Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43 (NIV)
Some people wonder, “Are some people so evil, God can never forgive them?” or “Is it too late for me to turn to God?” Another common question is, “Can a person have a ‘death-bed’ conversion but still go to heaven if they believe in Christ at the last minute?”
According to a side story in the Bible’s account of Good Friday, the answers to those questions are no, no, and yes.
On Good Friday, of course the main focus was on Jesus’ crucifixion. In fact, the three days between Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection on Easter are not only the main turning point of the Bible, but actually the main turning point of human history!
Yet, there were two criminals also executed that day. The story goes:
“Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left.” Luke 23:32-33 (NIV)
Verses 39-43 continue: “One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: ‘Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ But the other criminal rebuked him. ‘Don’t you fear God,’ he said, ‘since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.’
Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’
Jesus answered him, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.'”
This story can encourage us in several ways. One, no matter what you’ve done or how far you are from God, you can be forgiven! All you need to do is, like the one thief on the cross, confess our sins and ask for Christ’s forgiveness and acceptance, and you can have it! The Bible doesn’t tell us what the two men had done wrong, but if they got the death penalty for it, it must have been pretty bad.
Second, it’s never too late! If a dying thief can call out for mercy with his final breaths, you can cry out too!
A third encouragement comes from Jesus’ promise: “today you will be with me in paradise.” This tells us there is not some kind of “holding tank” or intermediary place after death, but that believers of Jesus can enter His presence upon leaving this world!
If you don’t know Christ yet as your personal savior, make this Easter season your time to make peace with God through Jesus Christ.