The Case of the Penitent Thief
It has been my observation for many years that a multitude
of people need a better insight into the case of the penitent thief that
died on a cross on Mount Calvary. There were three crosses on Calvary
when Jesus of Nazareth died, one on which he died, and two on which two
thieves died. “And with him they crucify two thieves; the one on
his right hand, and the other on his left. And the scripture was fulfilled,
which saith, And he was numbered with the transgressors” (Mark 15:27-28).
On Mount Calvary
At first, both of the thieves on Mount Calvary spoke against
Jesus. “The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the
same in his teeth” (Matthew 27:44). The Greek of this verse is literally
translated, reproached, upbraided, etc.
Evidently one of the thieves was more outspoken in his
upbraiding of the Lord, because Dr. Luke’s account says, “And one of the
malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ,
save thyself and us” (Luke 23:39). When he did this the other thief
rebuked him saying:
“But the other answering rebuked him, saying,
Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we
indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man
hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when
thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto
thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:40-43).
One of the thieves on Calvary repented. Jesus referred
to the place he and that thief were going as paradise. But Jesus
went into Hades.
On Pentecost following the resurrection of Jesus, Peter
taught that the soul of Jesus went into Hades while his body was in the
grave (Acts 2:31). Hell in Acts 2:31 is from Greek
Hades, or the place not seen. Hell is sometimes translated
from the Greek gehenna in the New Testament which means the
place of eternal punishment.
There is a good part of Hades, and a bad part. There
is a gulf between the two as we learn in the story of the rich man and
Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). Hell of Luke 16:22 in which
the rich man was is from Greek Hades. So, the rich
man was in the bad part of Hades, and Lazarus was in the good part or Abraham’s
bosom as it is called in Luke 16:22. Obviously, Abraham’s bosom
is a figurative way to refer to what Jesus called paradise in Luke
Evidently, that penitent thief on Calvary was saved.
Many use this fact to try to prove that one need not be baptized to be
saved becasue they say if the thief could be saved without being baptized,
people can now be saved without being baptized. People say this even
though Jesus told his apostles “. . . Go ye into all the world, and preach
the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall
be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:15-16).
Jesus did not say, “He that believeth and looks to the example of the thief
on the cross shall be saved.” Neither did Jesus say, “He that believeth
and is not baptized shall be saved, because I saved the thief on
the cross without his being baptized.”
Actually, we cannot know that the thief on the cross had
not been baptized. He evidently was a Jew who had considerable knowledge
of Christ and what he had said about his kingdom that he was soon to establish.
He certainly must have known Jesus well for he spoke the truth about Jesus.
He said Jesus had done nothing amiss! Even a dying thief testified
concerning the innocence of Jesus of Nazareth. From the mouth of
a malefactor, who spoke from the cross where he soon died, came one of
the sweetest messages that has ever been uttered. This message was:
“Jesus was innocent! Jesus was sinless!”
Was He Baptized?
Being a Jew, the penitent thief was one of God’s children
under the law of Moses. He was an erring child of God under that
John the Baptizer preached as the forerunner of Jesus
in an attempt to get the erring Jews to turn back to their God (Luke 1:17).
John baptized the erring Jews for the remission of sins (Mark 1:4).
The penitent thief who died on a cross when Jesus died may have been baptized
with John’s baptism before he was crucified. He could have been baptized
with John’s baptism for the remission of sins and then got into trouble
by stealing. Once cannot prove that the penitent thief on the cross
was baptized with John’s baptism. But, one cannot prove he was not
People are without excuse who try to make void all that
is said in the Bible on the subject of water baptism by introducing the
case of the thief on the cross. They should know that the thief did
not live in the Christian dispensation. When Jesus told the thief:
“Today shalt thou be with me in paradise,” the Mosaic age had not ended,
and he could exercise his power to forgive and save as he saw fit.
The testament of Christ became of force after his death (Hebrews 9:16-17).
Pentecost “The Beginning”
Through the apostle Peter the Holy Spirit called the day
of Pentecost following the resurrection of Jesus “the beginning” (Acts
11:15). Obviously it was the beginning of the Christian dispensation
or the Church Age, for on that day the Lord established his church in Jerusalem
On the day of Pentecost which was “the beginning” Peter
told convicted believers in Christ to repent and be baptized in the name
of Christ for the remission of sins and that they would receive the gift
of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:37-38). Peter did not tell them to look
to the thief on the cross and be saved like he was. Why? Because
it was “the beginning.” On that day the Gospel of Christ was preached
for the first time in the name of Jesus (Luke 24:47). That is why
Peter told those who heard and believed the Gospel to repent and be baptized
so that their sins could be forgiven through the precious blood of Christ.
Not A Case Of Conversion For Today
There is not a case of conversion recorded in the Book of
Acts where a preacher or anyone else mentioned the penitent thief on the
cross, or where anyone was told he could be saved like that thief was saved.
Instead, those who were converted and saved according to Acts all heard
the same Gospel and there is abundant evidence they were baptized into
Christ in order to receive forgiveness of their sins.
No Christians were told in the many letters or epistles
of the New Testament that they had been saved as the thief on the cross
was saved. Instead, many times in these epistles the holy writers
made it clear that those Christians whom they addressed had been baptized
to be saved through the precious blood of Jesus.
Inspired preachers did not point the lost to a thief on
a cross; they pointed them to Christ on a cross!
If you are not a Christian do not be deceived into thinking
you can be saved as that thief on that cross was saved. Instead,
please believe in Jesus and repent and be baptized in his name for the
remission of sins and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts