The Gospel on the Cross

Luke 23:40–43

Ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ ὁ ἕτερος ἐπιτιμῶν αὐτῷ ἔφη· οὐδὲ φοβῇ σὺ τὸν θεὸν ὅτι ἐν τῷ αὐτῷ κρίματι εἶ; 41 καὶ ἡμεῖς μὲν δικαίως, ἄξια γὰρ ὧν ἐπράξαμεν ἀπολαμβάνομεν· οὗτος δὲ οὐδὲν ἄτοπον ἔπραξεν. 42 καὶ ἔλεγεν· Ἰησοῦ, μνήσθητί μου ὅταν ἔλθῃς ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ σου. 43 καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ· ἀμήν σοι λέγω· σήμερον μετ᾿ ἐμοῦ ἔσῃ ἐν τῷ παραδείσῳ.

The other answered and rebuked him and said, “Do you not fear God because you are under the same judgment?! And we rightly so because we are getting what we deserve for the things we did. But this man did nothing out of line!” And he said, “Jesus, Remember me when you enter into your kingdom.” And Jesus said to him, “I’m telling you — today you will be with me in paradise.”

This passage is marvelous because “the other” criminal just rebukes someone and asks Jesus for help. There isn’t an explicit confession. There is one under the surface, however, and that’s what I want to try to draw out here.

In his rebuke and request, he seems to believe five things:

  1. He believes God is to be feared.
  2. He believes mocking Jesus is an offense to God.
  3. He believes Jesus is suffering and dying for something he didn’t do.
  4. He believes Jesus is king.
  5. He believes Jesus can and will help him.

The confession is a response to the gospel on display. Verse thirty-eight says there was a sign on the cross inscribed with the words “This man is the king of the Jews.” This is why Pilate and Herod mock him, and this is what every one standing around him is jeering about. “Jesus is king of the Jews.” That’s the proclamation that has some mocking and at least one asking for help.

Part of me wants to say, “Look how little he actually knew about Jesus and yet was accepted.” But in reality, the confession evidences an amazingly high christology. The criminal actually believed it was possible for Jesus to suffer and die a disgraceful death while at the same time being a king, who — most amazing of all — would one day after death actually take possession of his kingdom and be able to help him.

In the end, the criminal views the world through a lense heavily tinted with apocalypticism, and he believes a gospel that can be summarized “Repent! The kingdom of heaven has drawn near in the man hanging beside me, and he can help if you ask him.”