The Undoctrinated Witness

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In Luke, chapter twenty-three, we find the story of the two thieves on the cross with Jesus. (It is also found in Matthew 27:38-44.) The two thieves on the cross were of opposite natures. One thief did not see his own condemnation and repent of it, but the other did. They were both aware of Jesus, and their stories are found in Scripture after He was declared the King Of The Jews. In other words, there was no way they didn’t know about Him and what had been spoken of Him. It is not stated if the two thieves were Jews or Gentiles, just that they were two robbers.

“And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. 

And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise. 

Luke 23:39-43 (KJV)

Who was the thief on the left? 

This criminal decided not to consider why he was being crucified in the first place. He was a thief, plain and simple. His acts were against God, yet he chose his perception of who Jesus was and did not believe He was willing to die for him, too. This malefactor just wanted to be saved from his verdict of death. He saw no evidence that Jesus would get him off the cross, mainly because Jesus was unable to remove Himself from it. This thief was focused on the world around him, not giving a second thought to the eternal, spiritual world to come. He was not only a thief in his community, but also a thief for not believing Jesus Christ was the Son of God and could provide everything ever needed. At the same time, in the land of the living, he stole the glory of God. He chose to only know of God, not having a relationship with Him or His Son, even though he was beside Him and in His presence.

Luke’s account says this thief “railed” against Jesus (See Luke 23:39). That means he cursed, mocked, and profaned the sacred things of God, blaming Him for his situation. He wasn’t taking responsibility for his own actions nor recognizing the free will God gave, which allows us to choose to love, honor, and revere Him. He questioned the purpose God had sent His Son to earth for, especially since there was no “physical evidence” of his current predicament (they were all still nailed to their crosses). He was not able to see what Jesus offered was more real than the pain on the cross, but a spiritual life, everlasting, unlike the one he was currently experiencing. By loving Him, we offer our sacrifice, die on our own cross, and bestow the glory due Him because Jesus is the only way to eternal life with the Father.

Job questioned God and found out he had no answers for the questions God asked him (see Job 38) and that complaining and playing the blame game is dishonorable. The thief on the left found he, too, could not answer for his crimes or pay the price for his sin. God convinced Job of his ignorance, and he humbled himself and repented. God recompensed Job twice as much as he had and blessed him with a long life; however, the unrepentant thief discovered that God would turn His gaze away from those who mock Him with an unrepentant heart.

The eye that mocketh at his father, and despiseth to obey his mother, the ravens of the valley shall pick it out, and the young eagles shall eat it.

Proverbs 30:17 (KJV)

Who was the thief on the right hand?

Right in context is a metaphor for a place of honor; the hand that takes, and left is the opposite of right, or second best.

This thief rebuked the defamation of Jesus he was witnessing. He saw the people, the rulers, and soldiers deriding Jesus, and he heard the thief on the left mocking Him, questioning, “If you be Christ, save yourself and us.” He chose to answer the question and admonished him. I’ll paraphrase it. Do you not fear God, seeing you are in the same condemnation? You are on a cross for your crimes! We have been rightly judged and receive what is due for our deeds, but Jesus had done nothing improper.

And what is the next thing he does? He says to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

First, he recognized his sin and need for a savior. Then, he declares Jesus as Lord. Those words were a sign that he reconciled himself to not only needing a savior, but Jesus, as Savior, would also become his Master. He is the undoctrinated witness. The thief, on the right hand, had no formal instruction in Christianity. He was not asking anyone around him what he should think of Jesus, much less what to release in his words. He knew he had been a thief in the sight of God and man. He knew his condemnation was just for his sins. He was given no Christian doctrine or denomination to follow. He did not jump off the cross, begging to be baptized in the river. He didn’t think about how he hadn’t attended last Sunday’s service or hadn’t had time to get his church membership card. I am not dismissing such things as frivolous. These actions can help those in need to stay on the narrow road, but what I am saying is making the traditions of man of more effect than the two requirements Jesus gave in Matthew 22:37-40 is precisely what the Pharisees did. Religion requires someone to jump through hoops when all God wants is your heart, fellowship with Him, and obedience to His chosen purpose for your life.

Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. 

Matthew 22:37-40 (KJV)
thief, denomination art

The thief on the left is described as “another on the left,” however, the first thief is described as the “one on the right hand.” (See Matthew 27:38; Luke 23:33) Notice carefully he is on the right HAND and the other is just “on the left.” It is not implicitly declared on the left hand. Neither of the thieves would have been physically touching Jesus on their own crosses. Yet, spiritually, the “one on the right hand” is portrayed in a position of authority and as one touching or on Jesus. Why? Because he accepted Christ, and Jesus confirmed it by telling him he would be in paradise soon after that. Jesus Christ, the perfect Spirit of Truth, the Word, the Seed of God, was planted in a fleshy, clay pot. He gave His body for the payment of sin for those who believe on Him so that the Spirit of a man is redeemed back to the Father and does not experience the second death. There is no other denomination able to do what Christ did.

Man’s sin is reflected in the story of the two malefactors, the one on the right hand and the one on the left. All are guilty. None are without sin. How you choose to live and what you choose to believe in will have eternal consequences. Not because a pastor, commentator, or friend says so, but because the Bible, the Word of God, shares this truth with whoever will read it. And, when you accept Christ and are infilled with the Holy Ghost, He will lead you into all truth.

Jesus, the anointed one, fulfilled all the Law. He forgave the thieves before the one on the left even could revile Him. He forgave us before we even set foot on the earth. And, when we believe in His finished works, we partake of His inheritance. 

The Lord calls to all who will hear Him, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30 NIV).

Feature Images: | Scripture quotations are taken from the KING JAMES VERSION of the Bible.

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