The untold story of the thief on the cross.

The story of the repentant thief on the cross is mentioned only briefly and only in Luke’s gospel (23:39-43). I took some creative liberty in constructing a plausible backstory to help the reader understand the significance of the moment and the kind of people that Jesus came to save.
Getting caught was always a possibility. That old saying came to his mind, robbers have to get lucky all the time, but the authorities only need to get lucky once. This time his luck had run out. He hung there, bleeding from the nails in his hands and feet, struggling through his last breaths just like the other two condemned men to his right.
The temptation was too much when he spotted the young couple distracted by the money changer at the temple. A quick hard blow to the husband’s head was all it took to loosen his grip on the bag that held the family’s valuables. The wife, so stunned at the sight of her husband laying knocked out and bleeding on the cobblestone walkway, did not even notice the assailant snatching the bag and running away.
It was a crime he had perpetrated many times before that day. He made a fast escape hoping to find a safe place to examine his loot. While the victim lay bleeding and slipping farther and farther away from his beloved wife, the thief ran. Suddenly, he felt the crushing blow of a guard’s club into his windpipe.
Several guards who were posted around the temple complex witnessed the whole ordeal. The bag of belongings was returned to the victim’s grieving widow. The sentence was handed down by Pilate, the governor of the province. He knew his sentence even before he was told by the prison guards, death by crucifixion, a punishment that would be swiftly rendered that very day.
As he hung there on the cross struggling to breathe, knowing that death was imminent, he considered his life of crime. How many times had he gotten away with the very crime for which he was now condemned? He knew he had earned for himself the very worst of punishments from a just God. As his body weakened with every passing minute, his heart broke for what he had done.

He thought about the man to his right, this Jesus, over whom the city was so stirred up. Jesus did not seem like a criminal, though the plank above His head proclaimed the treasonous charge, “Jesus, King of the Jews.” He had witnessed Jesus’ trial through the bars of his cell. There, Jesus behaved like no criminal he had ever known. This Jesus did not even plead his own case. It was as though he believed it his destiny to die as one unjustly condemned.

From his cross, the condemned robber remembered something mentioned at the trial. Jesus had told his followers that some of them would not pass away before they saw him coming into his kingdom. Could he really be the divine King? Could he be the Christ? If the man had been honest about his innocence, there was no reason to think he was lying about being the Christ.
In the midst of these, what he believed were his last thoughts, he heard the other criminal, two crosses over, railing on Jesus who hung between them.
“Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!”
The introspective and repentant criminal lashed back at his guilty counterpart, “Do you not fear God since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we, indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”
Then turning to Jesus, his breath now shallow so that he can barely form the words, his esophagus still swollen from the guard’s blow. He pulls against the nails in his hands to remove the pressure off his collapsing lungs. He speaks the words that reveal the faith that has been wrought in his heart, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Jesus uses the same technique, pulling against the nails in his hands so as to draw a deep enough breath to form the words, “truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”