How are we to understand this?
The day ended at sundown and whatever you believe Paradise to be, wherever you think Paradise might be, it would be difficult to construct a scenario that would explain how this thief could possibly arrive there with the Lord before the sun set. The Syriac version of the Greek Scriptures renders the phrase with “from this moment you will be with me in Paradise.”
Is there a stronger evidence of the fact that we are not saved by works?
There was no baptism, no holy communion, no sacraments, no Sabbath keeping, no kosher keeping, no tithing, or church or synagogue attendance or commitment. If there was repentance, it wasn't of works or deeds.
Now you might question my assessment of the thief's salvation. But I am not the one who declared him to be on his way to Paradise.
That declaration wasn't made by a local clergyman. It wasn't a church official. It wasn't a elder or deacon or bishop or cardinal. The man who declared this thief to be saved has the highest spiritual credentials. And if this malefactor was indeed instantly and supernaturally saved on the basis of his confession and testimony, then we can all be saved without works, without waiting, without worthiness and without worry.