Basics of Salvation
What about the thief on the cross?
Does the thief on the cross demonstrate that baptism is not necessary? After all, he wasn’t baptized, and Jesus told him that he would be with Him in Paradise. Isn’t that proof enough?
The answer lies in the context in which Jesus spoke to the man. First, this wasn’t the only time Jesus forgave sins in person. In Mark 2, He demonstrated that He had authority on earth to forgive, and He forgave the paralyzed man prior to healing him. Further, in Luke 7:36-50, Jesus indicated that the sins of the woman who was kissing His feet were forgiven. Jesus had the power to do that because of who He is.
Second, when Jesus forgave, He had not yet died. It’s upon His death that the will of the One who dies goes into effect (Hebrews 9:16-17). After Jesus died, we need to know what His will is that went into effect at that time. The question is, is baptism part of this will? The answer is unequivocally, “Yes!” See Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16, Romans 6:2-6, Colossians 2:11-13, Galatians 3:25-27, and 1 Peter 3:20-21 to get a sense of this. There are many more passages. All of these passages come after Jesus died.
Third, to put this into perspective, let’s ask another question. Did the thief on the cross need to believe that Jesus had been raised from the dead? After all, the apostle Paul wrote, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9-10). “But,” one might respond, “How could the thief believe it when it had not yet happened? He can’t be expected to do something that hadn’t even occurred.”
That’s the point. Baptism in the name of Jesus wasn’t given as a command yet. Timing is everything. Yet here’s the bottom line: few of us will ever be in the position of the thief on the cross. Instead, we can clearly see what the Lord has commanded, and if baptism is in His will, then we need to do it. This is not earning our salvation; rather, it is trusting what He says, by His grace, and we need to act by faith to submit to His will.