The Thief on the Cross
The example of the
thief's conversion on the cross is often used as a basis for teaching baptism
is not essential for salvation. What
they assert is that the thief was not baptized and yet the Lord Jesus Christ promised
I say to you, today you will be with Me in
1. The thief could have already been baptized before being nailed to the Cross
Water baptism was administered by John
the Baptist during the thief’s lifetime. “John came baptizing in the wilderness and
preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. And all the
There are good reasons to believe the thief may well have been baptized before being nailed to the cross. Let us read the narrative on Luke chapter 23.
32 There were also two others, criminals, led with Him to be put to death.
when they had come to the place called
34 Then Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do." And they divided His garments and cast lots.
35 And the people stood looking on. But even the rulers with them sneered, saying, "He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Christ, the chosen of God."
36 The soldiers also mocked Him, coming and offering Him sour wine,
37 and saying, "If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself."
38 And an inscription also was written over Him in letters of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
39 Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, "If You are the Christ save Yourself and us."
40 But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, "Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation?
41 And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong."
42 Then he said to Jesus, "Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom."
Jesus said to him, "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in
According to Luke’s narrative both criminals did not hear or learn any truths concerning Jesus Christ when they were crucified with Him. They would have difficulty reading the inscription "KING OF THE JEWS" because it was placed above the head of the Lord. One of the criminals did not believe in God but the other criminal indicated he not only believed in God but also feared Him as well (Lk. 23:40). This second criminal must have been a believer in God at some time of his past life, but committed a crime and was sentenced to death by crucifixion.
This penitent thief not only had a good sense of morality to distinguish between right from wrong, but he also knew that Jesus “has done nothing wrong." (Lk. 23:41) He knew Jesus was without sin or guilt. How did he know that? Only by knowing Jesus earlier could he have known that!
He called Jesus “Lord” and also acknowledged Him as the King and He has a “Kingdom.” (Lk. 23:42) Why would he call someone who was dying on a cross Lord? He had to have known Jesus before they were nailed to those crosses!
In verse 42 the thief said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You
come into Your kingdom." How
did he know that Jesus was going to His kingdom when He died? He could only have known that if he had been
a disciple of Jesus' prior to being on the cross. He had to have heard the teaching of Jesus on
The thief believed that even though Jesus was dying on the cross, he would still be a King. How can someone dying be expected to become a king? The thief understood that after Jesus' death on the Cross His Kingdom would be established. How could he have either known or believed these things if he did not know Jesus before they were nailed to the cross?
The biblical evidence indicates at that time the only persons who were
The Promise given directly to the Thief cannot be repeated
We cannot be certain or dogmatic on whether or not the thief on the cross has been baptized. In any case we cannot take the situation of the thief as a typical example to prove that baptism is not essential for salvation. It is not a typical case but a unique and exceptional case that cannot be repeated. In order to receive the same condition of salvation as the thief on the cross one has to receive a similar promise directly from the Lord Jesus Christ. That incident occurred two thousand years ago and there is no possible way for it to be repeated since our Lord Jesus Christ died only once and for all.
2. The thief was crucified with the Lord Jesus Christ and also believed in Him
also two others, criminals, led with Him to be put to death. And when
they had come to the place called
Two criminals were crucified together with the Lord Jesus Christ and only one of them believed in Him. The criminal who was crucified with Jesus and believed in Him was saved, but the other criminal who did not believe in Jesus was condemned.
Throughout the history of mankind, from the time of Adam until the end of the world, there is only one person who has ever been crucified with the Lord Jesus Christ and believed in Him, and that person is the thief on the cross. That was a one time historic event and it can never be repeated. No one else can ever be crucified with the Lord Jesus Christ again. The only way in which a believer can be crucified with the Lord Jesus Christ is to be baptized into Him
Water baptism is to be crucified with the Lord
Jesus Christ and to die with Him. “Or do you not know that
as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His
death? Therefore we were buried with Him
through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the
glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the
likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His
resurrection, knowing this, our old man was crucified with Him, that the body
of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from
sin. Now if we died with Christ, we
believe that we shall also live with Him.” (
3. The Lord Jesus Christ forgave the thief who also confessed his sins
also two others, criminals, led with Him to be put to death. And when
they had come to the place called
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
When Jesus was crucified on the cross He was bearing the sins of the world.
“Then Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do." And they divided His garments and cast lots.” (Lk. 23:34)
Forgiveness of sins was granted to both criminals and also to every one who had come to the cross on Calvary Hill on that historic day. The criminal who had confessed his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and repented of his sins was saved while the other criminal who did not believe in Christ and neither did he repented of his sins was condemned.
The atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ who bore the sins of the world on His own body during those few hours cannot be repeated ever again. After the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ a person’s sins are remitted by repentance and baptism into the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38).
"Therefore let all the house of
What Peter proclaimed on the Day of Pentecost concerning repentance and baptism "in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins" is God's universal way of salvation for mankind, whereas the promise of salvation given by the Lord Jesus Christ to the thief on the Cross personally face to face is a very extreme, exceptional and unique case, therefore it cannot be taken as an example to teach that water baptism is not essential for salvation.
Biblical Evidences that Water Baptism affects Salvation
The situation of the thief on the cross cannot be used to establish a doctrine that water baptism is not essential for salvation because of the following reasons.
1. The thief on the cross might have been baptized, since John the Baptist and the disciples of Jesus Christ have been administering water baptism during his lifetime (John 4:1–2).
2. The thief was crucified with the Lord Jesus
Christ and also believed in Him. Water
baptism represents the believer’s identification with the death, burial and
resurrection with the Lord Jesus Christ (
3. The Lord Jesus Christ forgave the thief on the Cross who also confessed his sins.
The Holy Bible gives us very clearcut evidences that water baptism is essential for salvation.
· "He who believes and is baptized will be saved." (Mk. 16:16)
· "Baptism also now saves us. . ." (1 Pet. 3:20-21).
· "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 Spirir." (Acts 2:38)
· "Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16).
· "Buried with Christ through baptism into death. . . our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who as died has been freed from sin." (Rom. 6:3-8)
God’s Salvation in Extreme and Exceptional Cases
Some teach the thief on the Cross was living under the dispensation of the Old Testament because the Lord Jesus Christ had not died, buried or resurrected, therefore water baptism was not in effect at that time. This is not true. Although the New Testament had not begun but John the Baptist had administered the Baptism of Repentance for the remission of sins (Mk. 1:4-5). John’s baptism was approved by God and is “the counsel of God” (Mt. 21:25-27; Lk. 7:28-30). Even the Lord Jesus Christ was baptized by John “to fulfill all righteousness.” (Mt. 3:13-17) The disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ had received John’s Baptism of Repentance for the remission of sins (Acts 1:5). It must be emphasized that John’s Baptism of Repentance was replaced by the Baptism into the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 19:1-7)
There is much biblical evidence
that indicates the thief on the Cross might have already received John’s
Baptism of Repentance for the remission of sins. Let us assume the thief had not received any
baptism, but even if he wanted to be baptized he could not receive it because he
was nailed to the cross. The fact
remains that under such an extreme circumstance in which the thief could not be
baptized, the Lord Jesus Christ extended to him love, mercy and grace by this
promise, “Assuredly, I say to you,
to you, today you will be with Me in
The situation of the thief on the cross may be an example of what God will do for people who spent the last hours of their lives on earth to repent of their sins and surrender their lives to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Such people may be suffering from a terminal illness on the death bed of an Intensive Care Unit in a hospital. They may be prisoners on the death row about to be executed and who repent and confess their sins and beg the Lord Jesus Christ for His mercy and forgiveness.
There is a common saying that there are no atheists in the foxholes. Soldiers under heavy enemy fire on the battlefield and expect to die at any moment often cry out to the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation.
God can and will save souls when passengers in a sinking ship or in an airplane that is about to crash. “For whoever calls upon the name of the LORD shall be saved.” (Rom. )
It is impossible for people in such extreme and extraordinary situations and circumstances to receive the ordinary things of the Christian life such as water baptism and other sacraments.
The One True God is very fair and just. He will show His love, mercy and grace to such people who repent and place their lives in His hands. But the situation of the thief on the cross does not provide a model for the ordinary course of affairs.
Today, under normal circumstances where there is absolutely no barrier or obstacle to prevent a baptism from being administered, no one should refuse to be baptized or teach there is no need for baptism because it is not essential for salvation.
The principle is not that exceptional cases prove nothing. They do teach us about what God may do in exceptional circumstances. "Exceptional cases may not show the ordinary, but they show the possible."
Many souls were saved as the Titanic was sinking
As the luxury liner Titanic began sinking, slowly at first, the captain ordered the band to play to keep up the spirits of the passengers. It began playing a rag-time tune, but soon was playing hymns.
There were only twenty lifeboats on the huge ocean liner-- barely enough for one-third of the passengers and crew. Not all of them could be lowered. All 85 engineers continued to work to keep the ship afloat as long as possible.
Throughout the mournful, evacuation, with loved ones being tearfully separated, the band continued to play. There is some dispute about what was played that night. Several people in the life boats heard "Nearer My God to Thee."
At the end many people knelt together in prayer until the waters covered them. They were praying the Lord’s Prayer – “Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. . . . . For Thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.” (Mt. 6:9-13)
One of the passengers traveling on the ship was evangelist John Harper. He put his six-year old daughter into a life boat and then ran through the ship warning others of the danger and talking to them about the eternal destiny of their souls. When he was finally forced to jump into the icy water, he clung to a piece of wreckage and asked another man "Are you saved?" When the man answered no, John said to him, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved." (Acts )
When the Titanic
sank early in the morning of
Hold me up in mighty waters
Keep my eyes on things above,
Righteousness, divine Atonement,
Peace, and everlasting Love.
The Heroism and Salvation of Christians on United Airlines Flight #93
United Airlines Flight 93 was a flight that regularly flew from Newark International Airport in Newark, New Jersey to San Francisco International Airport. On September 11, 2001, the aircraft on the flight was one of the four planes hijacked as part of the terrorist attack. It was the only one of the four planes that did not reach its intended target, instead crashing in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, about 150 miles northwest of Washington, DC. This was apparently because passengers, alerted through phone calls, attempted to subdue the hijackers. The hijackers are thought to have crashed the plane to keep the passengers from gaining control. It is believed that flight attendants Cee Cee Lyles and Sandra Bradshaw and passengers Todd Beamer, Mark Bingham, Tom Burnett, Andrew Garcia, Jeremy Glick, and Richard Guadagno fought back against the hijackers. Other passengers probably participated also.
"I don't think we're going to
get out of this thing. I'm going to have
to go out on faith." It was the voice of Todd Beamer, the passenger . . . and
The whole world knows how brave Beamer and his fellow passengers were on September 11th. But we learned more fully what buttressed that bravery: Faith in Jesus Christ. Todd died as he lived . . . a faithful evangelical believer.
In an article titled "The Real Story of Flight 93," Newsweek reveals gripping new details from the actual transcripts of the now-recovered cockpit voice recorder.
"Todd had been afraid,"
Newsweek relates. "More than once,
he cried out for his Savior." After
passengers were herded to the back of the jet, Beamer called the
As Newsweek relates . .
."Beamer kept a Lord's Prayer bookmark in his Tom Clancy novel, but he
didn't need any prompting. He began to recite the ancient litany, and
Our Father which art in heaven,
Hallowed be Thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
'Give us this day our daily bread.
'And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory, forever,
As they finished, Beamer added, "Jesus, help me." And then, Beamer and his fellow passengers prayed a prayer that has comforted millions down through the centuries . . . the prayer found in Psalms 23rd chapter that David wrote in a time of great anguish:
The Lord is my Shepherd,
I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
He leadeth me besides the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness
for His name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley
of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil:
for Thou art with me;
Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me
in the presence of mine enemies:
Thou annointest my head with oil;
my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall
follow me all the days of my life.
I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
And then the famous last words: "Are you guys ready? Let's roll."
We now know from the cockpit voice recorder that Beamer and other passengers wrestled with the hijackers and forced the plane to crash into the ground, killing themselves but foiling what was believed to have been the hijackers' plan to fly Flight 93 into the Capitol or the White House.
As Christians, we know that God can bring good out of evil. In Todd Beamer, the world witnesses a faith that held up in the extremity of fear. A faith that is even now comforting his widow and two young sons.
Lisa Beamer told NBC's Dateline, "You know, in the Lord's Prayer, it asks us to forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."
"As Todd prayed this prayer in the last moments of his life, in a
way," Lisa said, "He was forgiving those people for what they were
doing, the most horrible thing
you could ever do to someone."
It wasn't Todd Beamer's job to fight terrorists. He was just a passenger, who along with several others, did what he didn't have to do but foiled a terrible evil that might have been done to his country.
As Flight 93 hurtled towards destruction, Todd Beamer could not have known that his quiet prayers would ultimately be heard by millions . . . that the story of his last acts on earth would be a witness to the Lord he loved and served as a lasting example of true heroism.
Just Remember what Christians can do for our nation!!!
Salvation of the flight attendant on American Airlines Flight #11
(The first plane to crash into the World Trade Center Towers)
A Christian by the name
of Bill Faye spoke at a church on Sunday, September 9th, 2001. He later returned to his home in
During his American Airline flight he saw a flight attendant breaking up ice with a wine bottle. He got up from his seat and asked if there was a way in which she could break the ice more safely. He was afraid she would hurt herself. She was moved that he would be so concerned.
After a brief conversation, he gave her a Gospel tract to read when she had a spare moment. A short time later she found Bill and told him this was the sixth Gospel tract she had received from someone. "What does God want from me?" she asked. Bill responded, "Your life!"
A few minutes later, he was praying with her to accept Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior.
After Tuesday’s terrible
On Tuesday September 11, 2001 she entered into the eternal presence of her newly found Lord and Savior! She received the new birth of a born-again Christian just one day prior to her death.
As it’s been said, "To be born only once, you die twice (spiritually and physically). To be born twice (born-again), you only die once." Your soul lives on in heaven! Because this flight attendant was born-again, she experienced only physical death and not spiritual.
May God bless you
This article is a presentation of Paul Wong
to the ARK Forum on
For comments please write first to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Paul Wong is a Christian minister and the
President of ARK International.