As Jesus was nailed to the Cross, His first dying declaration prompted such a change of heart in a hardened criminal that the criminal’s own dying declaration caused Jesus to say, “Amen!” The story is found in Luke 23:32-43.
But first, we need to ask, why were criminals crucified alongside Jesus? An obvious answer is that it fulfilled a First Testament prophecy—He poured out His life unto death, and He let Himself be regarded as a criminal and be numbered with the transgressors (Isaiah 53:12).
How did this come about? Maybe…
- Pilate was trying to justify his actions?
- the Sanhedrin had used these criminals as “evidence” that Jesus was stirring up a rebellion against the crown?
- a Roman centurion suggested, “Let’s kill three birds with one stone”?
Whatever the case, they couldn’t have been very happy about this, especially since Barabbas (a fellow criminal) had just been released. They probably blamed Jesus for their awful predicament, so they naturally joined in the mockery.
And what cruel mockery it was!
- the people stood watching these crucifixions and, since Luke uses the word for a sports spectator, it appears they were cheering the bloodshed they were observing
- the Pharisees and Sadducees derided Jesus
- the Roman soldiers continued the inhuman mockery and abuse that they had begun hours before
- the criminals crucified on either side of Jesus blasphemed Him
Luke kindly records that only one criminal was hurling insults at Jesus, but Matthew and Mark make it clear that both criminals were blaspheming Jesus (Matthew 27:44; Mark 15:32).
It appears that one criminal, although at first a blasphemer, had a change of heart.
Perhaps it was because He heard this Jesus, who was being so horribly mistreated, ask His Father to forgive His tormentors instead of asking for retribution. The apostle Peter says that when we follow Christ’s example in this it can actually make people become ashamed of their slander against us (1 Peter 2:23; 3:14, 16).
Or perhaps this criminal had been in the crowd earlier that week on Monday when Jesus taught about the Kingdom of God all day. If he was, he would have heard Jesus talk about the rewards for the righteous and the punishment for the wicked, and he would have heard Jesus talk about how even criminals like himself could be allowed into God’s Kingdom (Matthew 21:28-32).
All of this was working on him until his own slander against Jesus stuck in his throat and he rebuked his companion for his blasphemy. He said, “We are guilty and deserve this death sentence. But this Man is totally innocent!”
Then turning to Jesus, he delivers his faith-filled declaration, “LORD Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” He called Him Lord, asked for a reward, and acknowledged that Christ’s Kingdom was not of this earth. This dying declaration was more faith-filled than even the disciples of Jesus could make, since all but one of them had fled in fear!
Jesus is so moved by this man’s declaration that His first word to him is Amen: “I tell you the truth [literally: Amen!], today you will be with Me in paradise.”
King David taught us that the sacrifice that God accepts is a broken heart, and the apostle Paul agrees by saying that it is the heart change and the confession of our mouth that brings our salvation (Psalm 51:16-17; Romans 10:4-11).
My friend, Jesus has opened the way to Paradise for you by His death on the Cross. When our humbled hearts speak the truth about God’s Kingdom, Jesus says, “Amen!” and God welcomes us into His presence for ever and ever! Don’t wait another day, but cry out to Jesus today: tell Him that you are guilty, but you believe He has paid for your sins. He will then say the same word to your heart: “Amen! You will spend eternity in Paradise with Me!”
If you would like to follow along as we look at all seven of the dying declarations Jesus made from the Cross, please click here.