WHAT ABOUT THE THIEF ON THE CROSS ? WHY CAN’T YOU ANSWER THIS ONE ? IS IT BECAUSE YOU DON’T HAVE AN ANSWER?
As to this question and any other, in and of myself, I have no answers, but I believe the Word of God has the answer to this and other questions. It is this Word that we should honestly and humbly explore and when truth is found, we should accept it and obey it, abandoning all false beliefs and opinions that would lead us away from the soul saving truth. The account you refer to is found in Luke 23:33-43. This passage is used by many to “prove” that baptism (immersion in water) is not necessary for salvation. If it was, then the thief who expressed his faith in Jesus and obviously repented of his sins, could not have been saved. However, from the account we know that he was forgiven and would be with Jesus in Paradise.
Here is the account:
LUK 23:33 ¶ And when they came to the place called The Skull, there they crucified Him and the criminals, one on the right and the other on the left. LUK 23:34 But Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves. LUK 23:35 And the people stood by, looking on. And even the rulers were sneering at Him, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if this is the Christ of God, His Chosen One.” LUK 23:36 And the soldiers also mocked Him, coming up to Him, offering Him sour wine, LUK 23:37 and saying, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself!” LUK 23:38 Now there was also an inscription above Him, “THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.” LUK 23:39 ¶ And one of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” LUK 23:40 But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?
LUK 23:41 “And we indeed justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” LUK 23:42 And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” LUK 23:43 And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”
From the account, we learn the following:
1. Jesus and two thieves were crucified on this day.
2. Jesus expressed His desire for the people and soldiers to be forgiven although they verbally abused Him.
3. While one thief abused Him, the other acknowledged who He was and asked to be remembered by Him in His kingdom.
4. Jesus proclaimed that He would be among the Comforted souls with Him in Paradise indicating that his sins would not be held against him. Jesus had forgiven him. Now, from this passage, can we conclusively say that Jesus was teaching us that we can be forgiven without baptism in water? Let us examine this further.
1. It is clear that after Jesus was raised from the dead (having already been with the forgiven thief), He instructed His disciples what they should teach in order for both Jew and Gentile to be saved.
MAT 28:18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. MAT 28:19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, MAT 28:20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. ”
LUK 24:44 ¶ Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” LUK 24:45 Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, LUK 24:46 and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and rise again from the dead the third day; LUK 24:47 and that repentance for forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
MAR 16:15 And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. MAR 16:16 “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.
2. This is exactly what they taught after they had received power from the Holy Spirit who instructed them in all truth and gave them the power to perform miracles to confirm their word. John 14:26, 16:12-15, Acts 2, especially verses 36-42.
3. The baptism that was done was baptism in water, not in the Holy Spirit or anything else. Acts 8:26-40. What made this baptism significant was that Jesus Himself attaches forgives to this action as one believes in Him, turn from sins and confesses His name, he is baptized in water trusting that God will forgive him of his sins and raise him up to newness of life. Romans 6:1-7, Col. 2:8-14.
Now, what about the thief on the cross who Jesus forgave without going through this process? The answer is that while Jesus was on earth, He personally expressed His authority to forgive the sins of other as He willed to do so. Therefore, in various instances, we see Him forgiving people in diverse circumstances. Luke 7:36-50, Mark 2:1-12.
We notice especially in Mark’s account where Jesus made clear that He was showing the Jews that He had power to forgive people while He was on earth. And, the miracle that He performed on the paralyzed man, confirmed this was the case.
However, after He ascended into Heaven, He delegated authority to His apostles. From that point on, we are to be saved by their word as we obey it. John 17:20-21. This word included being baptized in water along with believing, repenting and confessing Him to be the Son of God before witnesses. The words that they speak are Jesus’ words. 1 Cor. 14:37-40.
Therefore, as many would contend, there is no contradiction between what Jesus told the thief on the cross and what the apostles told thousands on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. Why did God choose to do things this way? Since God did not ask my, or anyone else’s advice in how He should do things, this is really not a question that we should concern ourselves with. Our concern should be obey God as He directs so that we might receive His mercy and eventually be with Him for eternity.
Let us carefully discern the word and not use the thief to void the word of Jesus’ apostles as they preached to others. Let us humbly follow their word and be saved. Acts 2:36-38.
By Gary Hunt