Question #4

But what about the thief on the cross?

One of the thieves on the cross said unto Jesus, “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.” And Jesus said unto him, “Verily I say unto thee, today shalt thou be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:42-43.) Since he wasn’t baptized with water did he get to go to heaven? This question has lingered with me for a number of years and I’ve never heard an answer I thought was correct. Thanks for a wonderful web site, I just discovered it today. I intend on being on it as much as possible.

The Answer:

First, thank you for your comments about our web site. Everything possible is done to make it what it ought to be. Foremost among its objectives is striving always to be faithful to “The Book.”

While I know neither your background nor your motivation for asking the question, your question shares a common assumption with those who deny the teaching of Scripture that baptism is essential to salvation. (The common assertion is that “I want to be saved like the thief on the cross.” What they really mean is that they want to be saved without being immersed for the remission of sins according to the teaching of scripture. It is not likely that they want to be crucified as the thief was prior to being saved.) It assumes that the thief was not baptized. (It has several assumptions that could be discussed but which are not vital to your primary question. These will not be addressed.) That assumption may be, but is not necessarily, true. In fact, based upon the Scripture, it is more likely than not that the thief was baptized for the remission of sins than that he was not. Look at the facts.

All Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the district around the Jordan were going out to the Jordan to be baptized of John as they confessed their sins. Matt. 3:4-5. There is no indication that the thief was a Pharisee or a lawyer, each of whom rejected the purpose of God by not being baptized of John. Luke 7:30. John’s baptism was both for repentance (Matt. 4:11) and for the remission of sins (Mark. 1:4). In addition, Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John (John 3:22-24; 4:1-2).

  1. It is more likely than not that the thief was among those who heard either John or Jesus or both. Both John (Matt. 3:1-2) and Jesus (Matt. 4:17) proclaimed the coming kingdom. While no indication is given of the thief’s understanding of the kingdom, his plea to be remembered when Jesus came into His kingdom makes it certain that he had heard of that kingdom.

  2. Since the thief was more likely than not among those who heard the preaching of John and/or Jesus, because he knew something of the kingdom that they declared, and because he more likely than not was not among those who rejected God’s purpose by not being baptized of John, isn’t it more likely than not that the thief was at some time prior to crucifixion baptized by John or a disciple of Jesus?

It is not enough, however, to establish that the assumption that the thief on the cross is more likely than not incorrect because both conclusions (that he was or was not baptized) are assumptions. Even if the conclusion that the thief was baptized is based on undisputed Biblical facts, it is still an assumption and is not necessarily so. Thus, whether the thief on the cross was saved without being baptized remains a valid question at which we now look.

While Jesus was upon the earth he had the power to forgive and did forgive sins. Matt. 9:2-6. While Jesus was alive, even on the cross, the Mosaic Code was in effect. It became ineffective after his death. Rom. 7:1-7. Thus, the thief survived the Mosaic Code only briefly (John 19:31-33) and received his forgiveness prior to the death of Jesus and the effectiveness of the New Covenant (Heb. 9:15-20).

After the death of Christ and the establishment of His church, all men became subject to the terms of the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Lk. 24:46-49; Acts 1:8). The thief never lived under the terms of the great commission because of the time of his death and because the Lord had not yet given them. It is the terms of the great commission that are now relevant. That is what Peter began preaching on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:36-40). There is no record of any other terms of salvation ever being preached in Scripture. Today, as then, those who receive His word will be baptized for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38, 41) and the Lord will add them to His church as He did about three thousand souls on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:41).

Should you desire to learn more about the Lord’s church today, please see the lessons on the church and listen to the sermon on the undenominational nature of the church on this web site.

God's Plan of Salvation

You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)

You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)

You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)

Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)