Bible Passage: Luke 23:26-43


26 As the soldiers led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27 A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. 28 Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30 Then

“‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!”
    and to the hills, “Cover us!”’

31 For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

32 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed.33 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. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”

36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”

38 There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews.

39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”


Key OT/NT passages on how this passage fits within the Bible story as a whole

Our verses feature several allusions and prophecies fulfilled including:


Isaiah 53:12– This verse, written around 700 years before Luke 23, predicts both that ‘the suffering servant’ (Jesus) would be “numbered with the transgressors” and that he would “make intercession for the transgressors.” Both of these predictions are fulfilled in Luke 23.


Psalm 22:18– Psalm 22 is a ‘Messianic Psalm’ which predicted that the Messiah’s clothes would be divided and that lots would be cast for his garments. Again both prophecies come true in Luke 23. Although humanly speaking the events of the cross look disastrous, these details show God’s sovereign hand over the details.



Note on key themes/context of the book

Luke, a doctor and historian, sets out his reason for writing his gospel account in the first four verses of the book, stating that after he had ‘carefully investigating everything from the beginning’ he wanted to write an orderly account to give Theophilus (and by extension us) certainty of the things he had been taught. After giving us a front row seat to Jesus’ ministry in Galilee (4:16-9:50) and his journey to, and his ministry in, Jerusalem (9:51-21:38) this passage falls into a section which zooms in on the betrayal, trial and crucifixion of Jesus. With detail and drama Luke wants the events of the cross to give certainty to the reader that these things really happened. The thief on the cross is one of a number of surprising individuals to respond positively to Jesus throughout the gospel (cf. Zacchaeus in ch 19).


Structure of the passage

Although many of us would be quick to say that we believe that we are saved by faith alone through grace alone, we can easily slip into thinking that our works somehow contribute to our salvation. Or put another away that it is unfair that someone who has lived a life in opposition to Jesus can be saved at the 11thhour. Our passage comes just after Jesus’ unjust trial and we join the journey on the way to Calvary. Some of his final words are included in our text giving us vital insight into his final thoughts and priorities.


The Crucified King

1) … warns about future judgement (v23-31)

Amidst the physical and emotional torture Jesus is facing, he is unable to carry the cross (v26) yet out of compassion for the women mourning for him he issues a warning about coming judgement. Jesus paints of horrifying picture of the judgement which Jerusalem would face from the Roman Army under Titus in AD70, yet this warning had a future element to it also pointing to the final judgement. Although this passage later features much of Jesus’ compassion and mercy this warning on the way to the cross is in fact also a compassionate warning. The question for us is whether we are ready for the day of judgement? Will we take shelter in the cross of Calvary? 


2) … prays for his enemies (v32-39)

Surprisingly little detail is shown of Jesus’ actual crucifixion (‘they crucified him there’) rather Luke focuses on Jesus’ response to the actions of the soldiers. Staggeringly Jesus prays for forgiveness for his enemies, modelling the very thing he had called other to in Luke 6:27! Despite this prayer, Jesus is hounded on all sides by the rulers (v35), the soldiers (v36) and the criminal (v39). 


3) … promises paradise with him (v40-43)

Amidst the sneering, we’re introduced to a final character, the thief (literally ‘bandit’) next to Jesus. He rebukes the other criminal and repents of his sin. In fact he offers us a wonderful picture of what repentance is by admitting his sin, believing in Jesus and coming to him. Jesus’ reply to him in v43 is wonderful: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” This 11thhour conversion gives a great example of someone who can’t rely on past merit, future reform or religious observance. This is a key reminder for Christians that we are saved by grace alone (Ephesians 2:8-9), paradise has been already won at the cross. It’s also a reminder that no one is too bad, or old, or messed up enough to come to faith in Christ. If it is scandalous that this criminal could be saved, it is equally scandalous that any of us might be saved! 


Suggestions for any tricky bits? 

Better to be buried alive?In v29-31 Jesus predicts doom upon Jerusalem (also 19:43-44, 21:20-24). The allusion to Hosea 10:8 in v30 makes the point that it would be better to be dead and buried than face the horrors of the destruction of Jerusalem. 


Green trees?V31 is tricky but the picture is of Jesus representing the green tree and the nation of Jerusalem in destruction is the dry tree. The most common interpretation is that “if God has not spared Jesus, how much more will the impenitent nation not be spared when divine judgement comes?... It is easier to burn dry wood than lush, moisture-filled green wood.” (Bock, Luke p.1847)


What is paradise? Jesus promises that today the thief would be with him in paradise. Paradise is another name for heaven and is only used 3 times in the NT. It symbolises the place of God and of eternal blessing, we are supposed to hear overtones of Eden here. As Christians are eternal resting place though is the new heavens and new earth where with resurrected bodies we will live eternally together with Jesus.


Summary of author’s main point

The crucified King forgives the sins of others as he opens the way to paradise


Aim/purpose for original audience

Heed the warning of judgement by repenting and believing in the crucified King who you’ll join in paradise


Aim/purpose for us today

Heed the warning of judgement by repenting and believing in the crucified King who you’ll join in paradise


Key area of application

To Church/Christians: How do we feel when someone comes to faith at the 11thhour? Do we rejoice in that, or is there a small part of us that feels that it’s unfair? 

Who could you talk to this week about the ABC of repentance?

Where might we be tempted to be self-reliant for our salvation rather than rest on Christ’s finished work?


To Sceptics: Do you hear Jesus’ loving warning about judgement? Do you see that the thief on the cross had nothing to contribute towards his salvation?