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.”
At one point, both robbers taunted Jesus… but one repented, the other didn’t (Lk 23:39-43). The statements of the two robbers could be crystallized in thought to this…
Robber 1: “If you are the Christ, get down off the cross and me too. Then I’ll follow you…”
Robber 2: “If it takes the cross for me to be with you, then it is worth it.” Jesus didn’t respond to the first statement, but affirmed the second by proclaiming, “Today you will be with me in paradise (Heaven).”
There is no crown without a cross. To follow Christ requires sacrifice. Sacrifice of all you have. Many people come to Jesus for what they can get (Money, safety, happiness, answered prayer, etc.) to which Jesus says no… just like he ignored the first robber. But those who lay down their life for God’s glory and Jesus’ are granted…
Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (Mark 10:29-31)
And (Jesus) said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Luke 18:29-30)
Addendum: How were people saved BEFORE Jesus? The same way as today… by faith. According to 1 Cor 10:1-4 people prior to Jesus placed their faith in the Messiah who WAS TO COME. Today faith is in the Messiah (Christ) who CAME. Abraham was saved by faith BEFORE The Law was given and we are saved the same way… by faith. BUT… who were the first ones to be saved because of Jesus’ actual literal death? A thief and Gentile Roman soldier.
As for the thief Luke 23:39-43 is the text to read. As for the Roman Centurion, read Mark 15:39. Before Pentecost, before Paul, before anyone else… as Jesus said it would be… two people who “good Jews” never thought would be saved, were saved before any of them were!