Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.” But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember 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.” (Luke 23:39-43)
Was The Thief Baptized?
No criminal in human history has received more press time than the man crucified next to Jesus. When Jesus was led to Golgotha for crucifixion, two other criminals were crucified. In the beginning, both men reviled Jesus. The unrepentant robber taunted Jesus that if He were the Messiah, to save Himself and the two of them. But the other rebuked his fellow robber declaring they were guilty of their crime, but the man in the middle had done nothing wrong.
The scriptures are silent on how much the man knew about Jesus before they were crucified, but it is certain he recognized Jesus as a man who was innocent of the crimes leveled against Him. Above the two thieves bore the titles of thieves and robbers. Pilate had inscribed above Jesus the charge, “This is the King of the Jews.” The conduct and demeanor of Jesus struck the robber as it would later impress upon the Centurion in charge of the execution. There was a penitent heart in the robber. Jesus knew the man’s heart and saw a pure motive in seeking forgiveness. The expression of mercy and grace is eternal, and it finds Jesus, barely able to speak after hours on the cross, whispering to the man by His side, “Today, you will be with Me in Paradise.”
There are few acts of mercy found in scripture as profound as the moment the Son of God looks upon the face of one of His creations and gives him peace. Jesus is saving men before He dies. His act of love is a message of incredible grace with the promise of eternal life. As the author of salvation and the adjutant of the divine law, Jesus served the purpose of His Father to forgive men their sins. This was not the first time He had forgiven sins. When the four friends brought their ill friend to Jesus, letting him down through the roof, Jesus shocked the religious elite by telling the man His sins were forgiven. Answering their hearts of blasphemy, Jesus proves He can forgive sins by healing the man of his paralysis immediately. Jesus can forgive sins according to His divine will. That is how powerful the Holy Spirit preserves the story of the thief on the cross.
Sometimes men are uncomfortable with acts of divine mercy. Trying to explain the reason Jesus forgave the thief on the cross, the idea is suggested that possibly the thief had been baptized under the baptism of John. Nothing in scripture suggests the thief had any dealings with John and his disciples. Denying the power of divine forgiveness, a solution to the quandary of how Jesus could forgive a man is answered with reference to the need to be baptized by John. It is unclear why the baptism of John is always suggested when the disciples of Jesus baptized more than the disciples of John. Why not appeal to the thief being a disciple of Jesus and baptized by one of the Lord’s disciples? What purpose does the suggestion of the thief being baptized have to his salvation?
When the thief was crucified, baptism was not essential for salvation. The Law of Moses was still in effect, and nothing in the Law required immersion in water for salvation. Was Lazarus (of the story of the rich man and the beggar) saved because he had been baptized under John’s baptism? The scriptures only tell that Lazarus was a beggar laid at the rich man’s gate, and the beggar went to Paradise. Why suggest he was baptized when the scriptures do not say? During the early days of the church, the Holy Spirit tells the story of Paul finding twelve men who knew only the baptism of John. If the thief was baptized under John’s baptism, why did the Holy Spirit leave that detail out? The only answer is the men have sought to justify a powerful divine act of mercy and explain away (or suggest) the thief was baptized under John’s baptism.
It is a dangerous course to suggest an argument of defense by an indefensible position of suggesting an assumption without any body of proof. The thief did not have to be baptized for Jesus to save him. After Jesus died and rose from the dead, entrance into the kingdom of God was accomplished through the waters of the death, burial, and resurrection of the penitent soul. The journey of the thief to Paradise has no bearing on the will of God today. Let the story of Jesus forgiving the thief stand on its own merits of divine mercy without propping the story up with false assumptions. Today, salvation can only be found by doing the will of the Father.
Unfortunately the reason that this is brought up most of the time is because most churches point to this as a reason to not baptize people.
A position that I believe is extremely dangerous.