The Second Thief

Have you ever wondered about who the second thief was, his background, parents, childhood, and why he didn’t respond to Jesus like the first thief? Both men had gone through a trial and sentencing and were condemned to die with the murderer Barabbas. I imagine that when Barabbas was set free and replaced by Jesus, both men naturally felt resentment toward Barabbas’s replacement. The unfairness of a murderer set free while the thieves were still crucified seems stark to our sensitivities. However, that time and culture seemed to regard human life as unimportant, especially the despicable of society.

Barabbas and the two thieves were probably Jewish since the gospels seem to make explicit mention when people in Jesus’ life were Roman, Phoenician, Samaritan, or a generic Gentile. As Jews, there must have been some minimum instruction and awareness of right and wrong. The first thief actually admitted that they had done wrong and deserved their punishment, a fact that was never verbalized by the second thief. Were the thieves raised in a loving family with religious instruction, or were their families dysfunctional, single parent, no parent, or did they grow up as orphans—learning to steal just for survival? We just don’t know.

However, we do know what both men were exposed to at the end of their lives. They saw a man — who replaced Barabbas the murderer — speak kindly to weeping women. They heard this man Jesus forgive the Romans as He was nailed to the cross. They saw and heard the priests mocking Jesus and they also joined in with the crowds of people who cursed and derided Him. They saw John bring Jesus’ mother and heard the concern and love expressed by Jesus for His mother. They saw and experienced the darkness enveloping them, as well as the earthquake and violent shaking. They heard the centurion proclaim his faith that Jesus was the Son of God. All of these experiences were seen and heard by both thieves, and yet only one responded.

Can we make excuses for the second thief's non-responsiveness? Was his life’s background somehow worse than everyone else? Did he somehow have less opportunity to be saved than the thief who did respond?

The second thief reminds me of the people at the time of the flood. All they needed to do was walk into the boat! In like manner, all the thief needed to do — in fact, all he was capable of doing — was express a desire to be saved. Yet the words never came out of his mouth.

God’s appeal is for all.

“Therefore tell the people: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Return to me,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the Lord Almighty.” —Zechariah 1:3 (NIV)

“Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?’” —Ezekiel 33:11 NIV

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” —Matthew 11:28 NIV

Dennis Hollingsead works in the Office of Development at Andrews University.

Photo by Sangia on Unsplash

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Yes, God’s call is clear and universal. But, we may not completely understand God’s ways. Lucifer may have had years to decide and received multiple visits from God Almighty to persuade him (if EGW is to be believed). Why do we think that the thief will only be alloted a few hours on a Friday afternoon to make his mind about this eternal matter?

The Old Testament prophets speak clearly about humans being taught about Jesus after God removes the fog of sin, especially Isaiah 25. All is not lost for the second thief!


Had NOT one of the Gospel writers put this conversation on paper, we
from the 1st to the 21st Century would never had known it even took
We ONLY know about the life of Jesus by what was put on paper.
As the book of John stated, ALL the other books were NOT written
about Jesus.
So in this conversation between Jesus and the two men on either side
of him, no further conversation is reported that might have occurred
between the Three of them in all the long hours they were together
that day.
So ANYTHING beyond what is on paper is mere Speculation.

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Perhaps because of each of their personality traits, the penitent thief was exempted from the Investigative Judgement whereas the impenitent thief was required to appear before the Investigate Judgement? :wink:


Elmer –
Who is to say that the “Good” thief was NOT speaking for both
he and the other guy when he petitioned Jesus to “Remember”.
This scene is ONLY in one Gospel.
We HAVE to ASK – WHY was this conversation included in the
Letter to whom it was addressed and to those others who would
read-hear it?
There was an ulterior MOTIVE on the part of the Story Writer. To
bring Hope and Comfort and NOT just it “made the Novel sound good.”

Both of them were Commandment Breaking Jews. Perhaps they were
BOTH included in the request of Jesus – “Father, forgive them…”


Only an individual with empathy could consider this possibility. Otherwise, the human default is to humiliate and shame the brethren as a means of coercion to follow the rule of the majority and use holiness as an excuse of failure of morality.


Another scenario possible NOT in the story.
Were these two guys young enough that their parents were still living?
How humiliating for their sons to “be hung on a tree”, according to
the Torah.
Perhaps someone could have found them, related the scene to them,
and that Jesus Forgave their actions, and made them Righteous Jews
again, even though “hanging on a curs-ed tree.”

Another QUESTION to ASK. Where we these 2 guys buried. Or were they
just thrown in a ditch for the animals to eat??
It doesn’t say, BUT could they have been taken to the same cave as Jesus
and put on a stone shelf at the same time?
I have always wondered that. The Greek word translated “Paradise” in English.
Actually, it is a transliteration of it. Can mean a “garden”. The tomb was said to
be in a “garden”.
Anyway, the whole “play on words” seems like a riddle by the writer. Not to diminish
the story of Jesus and the Tomb on Sunday early. [the 1st day of the week began at
sundown Saturday night.]

Man, that is a long wait…


This is what happens when Jesus talks without consulting with our GC leadership’s prophet EGW first. :wink:

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