What About the Thief on the Cross?

SavedlikeaThiefSatan successfully uses the thief on the cross to keep many people from obeying the gospel. The reasoning goes like this: The thief on the cross wasn’t baptized, he only had faith, and I, therefore, only need faith and I do not need to be baptized.

A big part of me wonders why people gravitate to the thief; in the Gospels, several folks have salvation without baptism. After a paralytic had been let down through the roof in front of Jesus, the Lord says, “Son, your sins are forgiven you” (Mark 2:5). As Jesus stands in Zacchaeus home, the Lord declares, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham” (Luke 19:9). When the woman washed Jesus’ feet in Simon’s house, Jesus said, “I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much” (Luke 7:47). When the accusers of the woman caught in adultery leave, Jesus looks at her and says, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more” (Jn 8:11).

I think one reason people may not use those examples is that more than faith was required. Granted, in two of those cases, action followed salvation, but there was action, nonetheless.

  • Jesus used that paralytic as a “teachable moment.”

    He was making the point that He, as God in the flesh, could forgive sin. Therefore, Jesus told the paralytic to take up his bed and walk. The text never says that the paralytic had any faith in Jesus, but his friends did (Mark 2:5). In your heart of hearts, do you believe that if the paralytic had refused that command of Jesus that he would have kept his salvation?

  • With both Zacchaeus and the woman caught in adultery, repentance was called for.

    Zacchaeus promised to make big changes in the way he treated people (Luke 19:8). Jesus told the woman caught in adultery, “Go and sin no more” (Jn 8:11).

  • With the woman at Simon’s house, a woman who surely was a lady of the night, received forgiveness because she loved much and demonstrated that love to Jesus. The tears likely speak to remorse as well.

The thief demonstrates that More than faith is necessary for salvation. Yes, you read that correctly – the thief shows conclusively that you need more than mere faith for salvation.

I know many people will have difficulty with that statement, but notice carefully the account in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 23:39-43): One thief is blaspheming (speaking evil of) Jesus. The other thief, the one who received salvation, rebuked him. In that rebuke, the penitent thief demonstrates his faith. He readily confesses that he is sinful, but Jesus is not. He understands that Jesus will soon have a kingdom. He calls Jesus “Lord.”

From Luke’s account, I believe we see that the thief carried out much that we need to do for salvation. He has already heard of Jesus. That’s an unmistakable conclusion; he recognizes Jesus as sinless and he knows the Lord has a kingdom. He obviously does believe. He repents of sin in Luke’s account. He understands he is dying justly for his sins. “Even the robbers who were crucified with Him reviled Him” (Matthew 27:44). The thief clearly repented at some point along the way. The thief’s repentance is very important because people will say that all the thief did was believe, and that is simply not the case.

It is not out of the question that the penitent thief was also baptized. How can you prove the thief was never at any point baptized? You simply can’t. Many were indeed baptized before that thief went to the cross. Notice a couple things from Mark 1:4-5:

  1. John’s baptism was for the remission of sins. It was temporary, but it was still for the remission of sins.

  2. All the land of Judea” was going out to John to be baptized; the thief could very well have been in that number.

I don’t know if the thief was baptized or not. But, you cannot establish that the thief was never baptized.

That thief could never have been saved in the same way we are. Why do I say he could never have been saved as we are?

You hear people say that you need to believe on Jesus in order to be saved. When the jailer asked Paul and Silas what he needed to do to be saved, they answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31). Salvation, therefore, is absolutely dependent on our believing “on the Lord Jesus Christ.”

However, that isn’t the whole story. Paul, writing with his inspired pen, tells us something very specific that we must believe. Romans 10:9. Notice that we must believe “that God has raised Him from the dead.” That’s past tense. The penitent thief could not have believed that God had raised Jesus from the dead.

1 Cor 15:1-4. The Corinthians were being saved by standing firm in the gospel they had believed. That gospel consists of four parts: Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, and post-resurrection appearances. How many of those events had taken place when the thief received his salvation? Not even one!

Christian baptism was not commanded until after the Resurrection. John the Baptizer baptized people “for the remission of sins” (Mark 1:4). I believe that when Jesus’ disciples baptized in John 4 that they also baptized for the remission of sins. However, after the Resurrection, people could no longer be properly baptized with John’s baptism (Acts 19:1-5). I personally believe that the apostles and anyone else baptized with John’s baptism before the cross did not need to be baptized again. But, that’s a moot point for us.

Christian baptism was commanded by Jesus after His Resurrection and was first preached at Pentecost. Jesus commanded that baptism in giving His Great Commission (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:16). The apostles proclaimed that baptism beginning at Pentecost. When the multitude at Pentecost asked what they could do to have forgiveness, Peter responded: “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). “Baptism, which corresponds to this [the Flood], now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21).

Jesus forgave people as He chose while He walked this earth. “The Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins” (Matt 9:6). However, now that Jesus has died, His will is in effect (Hebrews 9:16-17).

In yesterday’s post, I briefly outlined what one must do in order to receive the salvation Jesus so freely offers. Check it out and make sure you’re right with God

I know that I said I’d write about the blessings of salvation in Jesus today, but this post seemed to correlate nicely with yesterday’s. I’ll write about the blessings of salvation on Monday.

Quotations in today’s post come from the New King James Version.

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