Wayne S. Walker

     Question:  “If baptism is essential to savlation, what about the
thief on the cross, sine he didn’t come down from the cross to be

     The account of the thief on the cross is found in Luke 23.42-43
where we read, “Then he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, rmember me when You come
into Your kingdom.’  And Jesus said to him, ‘Assuredly, I say to you,
today you will be with Me in Paradise.'”  Based on this passage, we can
rightfully conclude that the thief was saved.  And it is true that he did
not come down from the cross at that time to be baptized.  Unfortunately,
this thief has become one of the most famous criminals in history because
a lot of people want to base their salvation on him rather than on the
clear teachings of the Savior, Jesus Christ.

     The question assumes that the thief was NEVER baptized.  That cannot
be proven.  John the Baptist had come some three years before with the
the mission of baptizing the Jews for the remission of sins to prepare
the way for the Christ.  And the Bible says that ALL Judea went out to be
baptized by John.  “Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around
the Jordan went out to him and were baptized by him the Jorday,
confessing their sins” (Matthew 3.5-6).  The thief may well have been
baptized by John for the remission of sins, then later lapsed into a life
of sin, but repented on the cross and was forgiven by Christ.  We just do
not know.

     However, the truth is that while Jesus was alive, as the divine Son
of God, He had the right or authority to forgive the sins of a person and
save him under any conditions that He chose.  In Mark 2.10-11, Jesus
Himself said, “‘But that you may know that the Son of Man as power on
earth to forgive sins’–He said to the paralytic, ‘I say to you, arise,
take up your bed, and go your way to your house.”  He demonstrated this
power by performing a miracle to confirm His claim.

     Even if we assume that the thief was not baptized according to
John’s preaching, this exception would not invalidate the rule.
Policemen often make an exception to speeding laws for husbands who need
to rish their pregnant wives to the hospital.  But this does not mean
that others can speed for any reason without fear of being ticketed.
Likewise, if the Lord did make an exception for this one who could not be
baptized, that does not mean that others can ignore baptism.  “For
whoever shall keep the whole law, yet stumble in one point, he is guilty
of all” (James 2.10).  So even if the thief’s conversion was actually an
exception, the exception only proves that the rule applies to everyone

     But most importantly, the thief lived and died under the law of
Moses before Jesus’ will went into effect.  We read in Hebrews 9.16-17,
“For where there is a testament, there must also of necessity be the
death of the testator.  For a testament is in force after men are dead,
since it has no power at all while at all while the testator lives.”
While a person is alive, he can distribute his possessions as he chooses.
 But after he dies, his possessions can be distributed only according to
his written will.  So it was with Jesus.s  While He was alive, He could
save anyone as He chose.

      Since both Christ and the thief lived and died under the Old
Testament law of Moses, which did not include baptism, the thief never
was subject to the New Testament will of Christ, which does include
baptism.  Jesus could have elected to save him based solely upon the
temrs and conditions of the law then in effect.  But after the Lord died
on the cross, people can be saved only according to His written will.
And His revealed will for our salvation is found in Mark 16.16 where
Jesus Himself said, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but
he who does not believe will be condemned.”  No matter what uninspired
men  may say to the contrary, the Bible clearly teaches that baptism is
essential to our salvation.  (From “Search for Truth,” June, 1996.)


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