OceanSide church of Christ

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Luke 23:43 – The Thief on the Cross

Victor M. Eskew


            As Jesus hung on the cross, He heard this request from nearby:  “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom” (Luke 23:42).  These words came from a penitent thief who was crucified by his side.  Jesus’ words back to the thief are well-known:  “Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).  Many use this discussion in an attempt to prove that one does not need to be baptized to be saved.  The argument is that the thief was saved without baptism.

            There are several responses that can be given to the “thief on the cross”argument.  First, it is impossible for anyone to know whether the thief was or was not baptized.  It is sheer assumption to say that the thief was not baptized.  We could argue otherwise.  The thief knew something about the kingdom.  Too, John’s baptism was extremely popular (Matt. 3:5-6).

            Second, the thief was not under the New Testament of Jesus Christ.  He was under the Law of Moses.  The Law of Moses was not abolished until Jesus died on Calvary (Eph. 2:14-15; Col. 2:14; Heb. 9:15-17).  In essence, those who compare the salvation of the thief with the salvation found in the New Testament are not comparing apples with apples.

            Third, while Jesus was on earth, He had the power to forgive sins in any way He chose (Matt. 9:6; Mark 2:10).  Now, however, things are different.  The New Covenant is in effect.  It has been sealed with the blood of Christ (Matt. 26:28; Heb. 10:29).  This covenant offers no flexibility.  It cannot be altered.  It definitely commands one to be baptized for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16).   This is not a negotiable element of the salvation process.

            These ought to be sufficient answers to those who use the thief on the cross as an example of “faith only” salvation today.  It is regrettable that individuals make arguments before thinking them through sufficiently.