Was the Thief on the Cross Saved? - Part 1
Updated: Jun 8, 2019
In Luke 23:39-43, we read, “Then one of the criminals who hanged blasphemed Him, saying, ‘If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.’ But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward for our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom’. And Jesus said to him, ‘Assuredly I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.’”
Was the thief on the cross saved? Of course he was! Jesus is able to save anybody He wants! That’s all the more reason for people to listen to His Words in the Bible when He tells us how to be saved. In John 12:48, He says, “He who rejects Me and does not receive My Words has that which judges him - the Word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day.” Jesus can save anybody, but the Bible, His Word, doesn’t say He is going to save anybody who rejects Him.
The first thing one should understand about the thief on the cross is that he died under the Old Testament law of Moses, along with Jesus. In Matt. 5:17, Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to destroy the law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy, but to fulfill.” That is just what Jesus did when He died on the cross. The entire Old Testament with it’s prophecies of the Messiah, beginning in Gen. 3:15, pointed ahead to Jesus, the cross, and the establishment of His church in the New Testament. Read Isaiah 53, and Isaiah 2:2-4. When Jesus died on the cross, His last Words were, “It is finished” (John 19:30). He fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies, and the Old Testament law of Moses was taken out of the way, and it was nailed to His cross forever (Col. 2:14), and His law in the New Testament was established (Heb. 10:9,10). Baptism in the Name of Jesus Christ, which was baptism in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, was never commanded until after the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:16). The thief died with Jesus under the Old Testament law of Moses.
A second thing that should be understood about the thief on the cross is that there is more evidence in the Bible that he was baptized than there is that he wasn’t baptized. By the time Jesus began His ministry, John the baptist had already begun preaching a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”. Mark 1:4,5 say, ”... all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.” Even the scribes and Pharisees were being baptized by John the baptist. There is no reason to believe the thief rejected the baptism of John that was commanded at that time, even if it is obvious that he fell away from his commitment like so many others of his day, and ours also. The thief on the cross knew about the kingdom that was preached by John (Luke 23:42; Matt. 3:2); he knew about repentance of sins (Luke 23:42; Matt. 3:2; Mark 1:4), and he knew about confessing sin (Luke 23:41; Mark 1:5). He knew John’s preaching, and could very well have been baptized with “all the land of Judea and those from Jerusalem” who were baptized by him.
John’s baptism was commanded. However, it was merely for the purpose of pointing people ahead to the water baptism in the name of Jesus Christ that was to come. In John 1:29, John the baptist was pointing his disciples to Jesus when he said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” In Matt. 3:13,14, when Jesus came to be baptized by John, John said to Him,” I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to Me?” John’s whole purpose for his preaching and his baptizing was to turn people away from the law of Moses, and to the Christ and His new law. That was why his baptism was called a baptism of repentance. It was to usher in a change of people’s minds.
There is more to come on the salvation of the thief on the cross.
Preacher / Evangelist for the La Crosse church of Christ