make it public that he was going to trust Christ.
Now, the fact that Jesus died among criminals was not accidental; it was intentional. Isaiah predicted that He would be "numbered with the transgressors" (Isaiah 53:12). It was always God's plan that Jesus would die among sinners. Why? Because Jesus was the friend of sinners.
And Jesus is the ultimate answer for sinners—including criminals. Only He offers real transformation: a change of heart and a change of life. And that's an offer He continues to make to any one of us, if we turn to Him, acknowledge our guilt, and personally trust in Him.