By Robert R. Taylor Jr.
One does not long engage in the great work of soul-winning until he faces this very query from a potential convert to Christ. Powerful points frequently are made relative to the vital connection between baptism and the remmission of sins in the Acts 2:38 or that we are baptized into Christ and intothe blessed benefits of his precious blood in Romans 6:3-4 and Galatians 3:27. To counter all this the person who is being taught will frequently raise the query. “But what about the thief on the cross?” Is it really the case that this frequently spoken of thief has the power to undermine everything stipulated in the gospel relative to obedience? All that we know about the thief is told us in some fourteen verses of the gospel records. (Matt.27:38,44; Mark15:27-28,32; John19:18,32; Luke23:32-33,39-43) The thief is not mentioned a single time in the book of Acts or within any of the epistles. Revelation liekwise makes no mention of him. If he is the sole model of conversation, as per the theory, why is he mentioned in such a very few verses of the Holy Writ? In the second place why was any of the remainder of the New Testament written if he is the exclusive pattern of salvation in Christ and of our going home to heaven in the sweet by and by?
Why do the masses of men hearken so eagerly to this one isolated case? His conversion, as per the theory, was performed with relative ease and that is what they want today – a conversion of convenience. In the second place they are one hundred and ten per cent sure that here we have a case of conversion minus baptism and that is what they are determined to have in their case today!! Spiritually, they are allergic to any connection with water. No little boy ever fought having to take a bath more than have denominational preachers fought the waters of baptism. The penitent thief, they contenc\d, offers them their classic case of sustaining proof. So they think!!
BURSTING THE BALLOON OF THEIR ARROGANT ASSUMPTIONS
Can the advocates of being saved just like the thief was saved be so sure of their broad assumptions? Not in the least! The Bible does not affirm that he was an unimmersed man. If so, where is the passage? It is true he was not baptized while nailed to a Roman cross on Calvary that Friday. But who can be so sure that he was not immersed by the hands of John the Baptist? In a sweeping statement Matthew declares, “Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region about Jordon, And were baptised of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.” (Matt.3:5-6) Even if he were not of this number, who can be so arrogantly confident he was not of even a more sweeping number as the apostle of love says, “When therefore the Lord knew how the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John, (Though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples,)…?” (John 4:12) He could well have been in one of these numbers. Then he could have become a thief later. Other people have been baptized and later became offenders, serious offenders, of the law. I once baptized a person and in later years visited him while he was in prison for a very serious offense. Be it also kept in mind that the social outcasts such as publicans and harlots were the very one who hastened to John’s preaching and hearkened to his clarion cry. Pharisees, Sadducees, etc., were of the class who rejected John’s baptism. Honestly, into which of these classes does the thief more easily fit?
IGNORING TWO CRUCIAL CONSIDERATIONS
Those who desire salvation just like the thief ignore or forget the thief’s racial background and the exact time when his conversation of expressed penitence occurred with the crucified Christ. Both are very vital in a study of the thief and his salvation.
The thief belonged to what race? Since he evidently lived in Palestine and died in Palestine, it is altogether likely that he was Jewish by race. It is obvious he was not a Roman by race for the Imperial Empire did not crucify her own citizens. You may be thinking, “Granted that he was a Jew, what does this have to do with it by way of crucial consideration. If he were Jewish, then he was born to Jewish parents. That but meant that he was born into covenant relationship with Jehovah from his mother’s womb. Hence, he is a case of an erring child of God with whom the Lord is dealing. In no sense of the case would he be an alien. This man lived all his life under Judaism; he did not live that first moment under the gospel dispensation. This is strikingly significant! There is not an alien sinner on earth today who has ever been , is or ever can be in the precise position as was this penitent thief who became the redeemed robber on Calvary. Here is the why of that detailed. (1) No person today has ever lived under Judaism while it was in effect. (2) Every person today has lived all his life while the gospel dispensation was in effect. (3) No person today has been in covenant relationship with God all his life as the thief in all probability was. (4) The thief received the Lord’s promise of a place in Paradise before Christ died. No person today can ever be in that position. (5) The will of Christ had not yet gone into effect. It has been in effect all our lives. (6) Every person today has lived ALL his life subsequent to the death of Christ and not one moment prior to it. (7) The Great Commission was not in effect when Luke 23:43 was uttered; it has been in effect all our lives. (8) The Lord uttered this statement to the thief before the death of either of them. No person today can ever be in that particular position. If so, HOW?
The second vital consideration so frequently ignored has to do with the will of Christ. A will is not operative while its testator yet lives. While yet alive he may do with his estate as he pleases. But subsequent to death his estate is totally subjected to the ways of his will. The Bible says, “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; otherswise, it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth.” (Heb.9:16-17) Was the will of Christ operative when the thief requested to be remembered in the Lord’s coming kingdom? NO! Was the will of Christ operative when Christ told him they both would grace the place of Paradise that very day? NO! Was the Great Commission with its provision of water baptism then in effect? NO! Why? Jesus, the Testator was yet alive; he had not yet died. During his ministry on earth he frequently forgave sins within a variety of frameworks. No precise uniformity was practiced. To a palsied man in Mark 2 he forgave sins by looking at the faith of a quartet of the infirm man’s friends. Will Jesus now forgive us by observing the faith of a quartet of our friends? The answer is obvious. In Luke 7:37-50 Jesus forgave a woman who washed his feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair and anointed him with ointment. That quite obviously is not his plan today. It could not be since his person is not now present to receive such a proffered performance. The rich young ruler of Matthew 19, Mark 10 and Luke 18 was required to keep the law of Moses, to sell all he had, give to the poor and then come as a dedicated disciple to Christ. I wonder why preachers never single out this case for model conversion. They always go to the thief — never to the rich ruler. Why? The answer is an obvious one. Jesus saved the household of Zacchaeus by a personal visit in Luke 19:1-9. Obviously, that is not his prescribed plan of pardon in our day for he is not here physically to make personal visits.
WAS THE THIEF REALLY SAVED?
At the beginning of the threee crucifixions both theives were impentitent and cast blasphemy into the innocent face of the one on that middle cross. (Matt.27:44) Later one of them experienced a spiritual reversal by turning to the Lord in the spirit of sincere submission by turning to the Lord in the spirit of sincere submission and in a positon of penitence. He defended Jesus’ innocency against the aggressive attacks of the impenitent robber. He requested that Jesus remember him when he came into his kingdom. That suggests some type of prior knowledge of Christ and a connection with the kingdom. He could not have learned it on Calvary that day for the kingdom had not been previously mentioned as per the divine record. That fits right in withour earlier stated probability that he had heard either John, Jesus or a disciple preach the nearness of the coming Messsianic kingdom. Jesus honored his request by promising that they would be together that very day in Paradise. This had no reference to their bodies and where they would later be deposited; it had exclusive reference to where their spirits would be. Both would go into Hades or the realm of departed spirits. They would be in that compartment known as Paradise inLuke 23:43 which would be a place of pleawsure and styled as Abraham’s bosom in Luke 16:19-31. Since only the ones who are safe (children and mentally incompetent) and the saved go to Paradis, it is a foregone conclusion Christ promised him salvation and fully granted such a coveted blessing. There is no need to belabor that point any further.
A QUESTION NEVER RAISED IN BIBLE TIMES
What about the thief on the cross is post apostolic in origin? It is a modern day question raised to quibble about the essentiality of water baptism in Deity’s plan of pardon for alien sinners. Jesus gave the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19 in which he commanded baptism into the name of the Sacred Three. No apostle quibbled by saying, “But Lord, what about the thief on the cross?” Jesus made imperative baptism to the believer in Mark 16:16 who sought salvation. Yet no apostle quibbled with the question, “But Lord, what about the thief on the cross?” I am of the current conviction that if some denominational preachers of today had been present for that initial giving of this Militant Commisssion that placed water in the plan, they would have quibbled. They do so now don’t they? What would have kept their quibbling lips silent and sealed then?
Peter preached on the day of Pentecost. The convicted cried out in regard to what they should do. Peter commanded repentance and baptism. (Acts2:38) Not that first Pentecostian countered with an allusion to the thief. One can survey the conversions of Cornelius and his house in Acts 10, of Lydia’s household and the jailor’s household in Acts 16, of Saul’s conversion in Acts 9, 22, 26, of the Corinthians in Acts 18:8 and of the conversion of the Antiochians in Acts 11. All were taught; all believed in the lord; all were penitent; all made the good confession of faith in Christ; all were immersed; all were added to the church by the Lord. Why? Because they had been saved like the thief was? NO!! They were saved by obeying the gospel. No that first one of them quibbled relative to the thief? Why? Because they had no misguided preachers then who taught them this quibble!! That is why we have that quibble among us today. When preachers quit preaching that quibble, alien sinners will cease its use. They surely will not pick up its use in the Bible for the question is just not there!!
Reader friends, you cannot be saved like the thief. You are now under the crystal clear terms of the Great Commission. You must now hear Christ, believe in his Deity, repent of your sins, confess faith in him, be immersed and then be added to the Lord’s church. Then watch, wait, work and worship. Obedience to the gospel is the ONLY key to heaven for you and me; quibbling about the thief is one of the MANY keys to eternal Gehenna. Go to the book of Acts for salvation — not the dozen verses plus that depict this penitent thief under Judaism.