Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
According to Matthew’s Gospel, both criminals condemned with Jesus mocked him. Check it out in Matthew 27:44, “In the same way the robbers who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.” This seems like a contradiction, because in Luke one of them ends up coming to Christ. I’ve always wondered about this and finally the Holy Spirit explained it to me, and now I shall do so for you.
What the Holy Spirit taught me is that there are two kinds of people. There are those who can be saved and those who won’t. Jesus was crucified with two other guys, as the Gospel records, “Two robbers were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left” (Matthew 27:38). And although, as we read above, both of them mocked him, one of them, when faced with his fast-approaching mortality felt the need to repent. History records,
One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”
But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:39-43).
Matthew records that originally, both men were hostile towards Christ. Likewise, we’re all initially resistant towards Jesus and God. Paul wrote, “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another” (Titus 3:3). Because of our inborn sin nature, we’re separated from God and are resistant to the Lord. However, the “elect” (as they’re called) will eventually open their hearts to Christ if given the chance. Paul continues,
But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life (Titus 3:4-7).
Repentance has nothing to do with what you do, rather it hinges on you accepting God’s love, mercy, and Jesus’ sacrifice for you. Paul, who wrote most of the New Testament, started his life very much against the church. But when the love of God came into his life, it changed everything. This is how it is for some people.
However, some people are totally unreachable. These people’s hearts are totally set against God and Christ and will never repent for reasons unknown to me. These folk would fall into the camp of the other criminal; who, even knowing that he was going to die, continued to provoke God by mocking Jesus. He didn’t care about where he was going and even at the end of his life couldn’t let go of his pride. For such people, no mercy is given. Jesus, before his ascension, taught, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). It’s that clear, no repentance means no salvation. But why? Paul suggests that this is because God has already given everyone enough chances, so that if they reject him it’s on their own heads. He writes,
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because god has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities- his eternal power and divine nature- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and reptiles (Romans 1:18-23).
God can be seen in all things, working in our lives and through the creation. However, people don’t like the idea of God- at least not a god they can’t control. So instead, people run after money, or things, or people; objects which can be manipulated to receive desired outcomes. The Bible is clear, if you don’t wanna worship the Lord, you don’t have to- and some people never will.
We don’t know, though, what the future holds for each person. Moses was a murderer and ended up being one of the greatest champions of God in the Bible. Paul was actually helping to kill Christians and destroy the church before he repented and came to Christ. The Bible says of believers, “And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified” (Romans 8:30). This suggests that those who do eventually come to God have already been predestined to do so; it is referred to in the church as ‘election.’ Honestly, I don’t fully understand how election works- is it a retroactive thing because the Lord is eternal? Did God just pick a handful of people and say, “These guys will be saved”? The Bible doesn’t focus on the questions though. Rather, Scripture focuses on the answer: try to save everyone. Of Jesus, it is recorded; “He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation’” (Mark 16:15). Even Paul, who probably had the most understanding about God, didn’t sit around thinking about who would and wouldn’t be saved, rather, he went out and tried to get everyone he could into heaven. We read,
Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do this all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).
Paul just followed what Jesus said and did what he could to save whoever he could. So as you go out into the world, don’t worry about it, spread God’s love to everyone, even the people who you see as complete scumbags. God will sort out the good from the bad when the time comes; for it is written:
All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world” (Matthew 25:32-34).
Never stop trying. If someone didn’t direct you to the Lord, you never would have been saved (or maybe you would have by someone else; confusing thing, this concept of election). Just remember that both criminals fought with God and Christ until the last- but right at the edge of his life he repented. When you’re out there talking to people about Jesus, you never know what kind of person they may be, so never give up.
For the glory of the Lord!