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.
Act 17:11 Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.
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 later that day.
Here is the account:
Luk 23:33 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 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 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 are suffering 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 His Father to forgive the people and soldiers for their sins because they did not know the significance of what they were doing.
3. While one thief abused Him, the other acknowledged their guilt, Jesus’ innocence and asked Jesus to remember him when He comes 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. First, we must clearly understand that the thief on the cross, as well as all the Jews, during Jesus’ lifetime, were not subject to the New Covenant. They all lived, including Jesus and the penitent thief, under the law of Moses, the Old Covenant. Therefore, none of the people living during Jesus’ lifetime were subject to the New Covenant, including the conditions of how to be saved that included baptism in Jesus’ name for the forgiveness of sins.
Deu 5:1 Then Moses summoned all Israel and said to them: “Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the ordinances which I am speaking today in your hearing, that you may learn them and observe them carefully.
Deu 5:2 “The LORD our God made a covenant with us at Horeb.
Deu 5:3 “The LORD did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, with all those of us alive here today.
2. While on earth, Jesus declared and confirmed by miracle that He had the authority to forgive people’s sins. Whatever the conditions were for Him to forgive were determined directly by Jesus. Luke 5:18-26, 7:36-50, 23:33-43. Obviously, Jesus exercised this authority in regard to the penitent thief. But again, all this took place before the establishing and preaching of the New Covenant, the gospel of Christ.
3. Jesus died to establish the New Covenant which began to be preached on the Day of Pentecost about ten days after Jesus ascended into Heaven receiving authority over heaven and earth. Before ascending though, Jesus declared the conditions of pardon that would be proclaimed by His apostles who would be guided by the Holy Spirit. In The New Covenant, we are saved only when we believe in Jesus enough to repent of our sins, confess Him as the Son of God and be baptized (immersed in water) for the forgiveness of our sins. This baptism is by the authority of Jesus and into His death so we may be raised up by faith to walk in newness of life.,
Mat 26:28 for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.
Heb 9:15 For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.
Heb 9:16 For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it.
Heb 9:17 For a covenant is valid only when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it lives.
Heb 8:6 But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises.
Heb 8:7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second.
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.”
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.
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 would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day,
Luk 24:47 and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
Luk 24:48 “You are witnesses of these things.
Luk 24:49 “And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
Act 2:1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.
Act 2:2 And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.
Act 2:3 And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them.
Act 2:4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.
Act 2:5 Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven.
Act 2:6 And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language.
Act 2:36 “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ–this Jesus whom you crucified.”
Act 2:37 Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?”
Act 2:38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Act 2:41 So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.
Act 2:42 They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
Act 8:35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him.
Act 8:36 As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch *said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?”
Act 8:37 [And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”]
Act 8:38 And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him.
Act 8:39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch no longer saw him, but went on his way rejoicing.
Rom 6:3 Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?
Rom 6:4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
Act 22:16 ‘Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.’
Gal 3:26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.
Gal 3:27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
Col 2:11 and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ;
Col 2:12 having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.
Col 2:13 When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions,
Col 2:14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.
4. What about the thief then? He was blessed to be forgiven by Jesus while Jesus exercised His authority too forgive sins before His New Covenant was established and proclaimed by His apostles. Now, we are under this New Covenant which gives the conditions for us to be saved in clear terms. If we believe in Jesus as the Son of God, we must repent of our sins, confess Him as the Son of God and be baptized (immersed in water) in His name for the forgiveness of our sins. This is the only way of salvation today. Please dear reader consider these things carefully and obey before it is too late.
By Gary Hunt