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What About The Thief On The Cross?

Okay... so what about the thief on the cross? Some people claim he was not baptized therefore we do not have to be baptized. This is really a poor excuse to try to cover up the truth. This in no way proves baptism is not necessary... it cannot prove it because then we would have a contradiction in the Bible. However, proper study will bring the truth to the table top every time. A couple of Christian brothers could not have explained it any better...

When discussing whether or not baptism is essential for salvation, many will cite the penitent thief on the cross as an example of someone who was saved without baptism. Almost inevitably, the person who objects to the essentiality of baptism will ask, “What about the thief on the cross? He was not baptized.” Please notice the following points regarding the forgiven thief on the cross:

Can one be so sure that this thief was never baptized? - Multitudes had come to John from all surrounding areas to be baptized of him: “Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan, And were baptized of him in Jordan…” (Matthew 3:5, 6). John obviously had baptized a great number of people, but Jesus’ disciples had baptized even more people than John (John 4:1, 2). Is it not possible that the thief could have been among these great numbers of people who were baptized? From the very words of the thief we infer that he had been taught about the coming kingdom (Luke 23:42), and the kingdom is exactly what John, Jesus, and the disciples had been preaching during the time of these baptisms (Matthew 3:2, 4:17, 10:7). This is further evidence that he very well may have been baptized. It should also be noted that the Bible teaches that it is quite possible to sin again after one has been baptized for the remission of sins (Acts 8:18-24; 1 John 1:8). This thief could have committed a theft after his baptism. It is very presumptuous to claim that this thief had never been baptized.

Can one be so sure that the thief was not born into a covenant relationship with God? - This thief apparently lived and died in Palestine, which is strong evidence that this man was a Jew. The Romans did not crucify their own citizens, so we know that he was not a Roman. If the thief was a Jew, then he was born into a covenant relationship with God, and had been a child of God all his life. If that was the case, this was not an alien sinner who became a child of God on the cross! He would have been an erring child of God seeking forgiveness, which would mean that this account cannot be used today as an example of how a person can become a child of God!

The thief was forgiven while living under a different covenant – We live under the New Testament, which was not established until after the death of Christ: “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). With the aforementioned Scriptures in mind, please consider the example of a family inheritance – a person’s will is not put into effect until the death of that person. Robert R. Taylor, Jr. noted that “While yet alive he [the testator] may do with his estate as he pleases. But subsequent to death his estate is totally subjected to the ways of his will.” After death the will becomes effective, and one must do what is specified in the will to receive the inheritance. The Will of Christ was not in effect when the thief was forgiven because Christ had not died yet – the New Testament had not been established. The thief was forgiven under a different covenant; thus this account does not apply to us today!

Jesus often forgave sins at His discretion while on Earth – While Jesus was on Earth, He personally forgave certain people’s sins (Luke 5:20), but Jesus does not appear to us in person today and tell us that our sins are forgiven! Remember that before the Testator died He would do with His estate as He pleased (forgive sins at His discretion), but after His death the Will became effective (Hebrews 9:17), and one must now do what is specified in the Will to receive the inheritance. The New Testament Will says that we must now believe and obey the Gospel to purify our souls, avoid eternal punishment, and receive the inheritance (1 Peter 1:22; 2 Thessalonians 1:8; 1 Peter 1:4).

The thief on the cross cannot be used as an example of how someone can become a child of God today. No person alive today is living under the same conditions as this thief was. When one studies how people were converted after the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, it is clear that those who wished to become children of God were never instructed to pray, nor to merely “invite Jesus into their hearts,” as many would have us do today. In the book of Acts the consistent recording of water baptism in conversion accounts is practically overwhelming, and the results which follow baptism reveal its divine purpose. Obviously baptism is a vital part of God’s Plan for saving man, and is necessary “for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38).

Consider this story I once heard during a Gospel Meeting... Abraham Lincoln never paid one dime in income taxes. Let's suppose you write a letter to the IRS telling them that you are not going to pay anymore income taxes because Abraham Lincoln never paid one dime in income taxes. You advise them that they have received your last check. No doubt you will receive a swift letter back from the IRS informing you that in view of the fact that Abraham Lincoln was never under an income tax law... in view of the fact that he lived and died before there ever was an income tax law... he could not have paid income taxes had he wanted to pay income taxes. We will be expecting your check by return mail.

If we can understand this analogy then we ought not have any problem understanding why the thief on the cross did not have to be baptized under the baptism of the Great Commission. The thief on the cross lived prior to the Great Commission while we live under the Great Commission. The thief on the cross lived before the consumation of the gospel of Christ... there is no possible way he could have obeyed the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ even had he wanted to.

So enough of the nonsense... the thief does not in any way prove baptism is not necessary for salvation. It's not even close.

God bless you!

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