The “Thief upon the Cross” argument

Many honest, sincere people will neglect baptism.  They will go to their graves thinking that they’ll be saved in spite of this neglect because, after all – “the thief on the cross wasn’t baptized, and he was saved.”  Let us look at this reasoning, made by so many, which is based upon the world’s most famous thief.

First, why do people insist that the man was not baptized?  He may very well have been.  How do they know he wasn’t?  Many of that land had been (Mark 1:4-5; John 4:1).  The man obviously knows of Jesus’ character.  He may have been baptized, and then forsook the right way, and now’s restored.  No one today could prove, if his life depended upon it, that this man wasn’t baptized; Yet, the argument demands that he was not.

Second, why do people always turn to this thief and not to the conditions Jesus gave to a rich young ruler (Luke 19:8-10)?  Both occurred prior to Jesus’ death.  While Jesus was upon earth He forgave sins (Mark 2:10); But the conditions varied (Luke 19:8-10 cf. Luke 18:18-23 cf. Mark 2:1-11).  {While Jesus was upon earth His conditions for healing also varied (John 9:6-7 cf. Matthew 9:27-30; also see Luke 17:11-14 cf. w. Old Testament account in 2 Kings 5)}.  Why the variety?  The answer is likely found in John 2:25.  Jesus knew the heart.  He knew what the rich young ruler struggled with, thus He set His conditions accordingly.  It is amusing that no one seems to want to return to the conditions given the rich, young ruler; Instead, all want to discuss the thief’s salvation.  Remember, both occurred prior to Jesus’ death.

Third, it must be kept in mind that the New Covenant had not yet gone in force (Hebrews 9:15-17).  The man lived under the Old Testament.  It was not until Christ was resurrected that He said, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16). 

Perhaps an illustration would be helpful.  While I’m alive I can give away my possessions as I see fit, based upon varying conditions if I so choose.  However, once I die the conditions of my will go in force and must be followed.  Even so, Jesus while on earth gave varying conditions to receive salvation based upon His understanding and knowing the heart.  Once he died however, His will must be followed.  Brother Dave Miller has written, “The last will and testament of Christ is the New Testament and consists of those teachings that apply to people after the death of Christ.  If we expect to receive the benefits of the New Testament (Salvation, forgiveness of sins, eternal life), we must submit to the terms of the will…”

Moreover, understand that New Testament baptism symbolizes the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Romans 6).  Yet, Jesus had not yet done these things.

Fourth, why is it the case that men want to go to this extreme case, and apply it to themselves, when they are not in this situation?  The thief couldn’t come down and be baptized if he wanted to; yet, those we talk to can be baptized; however, they continue to rest their souls on the thief on the cross.

About Bryan Hodge

I am a minister and missionary to numerous countries around the world.
This entry was posted in baptism, Cross, Old Testament/New Testament, Plan of salvation and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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