Last minute conversions
When Jesus was being crucified his enemies added insults to the injuries he was suffering by challenging him to prove the claims he had made about himself by coming down from the cross. Even the two criminals who were being crucified with him joined in.
And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days,save yourself, and come down from the cross!”
So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.”
Those who were crucified with him also reviled him.
A short time later one of the criminals experienced a change of heart.
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.”
It is obvious that before he adopted a life of crime he had been taught what the Scriptures taught about the coming Messiah. It is equally obvious that he had previously not been living up to what he had been taught or he would never have committed the crimes for which he was now being punished.
For a while he was among those who ridiculed Jesus, but the knowledge that he was about to die caused him to reevaluate his life. He realized that what he had been taught about the Messiah was true and that Jesus was that Messiah. He repented of his old way of living and asked Jesus for forgiveness and received it. He would still suffer the death of his body for his sins, but he received assurance that he himself would be in Paradise that same day.
What would have happened to him if he had not been caught by the Romans and sentenced to death? We have no way of knowing, but it is possible that he would have lived out the rest of his life as a criminal, never repented of his sins, and after death would have wound up in Hell rather than in Paradise. God allowed his body to die a painful death so that his soul could be saved.
Everyone knows that Noah built an ark to save his family because he was warned by God that the world would be destroyed in a flood. But that isn’t all he did. In 2 Peter 2:5 he is described as a herald of righteousness. That means that he taught people about the righteousness of God and warned them of the coming judgment. If they had listened to him the flood could have been averted.
If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it.
Noah’s message was rejected, the flood came, and everyone except Noah and his family perished.
What did those who died think about during their last minutes of life? Is it possible that some, who had heard what Noah preached, realized that Noah had been right and repented of their sins and received salvation just as the crucified criminal did? For most of the world the flood was a judgment for their sins. Perhaps for some it was an act of mercy; the imminence of physical death led them to think about their eternal destiny and repent of their sins. Like the repentant criminal they suffered the death of their bodies but their souls were saved.