Read Luke 23:39-43
39 One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!”
40 But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? 41 We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”
43 And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (NLT)
For most of us, becoming a Christian and receiving personally the promise of eternal life involves some sort of commitment of faith in what Jesus has done for us: forgiveness of sins, repentance, and a life of intended obedience to Jesus. But it seems there may be exceptions. Like this criminal hanging alongside Jesus.
All he seemed to do was to ask Jesus to remember him when he took up his place as judge of the world. Jesus doesn’t put him through a basic Christianity course or call him to repent. He doesn’t insist on anything at all but rather takes this man’s words as a very desperate but genuine plea for mercy. He only has to jump through that one hoop, given that he couldn’t actually jump through any others in his last moments.
Jesus doesn’t promise him eternal life in some distant future time. He assures him that it will begin that very day. There will be no gaps, no shadowy limbo land, no mysterious waiting room. And at our last breath, we trust that will be the voice we hear as well.
It is never too late for someone to turn to Jesus whilst they have the will to do so. We can never judge a person’s eternal status in advance for that very reason. Though we do well to remember the words of C. H. Spurgeon who commented that there is this one instance of death-bed salvation in Scripture so that we do not despair, but there is only just one instance so we must not become complacent.