Crucifying the King: The Penitent Thief

"Christ and the Thief" by Nikolai Ge.Luke 23:35-43. 33 When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him and the criminals there, one on his right, the other on his left. 34 (Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”) They divided his garments by casting lots. [The above is not part of the Sunday reading, but is generally considered within the narrative. ] 35 The people stood by and watched; the rulers, meanwhile, sneered at him and said, “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Messiah of God.” 36 Even the soldiers jeered at him. As they approached to offer him wine 37 they called out, “If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.” 38 Above him there was an inscription that read, “This is the King of the Jews.”  39 Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us.” 40 The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? 41 And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

The “Penitent Thief” While one of the criminals, already crucified, began to revile “Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us.” The word “revile” is eblasphēmei, literally “blaspheme.” It is then we hear the words from the one we know as “the penitent thief.”  Luke does not describe the criminal is such terms. His crime is never described and his penitence is conveyed only by his acknowledgement of his guilt and Jesus’ innocence, and his request that Jesus remember him. Continue reading