Greek leestai. Rather "robbers." Lawless banditti infested Palestine in our Lord's days (Josephus, Ant. 17:19, section 8; 20:8, section 10), and gave trouble to each successive Roman governor (Josephus, B. J. 2:13, section 2). Even on the high road between Jericho and Jerusalem they assailed travelers, as the parable of the good Samaritan shows (Lu 10:30). Armed bands were needed to encounter them (Lu 22:52). Fanatical zeal for emancipating the Jewish nation often accompanied robbery, from whence Barabbas and his companions in insurrection and murder enlisted popular sympathy (Mr 15:7). Crucifixion was the Roman penalty for the robber and the rebel alike. The two crucified with Jesus were probably such: the taunt of the one, "if Thou be Christ, save Thyself and us," implies sympathy with the Jews' fanatical zeal for national and individual deliverance from Roman rule: they probably were among Barabbas' fellow insurgents, and were doomed to die with him; but he was released, and they were left to their fate.
At first both railed at Jesus (Mt 27:44; Mr 15:32). (Though possibly the plural for the singular is a Hebrew idiom when the writer expresses a fact generally, without specifying which of two the fact bolds good of, as when Jonah "went down into the sides (i.e. one or other of the sides) of the ship," Jon 1:5.) The mysterious darkness from noon; the meek, holy, and divine bearing of Jesus amidst all taunts and agonies, and His prayer for His murderers, touched the heart of one of the two robbers with sympathy and awe (Lu 23:39-43).
When his fellow reviled Jesus he rebuked the reviler (which makes probable the explanation from Hebrew idiom above, that he himself had not reviled Jesus), "dost thou not fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation (surely such a terrible penalty from God should lead thee to fear Him: see Isa 9:13; Re 16:10-11; 2Ch 28:22; Jer 5:3); and we indeed justly (he justifies God in His dealings however penal, the sure mark of repentance, accepting the punishment of iniquity: Ps 51:4; Le 26:41), for we receive the due reward of our deeds (confession of sin: 1Jo 1:9); but this Man hath done nothing amiss" (acknowledgment of Jesus as the Holy One of God: Ro 10:9; Heb 7:26; 1Pe 2:22-24). Then he said to Jesus, "Lord remember me": he might have said, Lord save me from this agonizing cross, as the other said in taunt; but recognizing him as "Lord" by the Holy Spirit (1Co 12:3), he leaves the mode of blessing for the All-wise and Loving One to decide.
Remember me includes all that is really good; he looks beyond the present dying state to the eternal future; when all others forget the executed outcast, do Thou remember me (Job 14:13). The chief butler when raised again forgot Joseph; Jesus, when glorified, then especially remembered the penitent companion of His sufferings (Ge 40:14,23; Isa 49:15-16). "When Thou comest into Thy kingdom," which he heard that Jesus claimed before Pilate (Joh 18:37; 19:14); while all others, even the disciples, expected a temporal kingdom he looked for a spiritual; he discerned the divine King in the dying human sufferer. Marvelous faith! when the rest had given up all hopes of His Messiahship (Lu 24:20-21) he takes for granted the coming of Christ's kingdom, yet unlike the impatient disciples (Ac 1:6-7) is content to wait Christ's own time.
But Jesus will not let him wait, he shall share Christ's blessedness "today"; and Jesus said, "Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise." (See PARADISE; EDEN.) "With ME" is the chief blessedness of the intermediate state (Php 1:23; 2Co 5:8), as it shall be of the final; to him alone of all His hearers did Jesus speak of paradise. His acceptance is but a slight stay for procrastinators to rest on for the general acceptance of deathbed repentances. The one instance is recorded, that none may despair; but one, that none may presume, He was never called before; now, when called, he instantly obeys: but we are all called from childhood. His faith was exercised under circumstances most adverse to faith; we are called to faith under privileges most favorable to faith. Our case and his are very distinct.
The place on Christ's right hand in the kingdom, desired by Zebedee's sons, was reserved for the penitent thief, first in the kingdom of suffering, then in the kingdom of glory, His case proves that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law, yet not by a dead faith, for his faith evidenced its vitality by confession of sin and of Christ crucified, by faithful reproof of the scorner if haply he too might be led to repent, by humility, and by hope in the Saviour looking beyond present pain to the eternal state; also that baptism is only "generally "necessary to salvation, a baptized man may be lost and an unbaptized man may be saved; the baptism of blood supplied the place of the outward sign of regeneration (Hilary, de Trin. 10; Jerome Ep. 13; Mt 20:23; Lu 12:50).