As my husband is wont to say, I have some good news and some bad news. If you're like me, you want the bad news first. I'm posting about baptism. Again. The good news: this one will be short.
Enter the "Thief on the Cross." You know him, he's the guy everyone pulls out to shut down any conversation on the necessity of baptism. Some people will argue a "faith only" perspective. Others argue for a "spirit baptism" understanding. But, the "argument" I hear most often is, "what about the thief on the cross?!" It is so odd to me that this is the go-to argument of nearly everyone. Far and away, it comes up most often in baptism conversations to which I've been privy and it is the one that holds the least water.
Here's the down and dirty on why:
1) The thief was not commanded to be baptized for salvation.
Does that not rock your world? It's like the mammogram-Planned Parenthood argument, it's reiterated enough that everyone assumes it's true. The fact is, Planned Parenthood does not do mammograms (and never has), and the thief on the cross, unlike us, was not commanded to be baptized in order to be saved.
Jesus' commands to be baptized in order to be saved were given after His resurrection:
"Afterward He appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at the table; and He reproached them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who had seen Him after He had risen. And He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned." Mark 16:14-16After Jesus had risen we see His first ever command linking baptism to salvation. (And, yes, "and" means "and".) This was a post-resurrection command. Not only that, after this monologue, Jesus was taken up into heaven. It is interesting, I think, that among the very last things the Savior told His disciples on earth was that one must believe and be baptized to be saved.
"And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20)As with Mark's gospel, this is the last we hear from Jesus in Matthew's account: make disciples of all nations - in so doing they would baptize them and teach them to observe all that He had commanded. Of all the things Jesus could mention, He mentioned baptism and obedience.
2) There was nothing for the thief to be baptized into - yet.
"Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, known that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him." Romans 6:3-10
When we are baptized, we are baptized into Christ's death - and He had not yet died when He spoke those words to the thief.
3) Jesus forgave sins while He walked the earth.
After healing the paralyzed man and telling him to get up and walk - his sins were forgiven, Jesus asked the Pharisees:
"Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven'; or to say, 'Get up, and pick up your pallet and walk'? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgiven sins" - He said to the paralytic, "I say to you, get up, pick up your pallet and go home." (Mark 2:9-11)
Jesus can forgiven sins however He wants. He chose to forgiven the thief and the paralytic upon the faith He perceived in them. He chooses to save us based on our belief and our response to His commands. In fact, I think it's very persuasive when Jesus tells His disciples (as recorded in Matthew) how to go about making disciples, he begins by telling them that all authority in heaven and earth has been given to Him. That should give us serious pause when we want to change what He has commanded.
So, I said this post would be short, and so it is. The thief on the cross was not living under the New Covenant and so had not been commanded to be baptized to be saved and, in fact, there was nothing for him to be baptized into. The thief was saved like the paralytic and a number of others - in an actual, physical, encounter with Jesus while He walked this earth. In short, the "Thief on the Cross" really has nothing to do with the New Covenant or Christian baptism.