Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. . . . One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” -- Luke 23:32, 33, 39-43
In recent months I have become very thankful for the criminal who was crucified next to Jesus. God in his providence used this man and his interactions with Jesus to provide us with helpful information and encouragement concerning the Christian life and eternity. Here are a few ways that God has used the thief on the cross.
First, the criminal helps us understand the gospel. Notice that he said, ". . . we [are condemned] indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds" He recognized his guilt. Also, he recognized Christ's innocence: "But this man has done nothing wrong." This man simply acknowledged his own sinfulness, saw Christ's righteousness, and simply believed that Jesus was the Messiah and had the power to save him when he died.
Second, the criminal helps us understand that baptism is not absolutely necessary for salvation. Jesus accepted his public profession of faith and promised that he would be saved. Baptism is prescribed for believers, but obviously it is a sign or a symbol. It does not produce salvation, nor is it required for salvation.
Third, we see that this man did not go to purgatory. He didn't cease to exist. He was with Jesus in paradise the same day he died. He placed his trust in Jesus Christ and when he died he was assured he would be with the Lord (cf. 2 Cor. 5:1-10).
I think there are other ways this man crucifixion bears implications for our lives, but I wanted to point out these three. I am truly thankful for that criminal!