The Two Thieves & the Way of Salvation
We need much grace to
submit to the cross so that
God may bring us
into the blessing He
desires for us
The story of the two thieves who were crucified on either side of the Lord Jesus is so touching, and so rich in lessons concerning salvation.
I recently saw a video of one Bible skeptic saying there is a contradiction in this story, because in Matthew, both thieves insulted Jesus (Matt. 27:38,44), while in Luke, only one did; the other asked Him for mercy (Luke 23:39-42). Of course, this is really just showing us how willing the Lord is to bestow grace on those who repent, doing so even to one who had just before hurled abuse at Him, even as He was hanging on the cross!
Watchman Nee uses this story to illustrate another aspect of how willing, even eager, God is to bestow grace upon us. The dying thief asked the Lord to remember him at some point in the future, when He came into His kingdom (Luke 24:42). The Lord, however, replied that “this day” he would be with Him in paradise (v. 43). Surely God will give us His grace the very moment we turn to Him!
And as I was looking at this story today it spoke to me regarding a point the Lord has been touching me on very much lately.
The first thief told the Lord:
“Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!”
— Luke 23:39
He wanted Jesus to save him from the cross, and was so bitter toward Him because He would not do that. In contrast, the second thief acknowledged he was worthy of judgment, and submitted to that judgment even as he asked the Lord to save him:
The other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?” …And he said, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom.”
— Luke 23:40,42
In brief, the first thief sought salvation from the cross, and was denied; the second sought salvation through the cross, and was rewarded.
Here then is a question we need to ask ourselves: What about us? Are we ourselves seeking salvation from the cross, like the first thief, or through the cross, like the second?
So often, when the Lord brings us into a death situation, we are just like the fist thief. Even our prayers and dealings with the Lord are really a kind of fighting against Him and His will for us, asking Him to change, not us, but our difficult situation, so that we would not have to go through the experience of the cross.
When we take this way we will find that, like the first thief, it is very easy to become bitter towards the Lord, because it seems He does not care about us or the hardship we are experiencing, nor hear our prayer, as we cry out,
“Are You not the Christ? Save me!”
We need the Lord’s mercy to instead become like the second thief, so that we recognize our need for the cross, and submit our situation and ourselves under God’s judgment. And yet, at the same time we need to exercise the faith that the Lord will bring us into salvation, not according to our concept, but according to His will for us, which is always, as the dying thief himself found out, “far beyond all that we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20). Only then will we receive the blessing God desires to bring us into through the cross, which is always His way of salvation:
Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
— Romans 6:3-4
Sent to our mailing list on
— 14 January 2023 —