It is written:
Luke 23:43-And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”
One of the most heard objections to the New Testament teaching about baptism comes from the thief on the cross. Our denominational friends claim that the thief on the cross was not baptized, and was saved; therefore those today do not need to be baptized to be saved.
What shall we say to this?
First, the thief on the cross being baptized with the baptism of John is a matter of assumption. Some people assume that he was baptized, others that he was not. We are not told one way or the other. Indeed, the evidence suggests that he likely was baptized with the baptism of John. We are told:
Mark 1:4-5-John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. 5 Then all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.
Luke 1:3, 7-And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins,..Then he said to the multitudes that came out to be baptized by him, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
Notice that the thief on the cross knew who Jesus was and had detailed information about Him (Luke 23:40-43). Specifically, we are told that the thief knew that Jesus was the Christ and that He had a kingdom, which is specifically what John the Baptist preached about Jesus (Matthew 3:2). This all strongly suggests that the thief on the cross may have been baptized by John.
Second, whether the thief on the cross was baptized with the baptism of John or not is irrelevant. We know that the thief on the cross was not baptized with the baptism of the Great Commission which was not issued until several days after he died. It was after His death, burial, and resurrection on the third day that Jesus declared:
Mark 16:16-He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.
The thief was not required to be baptized into Christ because this Commission was not issued until several days after he had died. This means that the thief on the cross died under the Old Testament Law, and was not bound to obey the New Testament plan of salvation!
Hebrews 9:16-17-For where there is a testament, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. 17 For a testament is in force after men are dead, since it has no power at all while the testator lives.
Unlike the thief on the cross, you and I live under the New Testament dispensation. As such, we ARE required to believe and be baptized before we can be saved (Mark 16:16).
Third, the thief on the cross may teach us about situations where a person is unable (due to circumstances beyond his control) to obey God’s plan of redemption. Under the Old Testament Law, the thief on the cross was required to make restitution to those from whom he had stolen before he could be forgiven (Leviticus 6). Being on his deathbed, he was not able to do so-and yet Jesus showed him mercy.
If there are situations where a person is unable to be baptized, then God knows this and will respond accordingly.
Some claim that there is always water available to be baptized, yet this is not always the case. Valid examples may be cited from situations in Muslim dominated countries, prisons here in the United States where baptism is denied to prisoners who request it (I have personally worked with individuals in such circumstances), and those who die on their way to the place of baptism (again, I am personally acquainted with situations like this).
God knows situations where a person cannot obey His plan and will take such into consideration.
However, this just reiterates the need to obey God today while we have opportunity.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.