Besides the harlot that wept at the feet of Jesus in Simon’s house, who else was declared to be saved by Jesus in the Gospels? It was a rare event that Jesus declared that a person was actually saved; many times He declared that faith had made a person well–had delivered them from disease or blindness–but many fewer were the times that Jesus declared that a man or woman had entered into the Kingdom of God. In His ongoing discourse with the Pharisees, Jesus sums up what has happened already as He’s gone about preaching the Good News: “ the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you” (Mt 21:31). Both words, publican and harlot, are in the plural! We’ve spoken already of a harlot that was saved in Luke 7, but now we must say something of the publicans that Jesus mentions here. Who are they?
The first publican saved, ostensibly, was Matthew. Matthew was a tax collector, and the scriptures tell us that Jesus said to him “follow Me,” and he left all and followed Him (Mt 9:9). Notice the parallels between Matthew and Abraham: neither Abraham nor Matthew knew where they were going when God called, but they went by faith (Gn 12:4, Heb 11:8, Mt 9:9). As we said before, the disciples were unequivocally declared to be saved by Jesus, which is unsurprising (Jn 15:3). In the apostle Matthew, we have found the first publican mentioned in Matthew 21:31.
The next publican we find is the worst of them all–the chief of them (Lk 19:2). And it is to Zacchaeus, to the worst of the publicans, that the Lord Jesus declares without qualification that salvation has come to his house (Lk 19:9). Zacchaeus was saved. He possessed righteousness greater than the pharisees like the harlot in Luke 7 (Mt 5:20). It is remarkable that harlots and tax collectors should be going into the Kingdom of Heaven before the pharisees, and that is why the Lord Jesus said this so boldly–because it is so amazing, so remarkable, that it could not have been accomplished except by the zeal of the Lord (Isa 37:32).
Though each of these people, harlots and tax collectors, encountered the Lord Jesus in their own ways at their own times, we find that they have a common salvation: in fact, we declare that there is no salvation except that which comes by faith in Christ Jesus (Jn 14:6). Though the account of Zacchaeus leaves out the words “thy faith hath saved thee” from the dialogue, in that we all share this common salvation by faith alone in Christ alone, we understand that Zacchaeus shared this same faith with the harlot. Furthermore, like the harlot, it must be that Zacchaeus, at the moment the words were uttered by Christ, possessed a perfect righteousness–a righteousness greater than the Pharisees.
Who was saved in the Gospels? The disciples were, surely, but also harlots, tax collectors, and a thief. Like the harlots and the tax collectors, the thief shared a common salvation in Christ Jesus. His salvation was not “uncommon.” The salvation of the thief does not stand apart from those other accounts. The thief’s salvation is not some strange occurrence that needs a unique explanation. He was saved like the disciples, like the harlots, like the tax collectors, by a righteousness that exceeded the righteousness of the Pharisees.
The thief had perfect righteousness.
Now, in what follows, knowing what the thief indeed had, we will look very carefully at what he did not have: in the chapters to follow, we will carefully examine what the thief did not have, which is to say what did not save him.
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