Thief on the Cross

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Jesus made the statement that his mission was to the nation of Israel, not to the Gentiles or the Samaritans.  This mission was declared in scripture, especially after the episode on Mt. Sinai (Horeb) where the nation of Israel first refused God in His plan to make the entire nation Priests.  The Israelites were afraid on Sinai, thinking they would die because of God’s power, holiness, and penetrating voice. Thus, God adapted to them and promised to raise up a 2nd witness, a prophet similar to Moses, a man whose voice would not cause them to die, but live.  Jesus was ‘that prophet who should come’ the Jews recognized would feed them manna in the wilderness, just as Moses did.

Deuteronomy 18:15-16 KJV  15  The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken;  16  According to all that thou desiredst of the LORD thy God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, neither let me see this great fire any more, that I die not.

John 6:13-14 KJV  Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them that had eaten.  14  Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world.

Matthew 15:22-28 KJV  And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.  23  But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us.  24  But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  25  Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me.  26  But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs.  27  And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.  28  Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.

In every case where Jesus ministered, his focus was on restoring Old Testament Israel to the point that they would be ready to welcome and inaugurate him as their promised King, the Messiah of Israel.  As we know, salvation (entering the Covenant with God) for Old Testament Israel was accomplished by fulfilling two fundamental requirements:

1.  Repentance for sins (acknowledged by God where He sees a heart of sincerity and truth) and submission to God’s law, including sacrifices and festival participation.

2.  Circumcision.  Enacted on males 8 days old or proselytes when they pursued covenant status upon requesting citizenship in the theocratic nation of Israel.

Hence, we see that Jesus message was ‘REPENT’ since Israel was already faithful in circumcision.

Matthew 4:17 KJV  From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

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Please note that this was the same message John the Baptist had already been preaching to the nation of Israel.  We know that ‘water baptism’ is not part of the Old Testament law (Talmud tractates identify 613 laws of the Old Testament) yet both John and Jesus’s disciples were water baptizing Israel as part of the ‘repentance’ ministry.  They were calling Israel back to the place where they first entered the promised land.

John 4:1-2 KJV  When therefore the Lord knew how the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John,  2  (Though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples,)

The ineluctable conclusion before us is that John the Baptist and Jesus were two witnesses, two Old Testament prophets, both preaching the same message to their mission field, Israel.  Further, that water baptism is forever revealed by the Spirit to accompany repentance.  At least, this is what John the Baptist and Paul tell us.

John 1:31 KJV  And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water.

Matthew 3:11 KJV I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:

Acts 19:4-5 KJV  Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.  5  When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.

Baptism is not essential because the Thief was not baptized, right?

With these facts about Jesus and John established, lets answer the questions about the ‘thief on the cross’ who died next to Jesus at the crucifixion.

1.  Was the repentant Thief who appealed to Jesus an Old Testament or New Testament saint?  Answer:  The New Testament commenced on the ‘Day of Pentecost’ with the pouring out of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2; Acts 2:38).  The thief missed the date of arrival of the New Covenant by 50 days. Therefore, he was an Old Testament salvation.

2.  Was the Thief Jewish or Gentile?  Answer:  Jerusalem, Passover Festival, Roman Execution, and Circumcision point to the obvious.  The Thief on the cross was Jewish and therefore, circumcised.  We must not interpret scripture through modern lenses, but keep it within it’s historical context.

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3.  How are you saved in the Old Testament sense if you are a circumcised Jew?  Answer:  You must repent.  The Thief on the cross repented of his sins.  He was not a partaker of the New Covenant as Jesus had not risen from the dead nor had the Holy Spirit yet been poured out.  After all, the gospel is the Death-Burial-Resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).  This clearly helps us determine that the ‘Thief on the cross’ is a pre-gospel member of the nation of Israel (Salvation = Circumcision + Repentance).  As an Old Covenant, Old Testament saint, the Thief was not required to be baptized as ‘water baptism’ was not part of the Law. 

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Water Baptism and the New Covenant

So let’s ask the question a different way.  Is water baptism required for New Testament salvation? 

Answer:  Yes. It’s part of REPENTANCE, the answer we give in seeking a good conscience.

1 Peter 3:21 KJV  The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:

Mark 16:16 KJV  He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.

Acts 8:36-38 KJV  And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, 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.

Ephesians 4:5 KJV  One Lord, one faith, one baptism,

When people justify themselves in saying water baptism is not essential for New Testament salvation, they often reference the ‘thief on the cross’ as their example.  It now is completely obvious that they are using the ‘wrong example’ to justify their lack of obedience to the New Covenant.  Further, they don’t understand Jesus’ ministry of restoration to the nation of Israel as the ‘2nd Prophet’ like Moses.  The New Covenant was administered by Jesus’ apostles, based on His cornerstone teachings.  The New Covenant commenced 50 days after the death of Jesus and the thief.

At Jesus ascension, He commanded His disciples to tarry (wait) in Jerusalem as He commissioned them to bring in the New Covenant, one better than the Old one he ministered under (Matthew 28:19).  He instructed His apostles to make water baptism essential to salvation from the very get go.

Matthew 28:19 KJV  Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:

Obviously, on the Day of Pentecost, 50 days after the Thief died on his cross, the Apostles began baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, Holy Ghost.  Observe what Peter commanded the Old Covenant Jews to do after he himself had received the Holy Ghost only minutes before.

Acts 2:38 KJV  Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Now for the Legal Explanation

One last legal principle in now required.  A new covenant cannot begin unless the old covenant has been superseded by the death of the ‘testator’.  Jesus is the mediator and testator whose death brought the new covenant into force (Hebrew 9:15-17).  What that means is two things:

  • First, as Testator, Jesus’ death was required to usher in the NEW TESTAMENT (just as after a funeral, someone’s heirs read the will which comes into force upon the loved one’s death … only then, do they receive their inheritance)
  • Second, as Mediator, Jesus death was sacrificial, the blood price of building a bridge between God’s grace and sinful humanity’s condition. 

When Jesus heard the Thief on the Cross Repent, Jesus Himself had not yet died, which clearly leaves the Old Covenant still in force during His last moments at Calvary.  The Thief on the Cross therefore was an OLD COVENANT salvation.  That’s why the Thief did not need to be baptized! 

Hebrews 9:15-1 KJV  And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.  16  For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator.  17  For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth. 

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