What About the Thief on the Cross?

by Keith Sharp

When faced with a Bible passage that plainly teaches the necessity of water baptism for salvation, many of our friends protest, “But what about the thief on the cross? He was saved forty feet above the high water mark! He never got his big toe wet! I want to be saved just like the thief on the cross!” Surely this unnamed malefactor must be the most popular criminal who ever lived!

The story of the thief on the cross is found in Luke 23:32-33, 39-43. “There were also two others, criminals, led with Him to be put to death. And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left… Then one of the criminals who were 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 of 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.’”

Since Jesus promised him, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise,’ the malefactor was indeed saved. Does his salvation nullify the necessity of water baptism for the remission of sins?

In order to answer affirmatively, one must answer “yes” to three questions. Please consider each one.

(1) Does this one case nullify the plain teaching of Jesus Christ and His inspired apostles? The Lord certainly taught that baptism is a condition of salvation: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16).

His apostles plainly proclaimed the same truth: “Then Peter said to them, Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38)

Since the word of God is truth (John 17:17), it does not contradict itself. Does this case contradict the precepts of the Lord and the apostles?

(2) Can you prove the thief on the cross was not baptized? He was crucified in Jerusalem of Judea. “But when John preached in the wilderness and baptized in Jordan; all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and were all baptized by him in the Jordan” (Mark 1:4-5). Might John have baptized the thief when he baptized “all the land of Judea”?

Furthermore, Jesus “made and baptized more disciples than John” in the same region (John 4:1-3). The thief knew Jesus was Lord (Luke 23:42). How did He know that if He had not heard John, Jesus, or His disciples preach? Why did he call Jesus “Lord” if he was not a disciple? Are you sure the thief was not baptized? The burden of proof is on the one claiming him as an example of salvation without baptism. Are you willing to risk your soul on it?

(3) Is the salvation of the thief on the cross a pattern for our salvation? We live in the New Testament age (Hebrews 9:13-15). The New Testament did not acquire force until after Jesus died on the cross (Hebrews 9:16-17). The Lord blessed the malefactor with the promise of paradise as they both hung on crosses, before the death of Christ. The conditions of salvation were different at that time. For example, we must believe in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ to be saved (1 Corinthians 15:1-4), but no one could believe these facts before Jesus’ resurrection.

The answer to all three questions is “No.” No, the salvation of the thief on the cross does not nullify the necessity of water baptism for the remission of sins.

But what if the Lord had made an exception for the thief on the cross? As the Master told Peter, when Peter asked about John, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me” (John 21:18-22).

Friend, stop quibbling about the Lord’s commands and obey Him. “But why do you call Me, Lord, Lord, and do not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46). “And now why are you waiting Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16).

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God Only Needs One Stone

by William J. Stewart

Goliath, the Philistine giant, challenged Israel to produce a champion to fight him one on one. The loser’s people would serve the victor’s nation (1 Samuel 17:8-10). Israel did not send out a man, rather they “were dismayed and greatly afraid” (1 Samuel 17:11). Continue reading

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Is Your House In Order?

by William J. Stewart

I’m not asking if your dishes are done, if the floor is swept, the carpets are vacuumed, the light fixtures are dusted, etc.. Our title refers to 2 Kings 20, where the prophet Isaiah was sent to an ailing king Hezekiah. He had a very short but vital message for the king, “Set your house in order, for you shall die, and not live” (20:1). Continue reading

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Peaks & Valleys of Faith

by William J. Stewart

Peaks and valleys in life is a common thing. Whether we are talking about our relationships, career, health, finances, emotional well being, or faith, there will be high and low moments.

A survey of what we know about the apostle Peter’s life shows that he experienced these peaks and valleys in the faith, just like you and I. It is interesting to notice that most of the low or difficult times came on the heels of a spiritual high or occasions of growth. Let’s notice this pattern from Scripture. Continue reading

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The Samuel Complex

by William J. Stewart

When he was an old man, the elders of Israel approached Samuel, who served as a prophet, priest and judge among his people, and said, “make us a king to judge us like all the nations” (1 Samuel 8:5). The prophet was broken up (Strong’s 03415) over their demand. The LORD assured Samuel, “they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me” (1 Samuel 8:7). Continue reading

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The Spirit Realm, #4

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
by William J. Stewart

Google “demon list” and you will discover site after site telling you about a myriad of demons. In these lists you’ll find everything from odd names (Bifrons, Jinn, Lamia) to human actions (gossip, lying, rape) or emotions (pride, grief, jealousy). The extensive and weird list of names given by some are not found in the Bible, but are from the writings of men. If you are familiar with the mythology of the Norse, Greek, Roman, etc., then you may recognize some of the names. Of all these, I would say along with Paul,

…we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords), yet for us there is one God… (1 Corinthians 8:4-6)

Continue reading

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The Spirit Realm, #3

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
by William J. Stewart

In the spirit realm, there are good spirits, identified at times in the Bible as angels, but there are also evil spirits, identified at times as demons. There are references to demons in both the Old and New Testaments, though by far, the majority are in the gospels. Continue reading

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The Spirit Realm, #2

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
by William J. Stewart

There are several occasions recorded in the Bible of interaction between the spiritual and physical realms. This should not surprise us: our Creator is a Spirit and He has made us in His image (despite being in the flesh, we are spirits). As we have previously noted, spirit beings were given duty over the nations before the coming of the Messiah. Oh, and let’s not forget, we have a spiritual enemy, the devil. Having said all this, one might think we would see occurrence after occurrence of interaction—that it would be commonplace. It is not. The connection between the two realms is continual, but the incidents of interaction which are visible, audible and experienced by humanity are relatively few. Let’s notice some of them now. Continue reading

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The Spirit Realm, #1

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
by William J. Stewart

The existence of a spirit realm and activity in that realm is mentioned throughout the Bible. In fact, there are a number of texts that seem to indicate the Lord gave angels a measure of responsibility over the nations. Deuteronomy 32:8 from the LXX reads:

When the Most High divided the nations, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the nations according to the number of the angels of God.

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Joining The Disciples

by William J. Stewart

Saul left Jerusalem, headed for Damascus, intending to arrest any Christians he found there (Acts 9:1-2). On the way, he met the Lord, and in Damascus, he was taught the gospel and baptized by Ananias (Acts 9:17-18). Immediately he began to associate and work with the Christians in Damascus (Acts 9:19-22). However, a plot against his life (Acts 9:23-25) made it necessary for Saul to leave Damascus.

He returned to Jerusalem and tried to join the disciples there (Acts 9:26). They did not receive him. He claimed to be faithful to Christ, but they did not believe him. Continue reading

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