The Thief On The Cross


How is it that we are so easily trapped by assumptions?  I have read a few attempts at an answer to those who deny the need for immersion (baptism) for salvation by appealing to the thief on the cross who asked Christ to remember him (Luke 23: 33-43).  The usual answers come about half of the way and stop. Maybe we have just been too programmed by certain assumptions to be able to connect all the dots, but I wish to offer a more thorough approach.  This is a logic problem.

What has become known as “faith only” teaching denies the need for immersion (Note 1) often by falsely assuming that the thief on the cross had not been baptized before Jesus died on the cross.  This assumption cannot hold up when we rightly lay out the truth of the word of God (2 Tim 2:15; Note 2).

Matthew 3:1-6:

“In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea,

And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.

And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey.

Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan,

And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins”  (KJV)

“Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region round about” seems to include a great many if not mostly all of the people in the land of Judea and the area of the Jordan river.  These verses indicate that the people were repenting and confessing their sins and being immersed under John’s baptism.   This is confirmed by Mark 1:5:

“And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins.”   (KJV)

Christ was immersed by John (Matt. 3:13).  Christ commanded and taught immersion to be saved, which was done before He was crucified.

“After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judaea; and there he tarried with them, and baptized.”  (John 3:22, KJV)

“And they came unto John, and said unto him, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to him.”  (John 3:26, KJV)

“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 4:1-2, KJV)

The people were being prepared for the kingdom and were being called by both John and Christ to be immersed for forgiveness of sins.  This period of time before the crucifixion introduced salvation through immersion for forgiveness of sins, and the record states that those of Jerusalem, and all of Judea, and all the region around the Jordan were being immersed.

It is not only possible, but it is highly probable that the thief on the cross had been immersed for forgiveness of sins.

The only ones who resisted and who were not being immersed were those who did not believe: the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the lawyers – the dispensers and cutters of the Law.

But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him.”  (Luke 7:30, KJV)

The thief on the cross believed Christ was the Son of God (YHVH).

42 And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.  43 And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.”  (Luke 23:42-43, KJV)

The malefactor / robber who rebuked the other for railing against Christ believed Christ’s teaching of the kingdom, the very kingdom that both John and Christ had said was “at hand” (Matt. 3:2; 4:17; Mark 1:15).  The thief knew the kingdom was coming, which means he had to have previously heard either John or Christ or one of the disciples teach about the kingdom of God.

The better stand to take is that not only did the thief on the cross believe Christ was the Son of God, not only did he believe in the kingdom which Christ had said was shortly to come, but that he had indeed been convinced of the need of forgiveness of sins, and had repented and been immersed.

There is much more cause to believe the thief had been immersed / baptized than not.

So, the thief was crucified as a malefactor, a sinner under Roman law.  Do we then assume that because he had been convicted of a crime under Roman law that he had not been forgiven of his sins by God?

The Romans used crucifixion for many reasons, but by the time of Christ’s crucifixion it was mostly for political insurgents; those who disrupted the state, opposed Caesar, and were instigating violent rebellions.  Pilate’s instructions for Jesus’ cross was the label “king of the Jews”.  This was to distinguish a supposed ruler who was not ordained or recognized by Caesar. (3) (4)

The very question Pilate asked Jesus was if He was king of the Jews (Matt. 27:11).  Pilate was trying to determine if Jesus was guilty under Roman law of sedition and rebellion against Caesar.

Caiaphas and the rest of the council (Sanhedrin) had conspired to use the Romans to carry out a death sentence they were afraid to do themselves (Luke 22:2; 23:3).  The normal Jewish practice for blasphemy was stoning to death.  They cooked up the cause of sedition against Caesar to be able to bring Jesus under a Roman death sentence because they feared the people.

“And the whole multitude of them arose, and led him unto Pilate.  And they began to accuse him, saying, We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that he himself is Christ a King.”  (Luke 23:1-2, KJV)

John 30:31-32 brings in the method of the death sentence the Jews wanted for Christ, and which had been foretold (Psa. 22:16; Zech 12:10; Isa 49:16).  If a death by their hands had been carried out, they would have stoned him.  Instead they wanted a cause and a reason to shift the blame for His death from themselves to the Romans, and for that they needed a sufficient cause for crucifixion – sedition.  Christ was claiming to be a King, and Rome would and did view that as rebellion against Caesar.

Then why do we assume the thief on the cross was simply guilty of stealing an apple, or something similar which would more likely have resulted in having his hand cut off?

We are not told of which crime the thief was guilty.  The scriptures do not clarify exactly why he was there on a cross beside Jesus.  But, they do say enough for us to know that he believed Christ was the Son of God.  As he asked to be remembered, Christ forgave him.

Do we also assume that because the thief was on that cross, he therefore was a sinner who had not repented, and had not yet been immersed; because we all know that those who have been immersed no longer sin?  Should I say LOL, that is to laugh?

We know that Christ forgave his sins because of Christ’s statement,

“… Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.”  (Luke 23:43, KJV)

Summarizing what we actually can know from the scriptures:

  1. The scriptures say that all of Judea, Jerusalem, and the region around the Jordan were being immersed for forgiveness of sins.
  2. Both John and Christ through His disciples preached and practiced immersion for forgiveness of sins.
  3. The thief on the cross believed Christ, and asked to be remembered.
  4. Paradise, that is Abraham’s bosom was that part of the Hadean realm for those who were saved (Luke 16:19-31) (5)
  5. Christ told the thief that he would be with Christ in Paradise that same day.

Conclusions we can then derive from the known facts by rightly handling the truth:

  1. As Paradise was that part of the Hadean realm for those who were saved, those who were judged worthy of eternal life, and
  2. As Christ told the thief he would be in Paradise that same day, and
  3. As Christ saved the thief that means He forgave his sins, and
  4. as John and Christ taught that immersion was necessary for forgiveness, therefore
  5. The thief had been immersed for forgiveness of sins sometime prior to his death.

The final conclusion is that those who believe and are immersed (baptized) SHALL be saved – Mark 16:16.

Christ saved the thief, therefore the thief had been immersed / baptized.

Immersion for forgiveness of sins is absolutely required by God, so that we will be covered (Rom. 4:7) by the blood of Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8), so that if we repent, our sins will be hidden, forgiven, and never more remembered, and we can stand before our Father in heaven covered by the righteousness of His Son.

Acts 2:38; 8;12-13, 16, 38; 9:18; 10:47-48; 16:15; 18:8; 19:5; 22:16; Rom 6:3; 1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:27.

Faith only teaching is a false doctrine.  Those who teach it are denying the scriptures, denying Christ’s clear command, and causing many to stumble and fall away.

(All bold emphasis is mine.)

Notes:

1) The correct translation of the Greek “baptizo” is immersion.  For more on the misuse of “baptizo” see the previous post at the right margin,  “Lies of the Roman Catholic Church – Part III: Baptism is NOT Sprinkling”.

2) Excerpt from Ellicott’s Commentary on “rightly dividing” of 2 Tim. 2:15:

“Rightly dividing the word of truth.—Better rendered rightly laying out the word of truth. The Greek word translated in the English version “rightly dividing,” literally signifies “cutting a straight line.” It seems most correct to regard it as a metaphor from laying out a road (see Proverbs 3:6, in the LXX. rendering, where the word is so used), “or drawing a furrow, the merit of which consists in the straightness with which the work of cutting, or laying out, is performed. The word of truth is, as it were, a road which is to be laid out straightly and truly.” So Ellicott. To affirm (see Alford and Huther-Meyer) that the notion of “cutting” had been gradually lost, and that the word already in the time of St. Paul signified simply “to manage rightly,” “to treat truthfully without falsifying,” and that the exact opposite is to corrupt or adulterate the Word of God (2Corinthians 2:17), seems premature. (Comp. Eur. Rhesus, 422, ed. Dindorf.)”   Source: Biblehub

3) From “10 Interesting Facts About Crucifixion”:

Crucifixion was not a general form of capital punishment under Roman law. It was only allowed under specific circumstances. Slaves could be crucified only for robbery or rebellion.  Source: here

4) From Jewish Encyclopedia on Crucifixion:

“These facts show that the crucifixion of Jesus was an act of the Roman government. That it was customary to liberate one sentenced to death on account of the holiday season is not corroborated by Jewish sources. But many of the Jews suspected of Messianic ambitions had been nailed to the cross by Rome. The Messiah, “king of the Jews,” was a rebel in the estimation of Rome, and rebels were crucified (Suetonius, “Vespas.” 4; “Claudius,” xxv.; Josephus, “Ant.” xx. 5, § 1; 8, § 6; Acts v. 36, 37). The inscription on the cross of Jesus reveals the crime for which, according to Roman law, Jesus expired. He was a rebel.”   Source: Jewish Encyclopedia

5) Bible Dictionary: Abraham’s Bosom

” Unique phrase found in a parable of Jesus describing the place where Lazarus went after death ( Luke 16:19-31 ). It is a figurative phrase that appears to have been drawn from a popular belief that the righteous would rest by Abraham’s side in the world to come, an opinion described in Jewish literature at the time of Christ. The word kolpos [kovlpo”] literally refers to the side or lap of a person. Figuratively, as in this case, it refers to a place of honor reserved for a special guest, similar to its usage in John 13:23. In the case of Lazarus, the reserved place is special because it is beside Abraham, the father of all the righteous. The phrase may be synonymous to the paradise promised to the thief on the cross ( Luke 23:43 ). Together these passages support the conviction that a believer enjoys immediate bliss at the moment of physical death.”   Source: BibleStudyTools

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10 thoughts on “The Thief On The Cross

  1. Yvan

    Many moon’s ago… over 33 years, I was puzzled by Paul : “For Christ did not send me to baptize…” in 1 Cor 1:17 a direct opposition to the Great Commission to the apostles in Mat 28:19 How do you understand him? Blessings

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    1. Paul did baptize on occasion (Acts 19:1-6, 1 Cor. 1:14). In 1 Cor. 1:17 Paul was stressing that his primary duty was to preach the gospel. The deacons and other disciples were ministering to the assemblies and Paul and Peter designated those to baptize the ppl (Acts 10:48). The apostles were the “higher authority” appointed by God (Rom. 13) for the commission of spreading the gospel and binding the first principles (Matt. 16:19; 18:18). Jesus did not baptize, but He instructed His disciples to do so. The Apostles were following His pattern and using their time and abilities for the higher purpose.

      Barnes’ Notes on 1 Cor. 1:17 –
      “For Christ sent me not to baptize – That is, not to baptize as my main business. Baptism was not his principal employment, though be had a commission in common with others to administer the ordinance, and occasionally did it. The same thing was true of the Saviour, that he did not personally baptize, John 4:2. It is probable that the business of baptism was entrusted to the ministers of the church of inferior talents, or to those who were connected with the churches permanently, and not to those who were engaged chiefly in traveling from place to place. ”

      They also avoided the tendency that Paul spoke of in the previous vs. 11-14 where the ppl were boasting of who had baptized them, and were arguing over this status symbol.

      See my post on Romans 13, and also see the other commentaries on this verse at Biblehub.com.

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  2. Yvan

    After that question, I look all the verses from Paul’s writing on baptism. I discovered that none was about “water” baptism. Thanks. Now I will read your post on Rom. 13. Blessings

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    1. Yvan, yes they were all water baptism. That was understood, because the word “baptizo” was not translated; it was transliterated from the Greek. The word in the Greek means immersed. All of the immersions performed in the gospels and in Acts were in water. Please also read Lies of the Roman Catholic Church – Part III: Baptism is NOT Sprinkling at the right margin.

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  3. Yvan

    …solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptismS, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment…

    Holy Spirit teach and only trough Him by revelation the True Church is built. I must stop here. Shalom in Y-h

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    1. Yvan, that passage does not negate the first principles, not laying again the foundation, does not mean destroying the foundation. Paul is wanting them to build upon the foundation the deeper & more mature meat of the gospel. He was trying to get the walls and the roof put on the foundation of repentance and baptism and resurrection which were the foundation.

      Peter & the eunuch, Acts 8:36-38, “… See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?

      37 And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

      38 And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.”

      Just one of the examples in Acts of immersion in water for salvation that is the foundation upon which the Apostles preached the gospel. If you have not yet been immersed, please do not be afraid of getting wet! You stand up from that watery grave (Rom. 6:3-9) as Paul preached resurrected to eternal life. Paul never said it was no longer necessary.

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    1. Heb 6:2, Interlinear, “about baptisms instruction, of laying on then of hands…” and the Greek word is “baptismos”, Strong’s Gr 909, the act of dipping or washing. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon has ” of the washings prescribed by the Mosaic law, Hebrews 9:10. βαπτισμῶν διδαχῆς equivalent to διδαχῆς περί βαπτισμῶν, Hebrews 6:2 (where L text, WH text, βαπτισμῶν διδαχῆς), which seems to mean an exposition of the difference between the washings prescribed by the Mosaic law and Christian baptism.” Source: https://biblehub.com/greek/909.htm.

      The plurality is not implying different kinds of baptism, but the differences between the Mosaic “washings” and the immersion in water for symbolic burial in Christ under the new covenant. Eph. 4:5, “One Lord, one faith, one baptism.” The plural form of the word “baptismos” also works with the plural form of “laying on of hands” and indicates not different types of baptism, but multiple events where the disciples were performing multiple baptisms of many ppl.

      You might also notice the Interlinear correctly identifies the order; first the immersion / washing, then the laying on of hands. This was the promise of Joel’s prophesy for the pouring out of the Holy Spirit in the 1st century AD (Joel 2:28-29). Acts 2:39, ” For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” The promise of the Holy Spirit was for that generation to be able to prove to the ppl that what they heard and saw was from YHVH.

      The gift of the Holy Spirit was not automatically given as a result of baptism. The apostles, or those they delegated (Timothy) had to lay their hands upon the person after they were immersed in order for them to receive the Holy Spirit. See 1 Tim. 5:22, “lay hands suddenly on no man”. They were to wait for the Holy Spirit to tell them whether or not to lay hands on the person. See Acts ch. 8 and Simon the sorcerer. Simon believed and was baptized, but he saw the apostles laying their hands on the other believers who had previously been baptized, he wanted the gift of the Holy Spirit so that he could make money off that power. Peter rebuked him (Acts 8: 13-21). That gift of the Holy Spirit was for the public proof and witness of the word, the gospel of Christ. It died out as the Apostles / disciples who had the ability of laying on of hands died. It was no longer necessary once the written word, the NT was circulating because that word had been repeatedly confirmed by those miracles.

      When we are immersed today, we have forgiveness of sins as we repent of them. We have the Spirit through the written word of His testimony of all those miracles that were recorded for our edification. The more we study His word, the more His Spirit dwells within us because of His word being written upon our hearts (Heb 10:16-17).

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  4. Paul Harrison

    The scriptures are full of metaphors, water Baptism is the shadow Of The Real & Spiritual Reality Of Being Baptised Fully in The Holy Spirit! & speaking in New tongues. When you speak from The Spirit – Jesus Christ is Lord then you believe from your heart a gift from God!
    God Quickens The Human Spirit- makes Alive!

    There is much religiousness even in “Christianity”! People can say and do all manner of things, But Has God really been involved?

    Why would “The Scriptures” relate to A Beloved Believer as a thief?
    He would be called a martyr!
    If Paul says he didn’t baptise then that must also include the people with and under him.
    What happens with death bed Repentance?

    God is Love and much bigger than formalities
    Imagine how many people have cried out to God with their dying breath!? Being murdered for instance.

    Jesus is The Eternal Word Of God.

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    1. Who was baptized in the Holy Spirit? I count three occassions of Holy Spirit baptism: the disciples waiting in the upper room on day of Pentecost; the house of Cornelius in Acts 10 to open the door of the kingdom to the gentiles; and Paul on the road to Damascus. All three still had to be immersed in water after the Holy Spirit fell upon them. All of them! The Holy Spirit baptism was for the purpose of the miracles that were poured out upon the believers in the 1st century AD to show that the gospel was indeed approved by and sent by YHWH (Acts 2:22).

      Those miracles lasted until that which was perfect had come… the kingdom (1 Cor. 13:10). So until AD 70, the Holy Spirit confirmed the word through miracles. And it was only given to the people by the Apostles’ laying on of hands, or the select few whom they designated such as Timothy. Carefully read the account of Paul’s interaction with the twelve from Ephesus who were baptized again in Acts 19.

      1. Paul asked if they had received the Holy Spirit since they had BELIEVED. The word believed in the Hebrew is an action word, and was used by the Apostles to denote their compliance with being immersed in water for their salvation. It implied action, not thought.

      2. After they said no, Paul then asked unto what were they baptized? Affirming that believing meant having been baptized!

      3. The twelve replied they had been baptized in John’s baptism.

      4. Paul told them that they had to be baptized into Christ, implying that John’s baptism was only effective up to the cross of Christ.

      5. The 12 men were then immersed in Jesus’ name, believing what Paul said they did what Paul told them to do. They believed, thus they were baptized into Christ.

      6. Only after they were immersed did Paul lay his hands upon them so they could receive the Holy Spirit. And, only after that laying on of hands did they begin speaking in tongues and prophesying.

      You will also see the gift of the Holy Spirit denied to Simon, even though Simon had been baptized b/c Peter knew by the Holy Spirit that Simon wanted to use it as a means of profit (Acts 8:9-22). So, having the gift of the Holy Spirit was not an automatic result of baptism. The Holy Spirit approved the person whether he was worthy or not of the gift. That is why Paul told Timothy to lay hands suddenly on no man (1 Tim. 5:22). Timothy was to wait and see if the Holy Spirit approved the laying on of hands of any new believer that had been baptized.

      Since all of these miracles died out after the apostles died, and the temple was destroyed, as we no longer have these miracles today, then the pouring out of the Holy Spirit also ceased in the first century AD. Too many ppl today are trying to claim these miracles for themselves and are denying the very power of His Spirit which is in the word…. the word given by the Holy Spirit for all of us. That is how we have the Holy Spirit today, by studying His word. Then the Holy Spirit dwells in our hearts through the word of YHWH. It does not mean we can perform miracles.

      Immersion in water is absolutely required for you to say you are a believer; for you to say you have been saved.

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