The Belief of a Thief

Title: The Belief of a Thief

Bible Book: Luke 23 : 39-43

Author: Franklin L. Kirksey

Subject: Belief; Faith; Truth; Easter



The belief of a thief is interesting to consider. It may surprise you to know that both of the thieves in our passage were believers. One believed a lie and the other came to believe the truth, but both believed. Each of the Synoptic Gospels provides information about the thieves crucified on either side of our Lord. For example, we read in Matthew 27:38-44, “Then two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and another on the left. And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, ‘You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.’ Likewise the chief priests also, mocking with the scribes and elders, said, ‘He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him. He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ Even the robbers who were crucified with Him reviled Him with the same thing.” Furthermore, we read in Mark 15:27-28, “With Him they also crucified two robbers, one on His right and the other on His left. So the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘And He was numbered with the transgressors.’” From Luke 23:39-43 we read, “Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, ‘If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.’ But the other, 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.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.’”

We will observe three points from our text.


I. A Grief Deserved (Luke 23:39-41)

Dr. Luke writes in Luke 23:39-41, “Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, ‘If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.’ But the other, 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.”

From Hebrews 7:20-28 we read, “And inasmuch as He was not made priest without an oath (for they have become priests without an oath, but He with an oath by Him who said to Him: ‘The Lord has sworn / And will not relent, / ‘You are a priest forever / According to the order of Melchizedek’), by so much more Jesus has become a surety of a better covenant. Also there were many priests, because they were prevented by death from continuing. But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. For the law appoints as high priests men who have weakness, but the word of the oath, which came after the law, appoints the Son who has been perfected forever.”

Please note this thief asked the other, “Do you not even fear God . . .?” (Luke 23:40) The fear of God is the first step toward repentance and faith.


II. A Belief Declared (Luke 23:42)

We read in Luke 23:42, “Then he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.’” The chorus to the song “Do Lord” comes to mind: “Do Lord, O do Lord / O do remember me / Do Lord, O do Lord / O do remember me / Do Lord, O do Lord / O do remember me / Way beyond the blue.”[i]

From the statement of the thief we see his belief in the resurrection. This thief said, “Lord, remember me when You come into your kingdom.” Please note he said, “When You come”, there was no doubt or unbelief. Here, we see a belief declared, as we read in Romans 10:9-13, “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For ‘whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’”

From John 3:16-21 we read, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. ‘He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.’”

In 1 John 5:10-13 we read, “He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; he who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son. And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.”


III. A Relief Delivered (Luke 23:43)

From Luke 23:43 we read, “And Jesus said to him, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.’”

We read in Luke 16:19-31, “There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. ‘Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’ ‘Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’”

From 2 Corinthians 12:3-4 we read, “And I know such a man—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.”

In Revelation 2:7 we read, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.”



Dr. Billy Graham reminds us “Even at the last minute, God can touch someone’s heart”.

“Q: My brother never wanted anything to do with God, and always got angry if we tried to talk to him about his soul. But now he’s very sick and probably doesn’t have much longer to live. Should we try talking to him about God — and risk making him angry at us? Or is it too late, because God has already given up on him? — Mrs. Y.J.

A: No, God hasn’t given up on your brother, and perhaps his sickness will finally make him face his spiritual condition and cause him to turn to Christ. The Bible says that God ‘is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish but everyone to come to repentance’ (2 Peter 3:9).

Even at the last minute, God can touch someone’s heart and they will respond, after a lifetime of living without Him. Recently, I heard about a man who was trapped under an overturned bulldozer. A bystander told him about Christ, and minutes later he died with a smile on his face, because he had finally given his life to Jesus and knew he was going to heaven.

I think also of the two criminals who were crucified with Jesus. One mocked Jesus and refused to believe — but the other turned to Jesus in faith, and received Jesus’ promise of Heaven (see Luke 23:39-43).

Pray for your brother, and pray too for the right words to say to him. Avoid harshness or a judgmental attitude; simply tell him that God loves him (as do you), and Christ died to make it possible for him to go to heaven. Be prepared also to read a Bible verse to him (such as John 3:16). He may react negatively — but even if he does, you’ll never regret telling him the most important news anyone can ever hear.”[ii]

Dr. William E. Kuhnle (1910-1981), pastor emeritus, Garfield Avenue Baptist Church, Wauwatosa (Milwaukee), Wisconsin, shares, “While a pastor in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I received a letter from a lady in Michigan requesting me to make a call on a dying man. Neither the writer of the letter nor the man upon whom she wished me to call, were known to me. She stated moreover, that she had no idea how I would be received. These are not the easiest calls for a pastor to make!

The wife of the dying man responded to the ringing of the doorbell. I identified myself and told her the reason for my making this call, namely, a letter from a friend of hers in Michigan. It was a cold, winter afternoon and the attitude of the wife was almost as chilling. After a few moments, however, she invited me in and directed me to the sick room where her husband lay in great pain.

As I approached his bed I sought to speak with him but detected that he was suffering greatly. I stayed only a few minutes with the promise that I would return in just a few days, to which he replied, ‘I hope you will come back.’ After praying at his bedside I turned to the wife and said, ‘I will return in just a few days.’ She said, ‘You heard what my husband said – that he wants you to come back.’ With this I left.

After three or four days I returned and was again met at the door by the wife whose greeting was more cordial than on my first visit. Her reply to my inquiry regarding her husband was, ‘Yes, you may come and see him but he will not understand a word you will say, as he is in a coma.’ My heart sank as I realized that here was a man going out into eternity without Christ – a lost sinner! Standing at his bedside I spoke to him but received as response only the groans of a dying man. As his wife stood in the doorway of the bedroom. I said, ‘Well, we will pray together.’

I leaned over near to the ear of the dying man. In my prayer I made the way of salvation just as clear as possible, trusting that although he could not respond to me, that the heart of this dying man would yet be opened to the Saviour. The prayer concluded, I was about to turn and leave the room, when in a strong voice he made the following appeal, ‘But I want to be saved!’ I returned to his bedside and there had the great privilege of pointing this man to the Saviour of sinners. Although he had made no response earlier in the visit, yet at this time he was able to pray and make known to Christ the fact that he was a sinner and was now receiving Him as his Saviour. How gracious of God not only to have saved this dying sinner but also in giving one of His servants a second opportunity, after what had been an initial failure, to win this lost man.”[iii]

Dr. Richard W. De Haan (1923-2002) shares, “A minister with whom I am personally acquainted said that one day he called on a man who was almost helpless as a result of multiple sclerosis, and who had become deeply depressed because he had no assurance of his salvation. Though he had grown up in a Bible-preaching church and had accepted Christ as his Savior, he had become backslidden and married a woman who wasn’t a Christian. They began attending a church where the Gospel was not preached, and soon they became members. A few years later he was stricken with his illness and the process of deterioration moved rapidly. The pastor openly acknowledged that he had no real message of hope for the dying man. Whenever he called, he could only tell a few humorous stories, hoping this would cheer him up. Beside this, the minister told the wife that she did not have to remain faithful to her invalid husband. She started dating other men, leaving her husband alone evening after evening.

The pastor almost destroyed the victim of multiple sclerosis by taking away all hope from him. When my minister friend called on this suffering man, he reminded him of the message he had heard in his childhood, and led him back to the place of peace and assurance. He then made arrangements for him to live in a Christian home where he received tender love and care.

Any man who comes in the name of God, but has nothing to offer a dying person should get out of the ministry.”[iv]

Ten years before his death, Richard Baxter (1615-1691) penned a fragment of his life and experience in Love Breathing Thanks and Praise (1681). Herein, with poetic verse, he confesses, “I preached as never sure to preach again, / And as a dying man to dying men.” [v]

Rev. Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) delivered a message titled, “The Believing Thief”, on Sunday, April 7, 1889, at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington. In it he explains, “I conclude by again saying that this is not an exceptional case. I began with that, and I want to finish with it, because so many demi-semi-gospellers are so terribly afraid of preaching free grace too fully. I read somewhere, and I think it is true, that some ministers preach the gospel in the same way as donkeys eat thistles, namely, very, very cautiously. On the contrary, I will preach it boldly. I have not the slightest alarm about the matter. If any of you misuse free-grace teaching, I cannot help it. He that will be damned can as well ruin himself by perverting the gospel as by anything else. I cannot help what base hearts may invent; but mine it is to set forth the gospel in all its fulness of grace, and I will do it. If the thief was an exceptional case—and our Lord does not usually act in such a way—there would have been a hint given of so important a fact. A hedge would have been set about this exception to all rules. Would not the Saviour have whispered quietly to the dying man, ‘You are the only one I am going to treat in this way’? Whenever I have to do an exceptional favour to a person, I have to say, ‘Do not mention this, or I shall have so many besieging me.’ If the Saviour had meant this to be a solitary case, he would have faintly said to him, ‘Do not let anybody know; but you shall to day be in the kingdom with me.’ No, our Lord spoke openly, and those about him heard what he said. Moreover, the inspired penman has recorded it. If it had been an exceptional case, it would not have been written in the Word of God. Men will not publish their actions in the newspapers if they feel that the record might lead others to expect from them what they cannot give. The Saviour had this wonder of grace reported in the daily news of the gospel, because he means to repeat the marvel every day. The bulk shall be equal to sample, and therefore he sets the sample before you all. He is able to save to the uttermost, for he saved the dying thief. The case would not have been put there to encourage hopes which he cannot fulfil. Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, and not for our disappointing. I pray you, therefore, if any of you have not yet trusted in my Lord Jesus, come and trust in him now. Trust him wholly; trust him only; trust him at once. Then will you sing with me—

‘The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day,
And there have I, though vile as he,
Washed all my sins away.’”[vi]

When you think someone is hopeless remember the belief of a thief.

[i]“Do Lord” A Traditional African-American Tune


[ii]Press-Register, Saturday, February 18, 2012, Religion Section, 4-D, (Mobile, AL), Send your questions to “My Answer,” c/o Billy Graham, Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, 1 Billy Graham Parkway, Charlotte, N.C., 28201; or visit


[iii]Carl G. Johnson, My Favorite Illustration, “But I Want To Be Saved” (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1972), pp. 72-73


[iv]Richard W. De Haan, Studies in Second Peter: How to Tell the Truth (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, S.P. Publications, Inc., 1977), pp. 90-91


[v]Hoyt’s New Cyclopedia of Practical Quotations, compiled by Jehiel Keeler Hoyt and completely revised and greatly enlarged by Kate Louise Roberts (New York, London: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1922), p. 629


[vi]Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “The Believing Thief”, Sermon Notes, Luke 23:42-43


By Dr. Franklin L. Kirksey, pastor First Baptist Church of Spanish Fort 30775 Jay Drive Spanish Fort, Alabama 36527

Author of Sound Biblical Preaching: Giving the Bible a Voice Available on and / [email protected] / (251) 626-6210

© March 25, 2012 All Rights Reserved



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