Posted by: BibleScienceGuy | March 24, 2021

Crucifixion Miracle 1: Thief Saved

(5 Minute Read. 24Mar2021)

Jesus between two thieves
~1430 painting by Hans von Tübingen

Last week in preparation for Resurrection Day (Easter) on April 4, I began a study of the Seven Crucifixion Miracles that occurred while Jesus hung on the cross.

Matthew, a former tax collector and one of Jesus’ twelve disciples, reported six of the Seven Crucifixion Miracles.
Luke, a doctor who investigated everything carefully from the beginning (Luke 1:3), added another in his account. Mark and John each reported some of these miracles as well.
(Matthew 27:38-54; Luke 23:39-47;
Mark 15:33-39; John 19:28-30

Here is the list of Seven Crucifixion Miracles:
1. Thief on the cross saved.
2. Darkness covered the land for three hours from noon to three.
3. Jesus voluntarily gave up His spirit of His own accord.
4. Temple veil torn in two from top to bottom.
5. Earthquake and rocks split.
6. Tombs opened and dead raised to life.
7. Roman Centurion and his soldiers converted.

These seven miracles are worth examining in more detail, including their implementation, meaning, impact, and significance. This article will discuss the miracle of the salvation of the penitent thief crucified next to Jesus. The other miracles will be covered in subsequent blog articles.

Crucifixion Miracle 1: Thief on the Cross Saved

The first of the Crucifixion Miracles was the salvation of the thief on the cross beside Jesus.

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all report the crucifixion of two thieves with Jesus (Matthew 27:38-44; Mark 15:27-32; Luke 23:32-43; John 19:18). This was a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy that Jesus would be “numbered with the transgressors.” (Isaiah 53:12)

But only Luke includes this miracle of the conversion of one of the thieves.

Matthew and Mark report that both thieves were insulting and castigating Jesus. Apparently one of the thieves eventually changed his mind, for Luke records that while one thief continued to berate Jesus, the other said,
“Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”
Then to Jesus he said, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!”
(Luke 23:39-43)

The penitent thief suddenly changed from excoriating Jesus to honoring Him, from blasphening Jesus to calling Him Lord, and from taunting Him to recognizing Him to be without sin. He expressed fear of God and acknowledged he was a sinner through saying he deserved his punishment. The thief was no longer concerned about his earthly condition. He was making preparation for soon standing before God. The thief knew he needed God’s mercy and grace, and he petitioned Jesus for it.

Jesus recognized the thief’s words as a statement of faith, for He replied to the penitent thief, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

Imagine standing near the cross and hearing all the jeering and mockery directed at Jesus, including the verbal abuse from the two thieves. Then suddenly one of the thieves changes his tune; he rebukes the other thief for his scorn and appeals to Jesus. What impact would this have on you? Would you wonder, “Why did the thief change his mind?”

The man was obviously a hardened criminal in the midst of being executed in a most horrific way.
Why would he change now?

His words to Jesus are some of the most unbelievable words ever recorded! Nailed to a cross, he was hanging next to a bleeding, scourged, torn, broken, and weak Jesus. Yet this penitent thief changed from berating Jesus to recognizing Him as Lord. (In some Greek texts the thief actually addressed Jesus with the Greek word kurios which means Lord. See Luke 23:42 in KJV & YLT)

Why would he call this broken Man beside him, Lord? Why would he think the Man a King? Why would he think the broken Man would rule the afterlife?

The answer is that the Holy Spirit worked in the thief’s heart to effect the change. It was divine grace that opened the thief’s eyes and gave him salvation with Jesus’ words, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”

As Jesus was being crucified, the thief heard Jesus say, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:33-34) In excruciating agony, in the process of being crucified, Jesus forgave the soldiers doing it. The thief had certainly never heard anyone respond to crucifixion in that way before. The thief heard onlookers jeeringly refer to Jesus as Son of God, Christ of God (Messiah), His Chosen One, and the King of Israel. He saw Jesus take all the abuse without responding in kind.

The Holy Spirit used all of this to lead the thief to acknowledge Jesus as Lord.

The thief heard Jesus being ridiculed because He supposedly can’t and doesn’t save Himself. Yet He saved the penitent thief by not saving Himself. Jesus could have saved Himself. For when submitting to arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane He said, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” (Matthew 26:53-54) A Roman legion contained 6,000 soldiers. Certainly 72,000 angels would have been a more than sufficient force to rescue Jesus from crucifixion.

But in not saving Himself from the cross, Jesus saved all who trust Him.

It is interesting that the testimony of this criminal at the cross surpassed the testimony at the cross of men and women who had followed Jesus for years and who had witnessed innumerable amazing miracles from Him. No word of testimony or affiliation is recorded for Jesus’ followers at the cross.

Except for this thief, everybody was in the dark about what was really going on. The scribes and Pharisees, the chief priests, the Romans, the people, and Jesus’ disciples were all totally in the dark. Only the thief through a divine miracle saw enough light to call on Jesus to save Him, not from human judgment and punishment, but from the Eternal Judge.

Statue of St. Dismas
Březnice, Czech Republic

It was a sudden grant of divine grace that instantly regenerated this reprobate criminal.

Who Was the Thief?

Little is known of the penitent thief. Surely, to be executed by crucifixion, his crimes involved more than just robbery. Murder was almost certainly included, as death by crucifixion was a penalty reserved for the gravest of crimes.

The early church father John Chrysostom (~347–407) said the thief lived in the desert and robbed and murdered people whose paths crossed his. Pope Gregory I (~540–604) said the thief “was guilty of blood, even his brother’s blood.”
(From World Heritage Encyclopedia, Good Thief)

The apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus from the mid-fourth century says the penitent thief was named Dismas and the other thief was named Gestas. Church tradition says that Dismas hung to Jesus’ right and Gestas to His left.

Towns and churches have been named after the penitent thief including San Dimas, California, and Saint Dismas Church in Waukegan, Illinois.

Was It A Miracle?

Why do I consider the salvation of the penitent thief a miracle?

It is because conversion requires a work of the Spirit of God within the heart of a man. It is a supernatural work, not a natural occurrence. It is a work of God, not a work of man.

Men are dead in sin, and only the Holy Spirit can regenerate them and bring them to life.
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved). (Ephesians 2:1-5)

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13)

What could almost instantly change a hardened, abusive, sneering criminal into a humble believer in Jesus? It had to be a work of God in the man’s heart. It was a miracle. It was one more divine sign to the mocking bystanders.

Despite a life of wanton sin and horrific crimes, the penitent thief received the mercy of God at the end of his life. It’s never too late to turn to God prior to death.

I wonder, was anyone touched by the miraculous change in the thief? How many back then? How many today? Will you be touched by it?

I will discuss the remaining six Crucifixion Miracles in the subsequent blog articles. Watch for them.

Questions to Ponder

1. Who at the cross recognized the divine sign of the penitent thief and told Luke?
2. In the midst of severe suffering, will you be inspired by the example of the penitent thief?
3. What do you think the impenitent thief thought when his companion switched from ridiculing Jesus to rebuking him for his ridicule?

Share your thoughts on these questions in the comments below. It could encourage or help another reader.

For Christ and His Kingdom. Soli Deo Gloria. Alere Flammam Veritatis.

Read the prequel:
Crucifixion Miracles

Read the sequel:
Crucifixion Miracle 2: Darkness Noon to Three

Bible-Science Guy logo

Subscribe – Don’t miss future blog posts!
Click the sidebar’s “SUBSCRIBE” button to follow the
Bible-Science Guy Blog. You’ll automatically receive
new posts free by email. Click SUBSCRIBE NOW!

Click Best of Bible-Science Guy for lists of the best Bible-Science Guy posts of each year.
Click Bible-Science Guy Table of Contents for a list of all blog posts starting in October 2007.

©William T. Pelletier, Ph.D.
“contending earnestly for the faith”
“destroying speculations against the knowledge of God”
“for the defense of the gospel”
(Jude 1:3; 2 Cor 10:5; Phil 1:16)
Wednesday March 24, 2021 A.D.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His. (Romans 6:3-5 ESV)

Disclaimer: BibleScienceGuy has no control over any advertising that may appear and receives no payment or consideration for it. Ads & “Related” links come from WordPress, not from BibleScienceGuy.


  1. Enjoying! Thanks for sharing your knowledge.


  2. Thanks for your mailings to Charlene and me! As long as we are alive, we will look forward to receiving your mailings. After that, I am unable to speak with certainty. But, I understand that things WILL change at that time. But, until then, my heart will keep on singing EVERY time that I have a new mailing from you. May our God continue to bless you and your family is our prayer. Your brother & sister, John & Char Walker (the golden oldies)


    • Thanks, John, for your gracious response to my weekly blog articles. Blessings on you!


  3. Bill, You are right to call the saving of the soul of the thief on the cross a miracle.

    God is Holy. For Him to give mercy to a condemned sinner instead of the justice the sinner has earned is something that has no cause in nature. This act of mercy also cannot be rightly reasoned by a creature if that creature has an honest knowledge of what both God’s Holiness and the stain of sin on a man’s heart are.

    This is a miracle indeed; the regeneration of a wicked soul by the Holy Creator can only be a monergistic act. No act in creation, no work by a created human being, nor repentance, nor prayer has ever regenerated a man’s soul: regeneration is a miraculous and inscrutable act, a unilateral decision, of the good will of our transcendent and Holy God simply working another supernatural act in nature. Of course only made possible by the life, work, and death of Jesus Christ.


What do you think? Leave a comment. Please pray for the worldwide impact of the Bible-Science Guy ministry!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: