What an amazing case of sovereign grace... at the outset he had joined in with the Jewish leaders, the Roman soldiers, and his fellow malefactor, as they all scoffed rudely, crudely at the One in the middle-- Who did not respond in kind. Like them he did not fear God... like his fellow thief he didn't feel his punishment was deserved... and like them he assumed that the One in the middle had surely done something to merit the beatings, the torture, the abuse, and now the exquisite pain He was enduring...
And then it happened.
The Lord quickened his spirit, opening his eyes to see clearly the spiritual situation around him. Between gasps for breath he found himself rebuking his former cohort in crime, "Don't you fear God?" The other man must have glanced at him in disbelief... had he heard right? But there was more-- "We are receiving what we deserve for our deeds.." The other brigand couldn't believe what he was hearing... this didn't sound like the same man who, just an hour ago, was scoffing at the One in the middle with the best of them. Then, finally, "... but this man has done nothing wrong." Painfully sliding up and down the cross, agonizing for every breath, the cynical thief wondered how on earth his changed companion knew anything about the One in the middle...
"Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!" Pushing up on his nailed feet, for the few seconds that he could endure the pain, the believing thief made his request... humbly asking only to be remembered by the Savior when His kingdom is inaugurated. The plea evidences the work of salvation wrought upon his heart, infusing confidence in both Jesus' saving power and spiritual sovereignty.
The Lord Jesus responded, "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise." This wonderful "word" is the second of the seven declarations of our Lord from the cross on that momentous day. That it is brief is understandable. It is amazing that the Lord Jesus could say anything at all, given the horrendous trauma and physical exertions involved simply to continue breathing during crucifixion. Yet in its brevity is eternal comfort incomparable.
It is a beautiful assurance of salvation, a certainty for eternity, given to one who would experience the new birth for only a few earthly hours.
Note the solemnity-- "Truly I say to you.." a promise is only as certain as the dependability of the one making it... Deity in bodily form is promising eternal security! You can't get more certain than that! Note the immediacy-- "today".. physical death would overtake them both, yet eternal life was immediately next! No purgatory. No lengthy wait. Instantly into Paradise. Note, too, the promised Presence-- "with Me"... nothing could have been more reassuring, more encouraging, than to be told that he would be with the Savior forever and ever.
The scene on The Skull that day was a microcosm of the world as it relates to the Lord Jesus. There are those who revile Him, mock Him, hate Him, ignore Him, despise Him, living and dying as children of wrath, following their nature in unrepentant rebellion. The other thief begins the same way, entering this world with the same nature that opposes God's holy sovereignty. Yet, in His perfect time, for His own glory and pleasure, God intervenes by making him willing in the "day of His power." His Spirit quickens the sinner, and he eagerly looks to the Savior in repentance and love. He, too, is following his nature, his new nature, in gratitude for such grace and mercy shown to so great a sinner. What an amazing case of sovereign grace!