“The thief on the cross wasn’t baptized”, is often offered up as a rebuttal to the command that Jesus gave in Mark 16:16 and Matthew 28:19. Astonishing that anyone would choose to offer the Lord a rebuttal, seeing He is the savior, but millions have chosen to hang their hat on the cross of the thief- while claiming rights to the cross of the Savior.
Amazing is the fact that so many have refused the baptism commanded by Jesus, while the New Testament mentions the subject over and over. Every New Testament book references baptism by direct statement or by inference. This writer must hasten to say that there is only one baptism today (Ephesians 4:5), and it is in water, and for the remission of sins, thus the distinction, “water baptism”. No serious Bible student would deny that the Bible contains more than one baptism, but there is only one in force today. It is the baptism that Jesus commanded (Mark 16:16; Matthew 28:19).
SO, WHATS ALL THE FUSS ABOUT?
The religious world has run amuck with doctrines that can only be substantiated by creeds, catechisms and confessions. The ideas of men have caused many to be “tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the slight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive” (Ephesians 4:14). Some have never allowed the Bible to prick their heart. Some cannot fathom that dear old dad or papaw could have “missed it” when it comes to the scheme of redemption, and thus they continue to shield their hearts from the truth. Jesus addressed this very thing in Luke 14:26, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters– yes, even his own life also, he cannot by My disciple”. The Bible demands you pick a favorite, and if you want Jesus, He must be number one. He is Lord of all or He is not Lord at all as far as you are concerned (Acts 10:36).
JESUS AND THE THIEF
Jesus, and the thief, were born under a system of law. “In the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son, made of woman, made UNDER THE LAW” (Galatians 4:4). Many today falsely claim that Jesus could save whoever He wanted to, and however He wanted to, and they site Luke 5:24. This author begs you to consider the context of the conversation that Jesus had with this group that had just witnessed Him perform a miracle. A man is let down through the roof, and he is sick with the palsy (Luke 5:18-19). When Jesus see’s their faith (will you argue works here?), He responds with a statement no one expected. “Man, thy sins be forgiven thee” (Luke 5:20). This statement caused the scribes and pharisees to reason within their own minds, silently, that the statement was blasphemous and put this miracle worker equal with God. It is perceived that the reasoning was silent because the next verse tells us that Jesus “perceived their thoughts” (Luke 5:22), and He without prompting, questioned them, “What reason ye in your hearts? Whether it is easier, to say, thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Rise up and walk?” (Luke 5:22-23). This should have proved to them exactly what Jesus was doing when He healed the man… Prove He was God! He claimed to be God and His actions backed it up! The point of the passage that Luke is making in recording this account is that Jesus is deity! “But that you may know the Son of Man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (he said unto the sick of the palsy) I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy couch, and go into thine house” (Luke 5:24). The point of the passage is that Jesus is God. This passage in no wise changes the fact that God saves the obedient (Hebrews 5:9).
Jesus could not just save anybody He wanted. That would make Him a respecter of persons, which God is not (Acts 10:34; Romans 2:11). Jesus was under the Law when He came to live as a man, and He was obedient to that Law. God set the rules, and Jesus did not apologize for them, nor did He manipulate them. When Jesus came on the scene, God had sent forth a prophet named “John the Baptist” (immerser, lit.). Jesus said of John as a prophet, “there is none greater” in Luke 7:28. Prophets were Gods covenant lawyers. They argued Gods case to the people. Johns’ baptism was Law until Pentecost. Jesus was baptized of John, not for the remission of sins, but to “fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). Jesus was obedient to the Law which He lived under. “For all of your commandments are righteousness” (Psalm 119:172). Jesus said, “I do always those things which please Him” (John 8:29). Jesus, was bound to operate within the parameters of the Law that He and every other man was subject to. If not, why not?
SO, WHAT ABOUT THE THIEF?
It is not logical to draw conclusions without weighing the evidence that is provided for any given circumstance. “The “Law of Rationality” demands that one draw only the conclusions that are warranted by the evidence”. There are only nine verses in the entire New Testament that give us all the information we have specifically about the thief that heard those marvelous words, “Today thou shall be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). We do not know what his name was, if he had family, his education or field of work. We are not privy to what he stole, just that he hung beside the Lord, condemned, and had a change of heart during the six-hour period therein.
When one searches the word of God for truth, he will find it. The psalmist said, “Thy word is true from the beginning, every one of thy righteous judgements endure forever” (Psalm 119:160). What happens when one leaves the scene of Calvary and goes back to the beginning of the Gospel? In Mark 1:4-5, the Bible says, “John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, And there went out unto him ALL the land of Judea, and they of Jerusalem, and were ALL baptized of him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins”. This “ALL” included the thief on the cross. The baptism of John was authoritative and Gods law! Jesus asked a pertinent question in Luke 20:4, “The baptism of John, was it from heaven or of men?” Their thought process proved that either way it was binding. If they said it was from heaven, it was from God, and if it was from John, it was from God because John was a prophet of God (Luke 20:6). They were stuck between a rock and a hard place with the baptism of John and men who reject baptism today are in no better shape! Jesus said relative to the Pharisees and lawyers that refused to be baptized of John that they, “rejected the council of God against themselves” (Luke 7:30). Consider for a moment the condition one would find themselves in rejecting the one baptism today. In Johns Day, they did not reason that they were earning their salvation through meritorious works as men do today. They didn’t reason that Baptism was an outward display of an inward grace. It was a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins (Mark 1:4). It was For the remission of sins and the baptism that Jesus commands today is For the remission of sins (Acts 2:38). To reject it or change it is equal to and no different than rejecting the council of God (Luke 7:30).
It would be beneficial if more evidence was noted relative to the thief. So many claim today that he was never baptized. That is mere assumption (Mark 1:4-5). Consider his knowledge, and where did he learn these things? The thief knew exactly who Jesus was. He called Jesus, LORD (Luke 23:42). He knew there was life after death (Luke 23:42). He knew that Jesus was innocent (Luke 23:41). He knew God was to be feared (Luke 23:40; Hebrews 10:31). The thief knew that Jesus could save him (Acts 4:12). The thief knew it was time for humility (Micah 6:8). The thief knew more about the Kingdom than the Apostles did. The apostles in Acts 1:6 ask the Lord, “wilt thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” The thief knew the Messiah had a spiritual Kingdom (Luke 23:42).
There are many things we learn from the thief on the cross, but we do not learn that baptism is not essential to salvation! The thief gives us hope that our momentary denials do not erase the calling on our life and our defiance doesn’t have to define our destiny. The thief knew he had to repent and that declares his being in a prior covenant relationship with God in need of repentance. “God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). The thief had so much knowledge of who Jesus was, of His kingdom, and His ability to save…He must have been a disciple of John or maybe Jesus Himself.
The thief on the cross should provide men hope that have wasted years of their life in debauchery instead of service. The thief on the cross should prove to everyone that Jesus will pay the laborers at the last hour equally to those that have spent all day in the field (Matthew 20:1ff). The thief on the cross should provide encouragement to anyone who has left God, and hasn’t the strength to do anything but apologize for and repent of their sins. The thief on the cross could offer no more acts of service, no evangelistic fervor, yet Jesus forgave him. The thief on the cross proves the mercy and graciousness of a loving God. Let it never be used as an excuse to disobey the simple command of the savior, “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16).
How will you ever stand before Jesus and explain to Him why you didn’t take Him at His word? How will He react to your explanation that, “I know the Bible said that, BUT…”? The author of this article hopes the reader will consider the evidence that no one can rightly make the claim that the thief wasn’t baptized, and that He would never make a good excuse to disobey the Savior anyway. How will Jesus handle those who stand before Him and plead their salvation upon the cross of a thief?
If you have any comments or questions, please, don’t hesitate to reach out below. God bless you.