How do we know the thief crucified with Jesus was saved? We know he was saved by the answer Jesus gave in Luke 23:43: "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." Jesus answered his request by giving him a promise with three parts.
1. Immediate Salvation. In the Greek the word today is the first word in the phrase. Jesus put it there for emphasis. Literally, it reads "Today you will be with me in paradise." Meaning, "This very day, the day of your crucifixion." Whatever or wherever "paradise" is, Jesus told this thief that he was going there that very day.
2. Personal Salvation. Again, the Greek words are very important. The phrase is met emou, which means to be "with me in a very personal way." It is not "You over there and me over here," but "You and me together, side by side." It means to be in the personal presence of another person. Wherever Jesus was going, this thief would be right by his side.
3. Heavenly Salvation. Paradise is the crucial word. The scholars tell us that it originally referred to the walled gardens of the Persian kings. When a king wanted to honor his subjects, he would invite them to walk with him in his garden in the cool of the day. This same word was used in the Greek Old Testament to refer to the Garden of Eden; in the book of Revelation (Revelation 2:7) it refers to heaven. It is a place of beauty, openness and inexpressible blessedness.
If you take these three promises together, you see what a remarkable thing Jesus is saying. He is promising that this thief—who has lived his entire life in crime—will, upon his death, be transferred to heaven where he will be in the personal presence of Jesus Christ. Truly, this thief received much more than he asked for.
What a day this was for that misbegotten criminal. In the morning, he's in prison, at noon he's hanging on a cross, by sundown he's in paradise. Out of a life of sin and shame, he passed immediately into eternal blessedness.
Taken from "Last-Second Salvation" by Keep Believing Ministries (used by permission).