What About the Thief on the Cross?

Keith G. Ball - Minister, the church of Christ at Delaware, Ohio

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, faced a humiliating death on the cross of Calvary. In a further attempt at humiliation, Jesus was crucified between two thieves. This was a fulfillment of prophecy (Isaiah 53:12). Many who passed by, as well as the two thieves, hurled insults and lies at Jesus (Matthew 27:29-44). However, one thief had a change of heart. He came to the realization that he deserved to be punished for his evil deeds (Luke 23:41). Realizing that Jesus was the Messiah, he asked the Son of God for mercy. ÒLord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.Ó Jesus responded by saying, ÒVerily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradiseÓ (Luke 23:42-43). What a glorious day it must have been for the thief. He was so close to death and was then granted a future reward.

THE QUESTION

The question that is often asked when discussing God's plan of salvation is, "What about the thief on the cross?" This question is asked by those that hold the view that Bible baptism is not necessary for remission of sins. Some have sought to pattern their salvation after that of the dying thief. The issue is not whether the thief was baptized or not. The issue is whether baptism is necessary today for remission of sins. The thief on the cross is not a pattern for salvation in the Christian age.

WHY?

The thief lived and died under the Old Covenant. As Christ went about his ministry on this earth, he could grant a future reward or remission of sins to anyone He pleased. He did this in Mark 2:5 for those that had faith and also for the thief on the cross.

While Christ was alive, the thief was given the promise of the future reward in paradise. While Christ was alive, the Old Covenant was still in force. "For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth" (Hebrews 9:16, 17).

It was at the cross that the Old Law ceased to be in effect. Soon thereafter, the New Law, the Law of Christ, came into force. Note that Paul points this out to the church at Colosse in Colossians 2:14, "Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross."

WHAT MUST BE DONE?

It has been seen that the dying thief is not an example or pattern for salvation today. The question you may ask then is, "Do we have a pattern for salvation today?" The answer is an emphatic "Yes." Note these examples of conversion found in the book of Acts. Note that baptism, in every case, is connected with their belief, thus leading to their salvation.

  • Pentecost (Acts 2:36-47)
  • Samaritans (Acts 8:5-13)
  • Ethiopian (Acts 8:26-39)
  • Saul (Acts 9:1-20; 22:6-16)
  • Cornelius (Acts 10:1-48)
  • Lydia (Acts 16:14, 15)
  • Philippian Jailer (Acts 16:25-33)

Why were they baptized? They were baptized because they heard preached what Jesus told his apostles to preach. "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned" (Mark 16:16).

There is only one true answer to the question of baptism and one must look to God's word for that truth. It does not do one any good to look for the truth in a creed book or a denominational handbook because they were written by men. One must always look to God's word for the answer to religious questions. "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32). Once that truth has been learned, one should not delay obedience to Jesus Christ for if we love Christ we will keep his commandments (John 14:15).

Note these additional verses on baptism:
  • Romans 6:1-4
  • 1 Corinthians 12:13
  • Galatians 3:27
  • Ephesians 4:5
  • Colossians 2:12
  • Titus 3:5
  • 1 Peter 3:20, 21

Note these additional verses on the change of the Old Law:
  • Hebrews 8:6-8
  • Hebrews 9:13-15
  • Hebrews 10:8-10
  • Romans 7:1-6
  • Galatians 3:19, 24