Luke 23:39
And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If you be Christ, save yourself and us.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(39) And one of the malefactors.—The incident that follows is singularly characteristic of St. Luke. If we ask how he came to know what the other Gospels pass over, we may, I think, find his probable informants once more in the devout women who followed Jesus to the place of Crucifixion, and who stood near enough to the cross to hear what was then spoken. The word for “hanged” is used by St. Luke (Acts 5:30; Acts 10:39) and St. Paul (Galatians 3:13) as applied to crucifixion.

Railed on him.—Literally, was blaspheming, but in the sense in which that word signifies the “reviling” of which man, and not God, may be the object. He, too, catches up the taunt of the rulers and the soldiers.

Luke 23:39-41. And one of the malefactors railed on him — The word κακουργος, here rendered malefactor, does not always denote a thief, or robber, but was a term likewise applied to the Jewish soldiers, who were hurried by their zeal to commit some crime, in opposition to the Roman authority. As Matthew and Mark represent both the malefactors here spoken of as reviling our Lord, we must either suppose that they both did so at first, and that afterward one of them, by divine grace co-operating with the extraordinary circumstances in which he was now placed, was brought to repentance; or that those evangelists put the plural number for the singular, as the best authors sometimes do. This seems most probable, because, if this malefactor, while on the cross, had been guilty of reviling Christ, it is likely that, when he rebuked his fellow-criminal, he would have confessed his sin in that particular, and have assigned some reason for so suddenly altering his opinion of Christ. But, indeed, it is by no means certain that his repentance did not commence till he hung on the cross. For any thing we know to the contrary, he might have repented and turned to God long before; his condemnation to death, and his sufferings in prison, being made, through divine grace, the means of producing that effect. Or, he might have heard our Lord preach in the course of his ministry, and have seen some of his miracles, and from a consideration of both joined together, might have been solidly convinced that he was the Messiah. And, with regard to the crime for which he was condemned to die, it might have been committed before such conviction took place, though not discovered till some time afterward. Or, like many professors of religion in every age, holding the truth in unrighteousness, he might have been overcome by temptation, so as to commit some gross act of wickedness, by which he had forfeited his life, but of which he had afterward sincerely repented. This supposition would account for his declaration concerning Christ, that he had done nothing amiss — Ουδεν ατοπον, nothing improper, disorderly, or out of place, as the words signify: a declaration which he certainly could with no propriety have made, unless he had firmly believed Jesus to be the true Messiah, and therefore innocent of those things which the Jews laid to his charge. Be this as it may, at whatever time, and in whatever way he was brought to repentance, he now gave evident proof, indeed all the proof which in his circumstances could be given, that his repentance was genuine; bringing forth all such fruits as were meet for repentance: 1st, In publicly confessing his guilt, and desert of the punishment inflicted on him. 2d, In reproving his fellow-criminal. 3d, In bearing an honourable testimony to Christ, and that at a time when the chief priests, scribes, and elders, and all the multitude, were condemning and reviling him; and he was in such disgraceful circumstances as stumbled even his own disciples. 4th, In professing, and evidently possessing, faith in a future state, and in the righteous retributions thereof, evidently manifested when, in reproving his fellow-sinner, he said, Dost thou not fear God? that is, fear his vengeance in another world; for they had nothing to fear in this, beyond the crucifixion which they were now suffering. 5th, By reposing his confidence in Christ, as the Lord of that world, at a time when his enemies were triumphing over him, and he himself, abandoned by most of his friends, was expiring on a cross. In short, as Dr. Whitby observes, “This thief improved his time at last in such an extraordinary manner, as, perhaps, no man ever did before, or will do hereafter. He then believed Christ to be the Saviour of the world, when one of his disciples had betrayed, another had denied him, and all of them had forsook him! to be the Son of God, the Lord of life, when he was hanging on the cross, suffering the pangs of death, and seemingly deserted by his Father! he proclaims him the Lord of paradise, when all the Jews condemned him, and the Gentiles crucified him as an impostor and malefactor! He feared God, acknowledged the justice of his punishment, and with patience submitted to it. He condemned himself, and justified the holy Jesus, declaring that he had done nothing amiss. He was solicitous, not for the preservation of his body, but the salvation of his soul; nor only for his own, but the salvation of his brother thief, whom he so charitably reprehends, so earnestly requests not to proceed in his blasphemous language, so lovingly invites to the fear of God. So that the glory which he did to Christ by his faith and piety, upon the cross, seems such as the whole series of a pious life in other men can hardly parallel.” Upon the whole, this penitent malefactor was a remarkable instance of the power of divine grace, especially if his conversion was effected while he hung on the cross. But this gives no encouragement to any to put off their repentance till they are on their death-beds, in hopes they shall then find mercy; for though it is certain that true repentance is never too late, it is as certain that late repentance is seldom true. None can be sure they shall either have time or grace to repent when they are sick and dying; but every man may be sure that he cannot have the advantages which this penitent thief had, whose case was altogether extraordinary, and who was placed in the midst of scenes and circumstances of the most affecting kind. He heard the blasphemous reproaches and revilings cast upon him whom he, now at least, if not before, knew to be not only a righteous man, but the true Messiah, the Son of God; beheld the barbarous cruelties exercised upon him, the unparalleled patience with which he suffered, and the benevolent and forgiving spirit which he manifested toward his murderers: not to mention the preternatural darkness which had begun to take place, sufficient, one would have supposed, to produce astonishment and dread in all whose hearts were not perfectly hardened. To which may be added, that the conversion of this sinner was designed to be a singular instance of the power of Christ’s grace, and to put a peculiar glory upon him when he was now in his lowest estate of humiliation and suffering. 23:32-43 As soon as Christ was fastened to the cross, he prayed for those who crucified him. The great thing he died to purchase and procure for us, is the forgiveness of sin. This he prays for. Jesus was crucified between two thieves; in them were shown the different effects the cross of Christ would have upon the children of men in the preaching the gospel. One malefactor was hardened to the last. No troubles of themselves will change a wicked heart. The other was softened at the last: he was snatched as a brand out of the burning, and made a monument of Divine mercy. This gives no encouragement to any to put off repentance to their death-beds, or to hope that they shall then find mercy. It is certain that true repentance is never too late; but it is as certain that late repentance is seldom true. None can be sure they shall have time to repent at death, but every man may be sure he cannot have the advantages this penitent thief had. We shall see the case to be singular, if we observe the uncommon effects of God's grace upon this man. He reproved the other for railing on Christ. He owned that he deserved what was done to him. He believed Jesus to have suffered wrongfully. Observe his faith in this prayer. Christ was in the depth of disgrace, suffering as a deceiver, and not delivered by his Father. He made this profession before the wonders were displayed which put honour on Christ's sufferings, and startled the centurion. He believed in a life to come, and desired to be happy in that life; not like the other thief, to be only saved from the cross. Observe his humility in this prayer. All his request is, Lord, remember me; quite referring it to Jesus in what way to remember him. Thus he was humbled in true repentance, and he brought forth all the fruits for repentance his circumstances would admit. Christ upon the cross, is gracious like Christ upon the throne. Though he was in the greatest struggle and agony, yet he had pity for a poor penitent. By this act of grace we are to understand that Jesus Christ died to open the kingdom of heaven to all penitent, obedient believers. It is a single instance in Scripture; it should teach us to despair of none, and that none should despair of themselves; but lest it should be abused, it is contrasted with the awful state of the other thief, who died hardened in unbelief, though a crucified Saviour was so near him. Be sure that in general men die as they live.One of the malefactors - Matthew Mat 27:44 says "the thieves - cast the same in his teeth." See the apparent contradiction in these statements reconciled in the notes at that place.

If thou be Christ - If thou art the Messiah; if thou art what thou dost pretend to be. This is a taunt or reproach of the same kind as that of the priests in Luke 23:35.

Save thyself and us - Save our lives. Deliver us from the cross. This man did not seek for salvation truly; he asked not to be delivered from his sins; if he had, Jesus would also have heard him. Men often, in sickness and affliction, call upon God. They are earnest in prayer. They ask of God to save them, but it is only to save them from "temporal" death. It is not to be saved from their sins, and the consequence is, that when God "does" raise them up, they forget their promises, and live as they did before, as this robber "would" have done if Jesus had heard his prayer and delivered him from the cross.

Lu 23:39-43. The Two Thieves.

39. railed on him—catching up the universal derision, but with a turn of his own. Jesus, "reviled, reviles not again"; but another voice from the cross shall nobly wipe out this dishonor and turn it to the unspeakable glory of the dying Redeemer.

See Poole on "Luke 23:34" And one of the malefactors, which were hanged,.... On the cross, one of the thieves crucified with Christ; the Oriental versions add, "with him"; according to the Evangelists Matthew and Mark, both of them reviled him, and threw the same things in his teeth as the priests, people, and soldiers did; which how it may be reconciled; see Gill on Matthew 27:44.

railed on him, saying, if thou be Christ, save thyself, and us; taking up the words of the rulers, and adding to them, perhaps, with a design to curry favour with them, hoping thereby to get a release; or, however, showing the wickedness and malice of his heart, which his sufferings and punishment, he now endured, could make no alteration in; see Revelation 16:9.

{g} And {12} one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us.

(g) Therefore we must either take Matthew's account to be using the figure of speech synecdoche, or that both of them mocked Christ. But one of them who was eventually overcome with the great patience of God breaks forth in that confession worthy all memory.

(12) Christ, in the midst of the humbling of himself upon the cross, indeed shows that he has both the power of life to save the believers and the power of death to avenge the rebellious.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Luke 23:39-43. Εἶς] A difference from Mark 15:32 and from Matthew 27:44; see on the passages.

οὐχὶ (see the critical remarks) σὺ εἶ ὁ Χρ. is a jeering question, Art thou not the Messiah?

Luke 23:40. οὐδὲ φοβηῇ σύ] not: Dost not even thou fear (de Wette, Bleek, following the Vulg., Grotius, Lange, and others, that would be οὐδὲ σὺ φ.)? but: Hast thou no fear[265] at all on thy part before God, since thou art in the same condemnation (as this Jesus whom thou revilest)? This similarity of position in suffering the judicial condemnation of the cross is the reason wherefore he ought at least to be afraid before God, and not continue to practise blasphemous outrage.

Luke 23:41. οὐδὲν ἄτοπον] nothing unlawful; see in general, Lünemann on 2 Thessalonians 3:2. The very general expression marks the innocence so much the more strongly.

Luke 23:42. Think on me (to raise me from the dead, and to receive me into the Messiah’s kingdom) when Thou shalt have come in Thy kingly glory (as Matthew 16:28). The promises of Jesus in regard to His Parousia must have been known to the robber,—which might easily enough be the case in Jerusalem,—and does not actually presuppose the instructions of Jesus; yet he may also have heard Him himself, and now have remembered what he had heard. The extraordinary element of the agonizing situation in the view of death had now as its result the extraordinary effect of firm faith in those promises; hence there is no sufficient reason on account of this faith, in which he even excelled the apostles, to relegate the entire history into the region of unhistorical legend[266] (Strauss, II. p. 519; Zeller in his Jahrb. 1843, I. p. 78; Schenkel, Eichthal), in which has been found in the different demeanour of the two robbers even the representation of the different behaviour of the Jews and Gentiles towards the preaching of the crucified Christ (Schwegler, II. p. 50 f.). Others (Vulgate, Luther, and many others, including Kuinoel and Ewald) have taken ἐν in a pregnant sense as equal to ΕἸς, which is erroneous, since Jesus Himself establishes His kingdom; but to conceive of the supramundane kingdom (Euthymius Zigabenus, Grotius, Bornemann) brings with it the supposition, which in Luke is out of place, that the robber has heard the saying of Jesus at John 18:36.

Luke 23:43. σήμερον] does not belong to ΛΈΓΩ ΣΟΙ (a view already quoted in Theophylact, and rightly estimated by the phrase ἘΚΒΙΆΖΟΝΤΑΙ ΤῸ ῬῆΜΑ), in respect of which it would be idle and unmeaning (this also in opposition to Weitzel in the Stud. u. Krit. 1836, p. 957), but to what follows. The Lord knew that His own death and the robber’s would take place to-day. In the case of the robber it was accelerated by means of breaking the legs.

On the classical word παράδεισος (Park), see Poppo, ad Xen. Cyr. 1. 3. 14. The LXX. Genesis 2:8 f. give this name to the dwelling-place of the first pair; the blessedness of this place, however, very naturally occasioned the naming, in the later Jewish theology, of the portion of Hades in which the souls of the righteous after death dwell till the resurrection, paradise. Comp. also the Book of Enoch Luke 22:9 f. Not to be confounded with the heavenly paradise, 2 Corinthians 12:4; Revelation 2:7. See on Luke 16:23; Lightfoot and Wetstein on the passage. In the answer of Jesus there was probably not implied a divergence from the kind and manner in which the petitioner conceived to himself the fulfilment of his petition (Schleiermacher), but it presented simply and without veil, as well as in the most directly comforting form, the certainty of his petition being granted, since if his soul came into paradise, participation in the resurrection of the just and in the kingdom of the Messiah could not fail him. Hofmann, Schriftbew. II. 1, p. 488, rationalizes the idea of paradise. Where the blessed communion of man with God is realized, there, he says, is paradise. This abstraction is surely erroneous, for this reason, that according to it the risen souls must be in paradise, which is nowhere taught—they are in Messiah’s kingdom. By μετʼ ἐμοῦ Jesus expresses definitely His descensus ad inferos (König, Lehre von d. Höllenf. p. 45 ff.; Güder, Lehre v. d. Erschein. Jesu Chr. unter d. Todten, p. 33 ff.), in respect of which the fact that here circumstances required the mention of paradise only, and not of Gehenna, does not exclude what is contained in 1 Peter 3:18 f., as though we had here “a passage contradicting the analogy of doctrine” (de Wette). See, on the other hand, also West in the Stud. u. Krit. 1858, p. 252 ff.

[265] To say nothing, moreover, of penitent humility and resignation.

[266] For apocryphal fables, which subsequently linked themselves thereto, see Thilo, ad Evang. Infant. 23, p. 143.Luke 23:39-43. The penitent malefactor, peculiar to Lk. and congenial to the spirit of the Gospel of the sinful.39-43. The Penitent Robber.

39.
one of the malefactors] In St Matthew and St Mark we are told that both the robbers “reviled” Him. Here then we might suppose that there was an irreconcilable discrepancy. But though the Evangelists sometimes seem to be on the very verge of mutual contradiction, no single instance of a positive contradiction can be adduced from their independent pages. The reason of this is partly that they wrote the simple truth, and partly that they wrote under divine guidance. The explanation of the apparent contradiction lies in the Greek words used. The two first Synoptists tell us that both the robbers during an early part of the hours of crucifixion reproached Jesus (ὠνείδιζον), but we learn from St Luke that only one of them used injurious and insulting language to Him (ἐβλασφήμει). If they were followers of Barabbas or Judas of Galilee they would recognise no Messiahship but that of the sword, and they might, in their very despair and agony, join in the reproaches levelled by all classes alike at One who might seem to them to have thrown away a great opportunity. It was quite common for men on the cross to talk to the multitude, and even to make harangues (for instances see my Life of Christ, ii. 409, n.); but Jesus, amid this universal roar of execration or reproach from mob, priests, soldiers, and even these wretched fellow-sufferers, hung on the Cross in meek and awful silence.

If thou be Christ] or, Art thou not the Christ? א, B, C, L.Luke 23:39. Ἐβλασφήμει, began railing at Him) The most extreme trials do not bend every one. [Nay, indeed, so great is the strength of the mind disposed to sneering (the cavilling mind), that it can betray itself even when hung on a cross.—V. g.] That this robber was a Jew, and that the other was a Gentile, may be inferred from the language of both, and from other circumstances; for the former, according to the custom of the Jews, sneers at His assumption of the name, Christ; the latter directs his thoughts towards the name assigned to Him, King, as the soldiers did, but in a better way. We may add, that the Lord, in promising him blessedness, makes allusion, not to the words of the promises given to the fathers, but to the first beginnings of things [when the distinction of Jew and Gentile had not arisen], viz. concerning Paradise. Nor is it opposed to this, that the words of the converted man refer to the one God [whereas the Gentiles believed in a plurality of Gods]: for faith in Christ, as an immediate consequence, infers faith in the one God. But still, let the Hebrew term in Luke 23:43, Ἀμὴν, verily, be considered, which however does not necessarily presuppose that the person addressed is a Hebrew. Comp. Matthew 25:40 [where the Judge saith. Ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, to persons not necessarily Hebrews]. Hence the opinion anciently entertained, as to the converted robber being a Gentile, retains a show of probability. I have written above, it may be inferred [not, it is positively certain].—λέγων, saying) with raging impatience and ferocity.Verses 39, 40. - 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? In the first two synoptists we read how, shortly after they were nailed to their crosses, both thieves "reviled" Jesus. The Greek word, however, used by SS. Matthew and Mark is ὠνείδιζον (reproached). The word used by St, Luke in this place of the impenitent one is ἐβλασφήμει, "began to use injurious and insulting language" - a much stronger term. Farrar suggests that at first, during the early hours of the Crucifixion, in the madness of anguish and despair, they both probably joined in the reproaches levelled by all classes alike at One who might seem to them to have thrown away a great opportunity. They, no doubt, knew something, possibly much, of Jesus' career, and how he had deliberately prevented more than once the multitude from proclaiming him King. Watching him as he hung bravely patient on his cross, only breaking the dread silence with a low-muttered prayer for his murderers to his Father, one of these misguided men changed his opinion of his fellow-Sufferer, changed his opinion, too, of his own past career. There, dying with a prayer for others on his lips, was the Example of true heroism, of real patriotism. If thou be Christ. The more ancient authorities read, Art thou not the Christ? But the other. In the Apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus the names of the two are given as Dysmas and Gysmas, and these names appear still in Calvaries and stations in Roman Catholic lands. Seeing thou art in the same condemnation. His words might be paraphrased, "How canst thou, a dying man, join these mere lookers-on at our execution and agony? we are undergoing it ourselves. Dost thou net fear God? In a few hours we shall be before him. We have at all events deserved our doom; but not this Sufferer whom you revile. What has he done?" Railed (ἐβλασφήμει)

Imperfect: kept up a railing.

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