What About the Thief on the Cross?

thief on the cross32 And there were also two other, malefactors, led with him to be put to death. 33 And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left. 34 Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots. 35 And the people stood beholding. And the rulers also with them derided him, saying, He saved others; let him save himself, if he be Christ, the chosen of God. 36 And the soldiers also mocked him, coming to him, and offering him vinegar, 37 And saying, If thou be the king of the Jews, save thyself. 38 And a superscription also was written over him in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew, THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. 39 And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. 40 But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. 42 And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. 43 And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:32-43, KJV).

The scriptures assuredly teach that for a person to be saved from his sins he must hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. (Romans 10:17 – “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God”).  He must hear the good news concerning the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:1-4 – “1 Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; 2 By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. 3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; 4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures”).

Obviously, a person must also believe that which he hears. (Romans 10:14 – “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?”).  He must believe the gospel of Jesus Christ; that Christ, through His death on the cross, serves as the only sacrifice capable of providing man with the forgiveness of his sins.

The scriptures further teach that, in order to be saved from his sins, a man must repent of those sins. (Acts 17:30 – “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent”).

A man must confess his faith in Jesus Christ before others.  (Romans 10:9-10 – “9 That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. 10 For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation”).

And lastly, the scriptures unmistakably teach that, in order to be saved from his sins, a man must be baptized in water. (1 Peter 3:21 – “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:”).  Baptism provides man with the remission, or forgiveness, of sins. (Acts 2:38 – “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost”).  Baptism places a person into Christ.  (Galatians 3:26-27 – “26 For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” ).  It is at the point of baptism that a man’s sins are washed away.  (Acts 22:16 – “And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord”).

Yet, many will go to the thief on the cross as an example of someone being saved without being baptized.  “I want to be saved like the thief on the cross,” they proclaim.  “The thief did not have to be baptized to be saved and neither do I.”

What about the thief on the cross?  Does Jesus’ promise to the thief that he would be with him in paradise assure us that we can be saved from our sins without being baptized?  Not at all!  Consider the following.

First, it cannot be said with certainty that the thief was not (or was) baptized.  Notice from our text in Luke the thief feared God.  The thief realized he sinned and deserved his punishment.  He realized Christ was innocent.  He acknowledged Jesus as Lord.  Further, he also knew it would be possible to see Jesus after his death.  He had at least some understanding of Christ’s kingdom.  Considering all of this, is it possible that the thief on the cross had heard John’s teaching concerning Christ?  Had he heard John’s teaching concerning baptism of repentance for the remission of sins? (Mark 1:4 – “John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.”)  Is it possible that the thief had been baptized with the baptism of John?  When a person reads the scriptures with an open mind and honest heart he will have to admit the scriptures do not reveal whether or not the thief had been baptized.

Second, whether or not the thief had been baptized is immaterial when a person considers the time in which the thief lived.  For example, I do not read anywhere in the Bible that Noah was commanded to observe the Passover.  Why not?  Obviously, Noah lived prior to the establishment of the Passover (Exodus 12:1-11).  I do not read anywhere in the scriptures of Abraham being commanded to observe the Lord’s Supper.  Why not?  Obviously, Abraham lived prior to the establishment of the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:26-29).  I do not read in the scriptures of the thief on the cross being baptized in the name (authority) of Jesus Christ.  Why not?  Obviously, the thief lived and died prior to the establishment of New Testament baptism.

Third, while on earth, Jesus had the power, or authority, to forgive man on whatever terms he chose.  When Jesus was in Capernaum four men brought a sick person to Jesus to be healed.  Because of the crowd, they were unable to get the sick man inside the house where Jesus was.  So the men uncovered the roof and lowered the sick man into the house.  They were determined!  They did not want to give up!  No doubt they were not going to leave until this man was healed!

When Jesus saw their faith, he told the sick man, “Sons, thy sins be forgiven thee.”  Some of the scribes who saw this questioned Jesus and accused him of speaking blasphemies, saying only God could forgive sins.  It was then that Jesus healed the sick man, telling him “Arise, and take up thy bed, and go into thine house” (Mark 2:1-11).  Jesus’ healing the sick man served to affirm that He (Christ) was Deity and had the power to forgive man of his sins.

After Jesus’ death, His authority was placed in His will, the New Testament.  (Hebrews 9:15-17 – “15 And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance. 16 For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. 17 For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth”).  Unlike the thief on the cross, who lived prior to the New Testament, a person living today must comply with the terms of the New Testament in order to be saved.  He must be baptized in order to receive the forgiveness of his sins.

Sadly, many today want to take baptism out of God’s plan for saving man.  But neither you nor I have a right to exclude anything from God’s plan for saving man that God has included.

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