The story of the repentant thief is almost as well known by non-Christians as John 3:16. Those who have a sense that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is true, but have not repented and believed on Him, often cling to this story in the hope they will embrace the Saviour late in life. They wish to live for themselves and have a “death bed repentance” just prior to dying.
At best such a life plan sounds very risky, even foolhardy, when the idea is thought about carefully. I recall a medical doctor friend of mine who witnessed faithfully to a friend for many years. The man said that he was about to embark on a world cruise as his retirement gift to himself and his wife. After he returned he promised to sit down with my friend and make a confession of faith. Tragically the man died during the cruise and my friend grieved the man’s untimely death for a very long time.
The saintly Bishop, J.C. Ryle, once said about the story of the repentant thief, “A deathbed repentance is recorded in Scripture so that none might despair but only one so that none might presume.”
The repentant thief, by his own admission, had led a life of crime. He acknowledged that his lifestyle richly earned him the death penalty. It is therefore unlikely that this man took his eternal destination seriously until he was dying. He may never have encountered the Friend of sinners until the day he met Him hours before death. Therefore, we might suggest that he probably embraced the Saviour the first time he met Him.
So, the lesson of this story is that we need to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ the first time we hear the Gospel, not when we breathe our last. Yet Satan seduces people into deferring this critical matter until it is altogether too late.
Reader, do you know anyone who is gambling with the lethal notion that they can defer the free, glorious offer of salvation to a more convenient time? They may as well cuddle a deadly cobra as clutch their sins to themselves until a more convenient time to repent. Witness passionately to them. Beg them to turn from their beloved sins to the Saviour.
The gracious Redeemer waits to bestow salvation on undeserving sinners. His grace is sufficient to cover the greatest sins. However, although He offers salvation to all who believe, His patience is limited. He can and will soon enough withdraw His offer and give people up eternally to the consequences of their freely chosen sins.