The devil constantly endeavors to distract the inhabitants of this earth away from eternal realities, and as Christians we need to be keenly aware of his machinations to get us off track. The Bible says we are not to be ignorant of the devil’s devices. We are nearing a period in this world’s history where it will be only those who endure to the end that will be saved. We have a better world to look forward to and it is coming more quickly than we know. The coming of Jesus is going to come as surprise. In fact, the Bible says, that even the righteous are going to gather paleness (Jeremiah 30:6) when He comes. The Bible says that we are to endeavor to keep the faith that was once delivered to the saints.
When the going gets tough, do not give up. Jesus is able to save to the uttermost (Hebrews 7:25). Christ is not going to do any half-work in our lives; it will be complete and will prepare us for heaven.
Before He died Christ spoke seven phrases. The sixth one is found in John 19:30. The Bible says, “So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said ‘It is finished!’ And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.” There are many different commentaries on this verse, and many people believe that Christ here finished His work on earth. I believe that, but there is something else much greater that is still being finished in heaven.
“Christ did not yield up His life till He had accomplished the work which He came to do, and with His parting breath He exclaimed, ‘It is finished’ (John 19:30). The battle had been won. His right hand and His holy arm had gotten Him the victory. As a Conqueror He planted His banner on the eternal heights. Was there not joy among the angels? All heaven triumphed in the Saviour’s victory. Satan was defeated, and knew that his kingdom was lost.” The Desire of Ages, 758.
Jesus’ death upon the cross of Calvary was to put down rebellion. “Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil.” Hebrews 2:14. Jesus’ death gave Him the right to put to death Satan and all his wicked angels and all who sided with him in his rebellion. It may have looked as if Satan had won and Jesus was the one who had been conquered, but the words, “It is finished,” put fear into the heart of Satan, who well knew the meaning that his kingdom would come to an end.
“To the angels and the unfallen worlds the cry, ‘It is finished,’ had a deep significance. It was for them as well as for us that the great work of redemption had been accomplished. They with us share the fruits of Christ’s victory.
“Not until the death of Christ was the character of Satan clearly revealed to the angels or to the unfallen worlds. The archapostate had so clothed himself with deception that even holy beings had not understood his principles. They had not clearly seen the nature of his rebellion.” Ibid.
Satan’s kingdom was at an end. At Golgotha, not only do we see three crosses, but we see the end of this world’s history, for Satan has been defeated and it is only a matter of time for him to be finally destroyed in the lake of fire. (See Revelation 20:10.)
We are going to see the cross of Calvary reenacted in our day. “And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” Philippians 2:8. Jesus’ life on this earth proved to the entire universe, including us sinful human beings, that man, through the power of God, can be obedient to the Ten Commandments, even under the most dire circumstances. As we go to the cross of Calvary, we know that Jesus was placed in the middle of two thieves, indicating that He was considered the worst of all these criminals. I believe there was another reason that Jesus was placed in the middle, and it was because these two criminals, one on each side, still had access to the One Who could still offer them hope.
“The theme of redemption is one that the angels desire to look into; it will be the science and the song of the redeemed throughout the ceaseless ages of eternity. Is it not worthy of careful thought and study now?” Christian Education, 57.
“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.’ ” Luke 23:39–43.
Christ’s last companion before His death was a criminal hanging on a cross. As macabre as it sounds, right then that was a bright beam in Jesus’ life. The thief that day recognized His divinity and died in the hope of salvation, while the other criminal was not convinced. These two thieves represent the two classes of people that will be on earth at the close of earth’s history. With Jesus in heaven, who will it be that represents Christ, in the middle of these two classes of people, for all to see? By God’s grace it will be you and me.
Jesus’ silent suffering on the cross at Golgotha was a powerful sermon that preached to the dying thief, resulting in his conversion. He died in faith of the resurrection and a home in paradise.
In 1888, Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, after waking one morning and opening his newspaper, found himself reading his own obituary. The editor had mistakenly written about Alfred’s life and his achievements instead of that of his brother who was the one who had actually died. Alfred was called the “Dynamite King” a great industrialist who had made an immense fortune from explosives and recounted all of the resultant damage that they had caused. What hit him was how he wanted to be remembered should he die that day, so he resolved to make clear to the world the true meaning and purpose of his life. He figured that this could be done with the final disposition of his fortune. His last will and testament was to give an endowment of five annual prizes for outstanding contributions in physics-chemistry, psychology, medicine, literature, and peace, and a sixth category, economics was added. These would be the expression of his life’s ideals and ultimately how he would be remembered. The result was the most valuable prize given to those who had done the most for the cause of world peace, called today The Nobel Peace Prize.
Jesus left a greater legacy. His last will and testament before He died was that He was the One who could save others. It does not matter how bad or how far we fall, “He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him.” Hebrews 7:25. He proved this point in giving salvation to the repentant thief.
From the foot of the cross, words from the religious leaders wafted up into the ears of Jesus, “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.” Matthew 27:42. They mocked Him saying, If You are the One, let’s see You build up the temple of God in three days! “Even the robbers who were crucified with Him reviled Him with the same thing.” Verse 44.
Anyone who has suffered mockery knows that it is hard to remain calm. I remember once going door to door in the town of Winfield, Kansas, giving away literature. Knocking on one door I was confronted by a lady who greeted me saying, “Didn’t you read my sign on the door? It says, do not solicit.” I told her that I was not actually soliciting but giving, which made her mad. When I left her home she followed me down the sidewalk pointing her finger and yelling at me. It was five minutes later that I had children throwing water balloons at me after blocking my car so I could not get away. Knowing my own carnal nature and the revenge that was rising in my mind, I began to pray. Immediately the cross came to my mind—Jesus was as a sheep going to slaughter, and He opened not His mouth.
Jesus was a sermon to those who reviled Him. Jesus, in His humanity, hung on the cross. His divinity could have, with just a thought, made people disappear. With a thought, Christ could have pulled the nails from His hands and feet and ended His suffering, and if He had, we all would be lost. Had His divinity flashed, everyone around Him would have been dead, but He was silent. The Bible says that even a fool, when he holds his peace, is counted wise (Proverbs 17:28).
The Bible calls the two who were crucified with Christ, thieves. They were robbers. A thief enriches himself at the expense of other people. This marks quite the contrast to Jesus, Who enriched others at the expense of Himself.
As one thief witnessed Christ’s response to those who were mocking, he turned from blaspheming to rebuking. Luke 23:39 says: “Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, ‘If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.’ ” Luke 23:39. How easy that would have been for Christ to do. “But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation?’ ” Verse 40.
Both of these men were on the brink of eternity, and the Holy Spirit was working on both of their minds. One man responded. He knew something of Jesus and recalled His teachings. He was there in Pilate’s judgment hall and watched while Christ was beaten, spat upon, and had the hair pulled out of His beard, yet not a word of retaliation was heard. He peers off to the side and reads the sign above Jesus’ head, “KING OF THE JEWS,” written there in three different languages. He hears the religious leaders recalling Christ’s words. All of the puzzle pieces started to come together, and as he looks at the inscription above the head of Jesus, a King, he believes. The dying thieves no longer had any fear of man.
“To Jesus in His agony on the cross there came one gleam of comfort. It was the prayer of the penitent thief. Both the men who were crucified with Jesus had at first railed upon Him; and one under his suffering only became more desperate and defiant. But not so with his companion. This man was not a hardened criminal; he had been led astray by evil associations, but he was less guilty than many of those who stood beside the cross reviling the Saviour. He had seen and heard Jesus, and had been convicted by His teaching, but he had been turned away from Him by the priests and rulers. Seeking to stifle conviction, he had plunged deeper and deeper into sin, until he was arrested, tried as a criminal, and condemned to die on the cross. In the judgment hall and on the way to Calvary he had been in company with Jesus. He had heard Pilate declare, ‘I find no fault in Him’ (John 19:4). He had marked His godlike bearing, and His pitying forgiveness of His tormentors. On the cross he sees the many great religionists shoot out the tongue with scorn, and ridicule the Lord Jesus. He sees the wagging heads. He hears the upbraiding speeches taken up by his companion in guilt: ‘If Thou be Christ, save Thyself and us’ (Luke 23:39). Among the passers-by he hears many defending Jesus. He hears them repeat His words, and tell of His works. The conviction comes back to him that this is the Christ. Turning to his fellow criminal he says, ‘Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation’ (verse 40)? The dying thieves have no longer anything to fear from man. But upon one of them presses the conviction that there is a God to fear, a future to cause him to tremble. And now, all sin-polluted as it is, his life history is about to close. ‘And we indeed justly,’ he moans; ‘for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this Man hath done nothing amiss’ (verse 41).”
“There is no question now. There are no doubts, no reproaches. When condemned for his crime, the thief had become hopeless and despairing; but strange, tender thoughts now spring up. He calls to mind all he has heard of Jesus, how He has healed the sick and pardoned sin. He has heard the words of those who believed in Jesus and followed Him weeping. He has seen and read the title above the Saviour’s head. He has heard the passers-by repeat it, some with grieved, quivering lips, others with jesting and mockery. The Holy Spirit illuminates his mind, and little by little the chain of evidence is joined together. In Jesus, bruised, mocked, and hanging upon the cross, he sees the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world. Hope is mingled with anguish in his voice as the helpless, dying soul casts himself upon a dying Saviour. ‘Lord, remember me,’ he cries, ‘when Thou comest into Thy kingdom’ (verse 42).
“Quickly the answer came. Soft and melodious the tone, full of love, compassion, and power the words: Verily I say unto thee, today, shalt thou be with Me in paradise (verse 43).” The Desire of Ages, 749, 750.
Before the end of time, all of us are to have the experience of one of these two thieves. We are all going to be in a very desperate situation, and how we respond to the Holy Spirit will determine where we spend eternity.
Human sinful nature, since the first sin in the Garden of Eden, has ever tried to justify and excuse sins and rationalize them away, but there is no excuse. No one will ever go to heaven excusing himself for his sin. All will fall into the category of one of these two thieves. While one says, I don’t deserve this, just save me in my sins, the other one says, I deserve to die. I deserve what I get.
The repentant thief on the cross made no attempt to justify his actions taking full responsibility for his sins, simply claiming salvation by the merits of Jesus’ righteousness, while the other thief, unrepentant and with no desire to be rid of his character defects, wanted to be saved in his sins.
The entire Jewish nation including Jesus’ own disciples were mixed up on the Kingdom of God. They believed in an earthly kingdom, yet the dying thief understood that Jesus’ kingdom was a kingdom of grace; it was not an earthly kingdom, but a spiritual kingdom to save us from sin. He may have heard what Jesus said to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.” John 18:36.
There was activity at the foot of the cross. John and Mary and others were weeping. The centurion was there and others were playing dice. The devil and his evil angels and the Pharisees were there to witness the scene. Soldiers argued over Jesus’ garments, but then decided to toss dice for them. But when they heard the dying thief say, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom,” everybody stopped what they were doing. “The bystanders caught the words as the thief called Jesus Lord. The tone of the repentant man arrested their attention. Those who at the foot of the cross had been quarreling over Christ’s garments, and casting lots upon His vesture, stopped to listen. Their angry tones were hushed. With bated breath they looked upon Christ, and waited for the response from those dying lips.” Ibid., 751. Then Christ spoke. He said, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise” (verse 43).
Those who, like this thief, respond to the Holy Spirit will draw the attention of the entire world. When Christ ceases His intercession in the heavenly sanctuary before He returns as King of Kings, His people will represent Him fully in character, and it will draw the attention of the entire world. The Spirit of Prophecy says that the true Seventh-day Adventist will be brought to the forefront of the world. Maybe it will be alone in court standing for Jesus. But this story of the two thieves is a personification of the two classes of people that will exist near the end of this world’s history.
“Many were ready to call Him Lord when He wrought miracles, and after He had risen from the grave; but none acknowledged Him as He hung dying upon the cross save the penitent thief who was saved at the eleventh hour.” Ibid., 750. The repentant thief stood alone. He represented the eleventh hour workers, the thieves and criminals who respond to Christ right at the end of time. They have heard the message of salvation. They may have been at a prophecy seminar or read the Bible. It may be those who have received books or tracts that have been passed out at Walmart. It may be that person you prayed with on the phone whom it did not seem likely they had any hope. But it will be these eleventh-hour workers who finish the work that Laodicean Adventists fail to do.
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth [that is 12 o’clock noon, 3 o’clock in the afternoon], and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing idle, and said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day?’ They said to him ‘Because no one hired us.’ ” Matthew 20:1–7. Why has no one hired the eleventh hour workers? They would receive the same wages as those who had labored all day.
“When the crisis comes, many will be prepared to make right decisions, even in the face of the formidable difficulties that will be brought about through the deceptive miracles of Satan. Although these will confess the truth and become workers with Christ at the eleventh hour, they will receive equal wages with those who have wrought through the whole day. There will be an army of steadfast believers who will stand as firm as a rock through the last test.” Selected Messages, Book 3, 390.
God still has an army out there that needs to be brought in. The dying thief died in the eleventh hour but before he did He called Jesus Lord and rebuked his fellow companion in crime, telling him to stop justifying his own course of action.
There are only two classes of mankind, the repentant and the unrepentant. Into which one of these categories will you fall? The mocking religious leaders at the foot of the cross were in no better shape spiritually than the unrepentant thief. The thief who responded to the pleading of the Holy Spirit gives a dying testament to Christ’s amazing saving power.
“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.” Hebrews 7:25. That text is for all of us. “Being confident of this very thing, that He Who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6.
(Unless appearing in quoted references or otherwise identified, Bible texts are from the New King James Version.)
Mike Bauler was ordained into the ministry in 2005 and serves as pastor of the Historic Message Church in Portland, Oregon. Prior to locating in Portland, Pastor Bauler served as a Bible worker for Steps to Life Ministries. His goal is to help give the gospel to the greater Portland area with an emphasis in helping his Bible students discover the truths in Bible prophecy, which are so often neglected today. His wife, Amanda, a family nurse practitioner, and their daughters Hannah, Esther and Abigail assist him in his ministry.