We have a few equally valid possibilities here.

It’s possible that the thief on the cross (Luke 23:40-43) was baptised before he was crucified. It’s also possible that Jesus made an exception for the thief because the opportunity for baptism was not present.

However, Jesus’ clear instruction to us is “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16); and when some people in the Book of Acts realised they had sinned against God they asked Peter what they must we do to be saved, and he replied “Repent and be baptised” (Acts 2:38). In fact, if you read through Acts it becomes clear that every new believer was baptised. So the instruction is clear enough, even if the Lord is willing to make exceptions in some circumstances. The point is, Jesus has the authority to allow an exception but, if the opportunity for baptism arises, we don’t.

There is another possibility, too: baptism is symbolic of dying with Christ and destroying our old way of life (Rom. 6:3-6); the thief on the cross, more than anyone else, did this because he did it literally when he was crucified with Christ.

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22 Responses to Was the thief on the cross baptised?

  1. Jim Day says:

    There are several references to both thieves mocking Jesus. There are detailed prophecies of the time and manner of Jesus’s death, but no reference to a repentant thief. Read the thief’s comments as a mock (we have already been told that is what both thieves did) and then Jesus answers the thief and tells him today he will be in paradise (the grave) with Jesus. That day Jesus was in the grave and so was the thief. Jesus was true to his word – he was with Jesus that day.
    The thieves are mention in OT prophecy, but not a repentant one. The gospel writers ALL record the thieves mocking Jesus – only Luke goes on to record the manner of the mock.
    Compare scripture with scripture and avoid preconceived ideas.

  2. Luke Buckler says:

    Hi Jim,

    Thanks for your comment.

    Both the thieves start by mocking Jesus, but by the very end one of them is rebuking the other (Luke 23:39-40): Luke shows there is a development in one of the thieve’s attitudes.

  3. Jim Day says:

    “Good one, Luke”. Did I really mean that or was I mocking your answer?

    1. This is the only example (if it is) of absolute last minute repentance in the Scripture.

    2. How come the other Gospel writers fail to notice the monumental change in the thief?

    3. No mention or allusion to a repentant thief in prophecy.

    4. Luke is the story teller of the 4 Gospels so it is not surprising he gives an example of the mocking, where the other writers are more general.

  4. Grahame Grieve says:

    Jim, I’d never thought of that before. It’s certainly an interesting idea, but people struggle with the idea of Jesus being funny/ironic/sarcastic/etc, even in other cases that have less significance. Why?

  5. Jim Day says:

    Why do people want a bland and dull Jesus – maybe they want a Jesus in their own image.

    But Jesus was charismatic and the people were drawn to him. He must have been an entertaining speaker to have such huge crowds flock to hear him and witness the miracles. He used all the following humour in his talks.
    1.”Tongue in cheek” see Mk 2:17 where rubbishes the Pharasees
    2. Told “tall stories” eg the plank Mk 7:3-5
    3. Used ridicule -in reference to Herod he said “Go tell that fox”
    4. “Mocking” – Lk 22:25 – the Kings of the gentiles …..call themselves Benefactors.
    But he could be equally direct and blunt when in Matt 23:25 he descibes the Scribes etc as hypocrites

  6. Luke Buckler says:

    Thanks again, Jim.

    Luke 23:40 still clearly says that one thief ‘rebuked’ the other. There is no idea of mocking in the text; just of one thief telling the other off.

  7. Warwick Hobbs says:

    Hi Luke,
    Thanks for your comment that Luke (the gospel writer), shows a development in the attitude of one of the thieves. The reason for this could be the example of complete composure that Jesus displayed on the cross (as contrasted to the cursing and swearing that the other criminals would have displayed). This suggestion is prompted by Isaiah 50:6, which predicts the Messiah’s willingness to yield his back, cheeks and face to those who would humiliate him.

  8. Chris Brook says:

    Going back to the original question — was he baptised — how could he have been? Christian baptism is a conscious, intentional association with the death and resurrection of Jesus requiring understanding of the plan of God for salvation through the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus. Even the closest disciples seem not to have grasped the expectation of his resurrection at the time of his crucifixion. I suppose the thief on the cross could have been drowned appropriately but not lifted out of the water. He came under the Abrahamic covenant — he was counted righteous and promised life because of his faith — whether he learnt this only on the cross or had some previous knowledge we do not know, but he was given a wonderful promise — and I do think the writer Luke was just as inspired as the other gospel writers.

  9. Jim Day says:

    “Repentant Thief”
    1. Never mention in prophecy except as a thief.
    2. Never alludied to in any scripture following his death.
    3. The finest details of Jesus’s death are recorded in prophecy and reported on in NT and yet no account of a repentant thief.
    4. Why did Isaiah fail to prophesy the “remarkable” conversion of the thief?
    5. Why did Matthew, Mark and for that matter John fail to notice the conversion?
    6. Why is there no second witness to this conversion?
    7. Why is there no other last minute conversion in the scriptures?
    8. Jesus said “Today you will be with me in paradise”
    Since Jesus was in the grave that day, I assume paradise means garden, resting place or the grave not Heaven.

    It seems to me that if the thief’s message to Jesus was a mock as we have already been told that he mocked Jesus, then all the above questions are not required.

  10. Chris Brook says:

    Jim – thanks for this – it certainly is an interesting theory that needs more thinking about.
    Arguments from silence are not very persuasive. Take point 5 for example – there are very many events, parables, teachings and sayings which appear in only one, or only two, or only three of the Gospels, but we would not question their authenticity if they only appear in one Gospel. It is very clear that the Gospels are not intended to be an exhaustive, detail by detail, account of the Lord’s life. They are all selective, no doubt for good, inspired, reasons. On point 8 the usual explanation seems sound to me (no punctuation or capital letters in the original, put the comma after ‘Today’, the use of the word ‘Today’ for emphasis like this is common throughout scripture) so there is no need to worry about ‘Paradise’ implying heaven-going.
    Set against this is the simple reading of Luke 23:40-43 which I find hard to read in the way you suggest. It is a good principle of exposition (I would say vital) that once we have checked the translation as well as possible and looked for any bias in the translation, and looked at how key words are used in other passages, then we should accept the words for what they appear to say. If we don’t understand them, or find them hard to accept, the problem is probably with us rather than with scripture. So in this passage the ‘thief’ uses the word ‘kingdom’ – and it is exactly the same word as used by Jesus throughout his teaching. Perhaps this suggests the ‘thief’ had heard Jesus teach.
    I will put in here the passage from the ESV:
    k 23:39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!”
    Luk 23:40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?
    Luk 23:41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”
    Luk 23:42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
    Luk 23:43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

    I find that hard to read as a ‘mocking’. And it may be better to be kind when there is doubt.

  11. DEK says:

    1. Where is the idea of paradise=grave borne out by the Scripture?
    2. As already noted by Chris, such a thing as punctuation was embedded into original texts much time later by translators and this approach is fraught with many unexpected alterations and distortions of the original ideas. I therefore see no problem in reading the whole verse as “And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee to day [that’s, right now]: thou shalt be with me in paradise.” This reserves the possibility for the thief to be resurrected much much later on the judgement day and rewarded with life everlasting in paradise (the Kingdom).

  12. Jim Day says:

    Paradise -NIV study notes “In the Septuagint ( the Greek translation oF the OT) the word designated a GARDEN (Gen 2:8-10) OR FOREST Ne 2:8……..and that is where both Jesus and the thief finished that day.

    “In the mouths of 2 or 3 witness” is the Scriptural practice. So please anyone where is another Scriptural reference that in even the slighest way hints that the thief was saved or that last minute repentance occurs.

  13. Cathy Morgan says:

    Just a couple of points here.

    1. re last minute repentance, to say that it CAN’T happen is trying to limit God’s power; passages like Ezekiel 3:17-21 talk people turning from their evil way, without ever limiting the time at which they could repent and be saved – Manasseh was evil for most of his life but turned to God right near the end (see 2 Chron 33:12-13,19). (Also see Ezekiel 33:11 – God doesn’t want anyone to die, but everyone to repent.)

    2. re the thief’s repentance not being mentioned anywhere else, Luke 2 is somewhat similar – the contents of the chapter are not mentioned by any other gospel writer, and most of it is never prophesied, while almost all of Matthew 2, also about the birth of Jesus, is mentioned in OT prophecies.

  14. Jim Day says:

    1. Of course I agree with Cathy’s comment about not limiting GOD’s power (which in no way was I attemping to), GOD wll save whom he wishes.

    2. It is true that Manasseh turned his life around late in his life and so it gives hope to all now living, but it is NOT last minute repentance.

    3 Yes there are facts in one Gospel that are not recorded elsewhere, but that is not an excuse to put so much weight on “repentant thief ” quotaion from Luke.
    We have been advised to compare scripture with scripture, not ignore scripture if it is inconvenient.

  15. Cathy Morgan says:

    I don’t intend to prolong this discussion, as I see no point in it, I just wanted to say that:

    1. I don’t believe that anyone is trying to put undue weight on this passage, they are merely answering a question.

    2. It says that the thief ‘rebuked’ the other, who was mocking Jesus, and I cannot see that this can reasonably be read to have any other meaning but that he was repentant. I also can’t find any scriptures to say the reverse, and therefore I don’t believe that I am ignoring any scripture, convenient or otherwise.

    Finally, what really matters to us is that Jesus can save us if we draw near to God through him (Hebrews 7:25).

  16. Cole says:

    The point of this instance with the thief is not to merely show Christ’s exception for one man over many in the act of baptism (an act, by the way, that He had not commissioned yet, see Matthew 28:18-20) but rather to show His Lordship over sin and a believer’s justification through faith. Certainly the sacrament of baptism should be rightly administered to those desiring to identify with Christ, but only after regeneration and a life justified by faith alone. Should we go around spraying everyone with a fire hose in order that they might be saved? The real question with this passage is do you have true saving faith, not simply the outward sign of baptism. That’s what a sacrament is, an outward expression of an inward reality. Preachers can baptize thousands of people in and day out but if there is no true faith and repentance to signal such a sacrament, then it’s simply wasted water. Ephesians 2:8-9 supports this thoroughly. Undoubtedly a new believer’s desire should be for baptism as a public profession of faith, as numerous passages in Acts support, but are we to play God and delegate who is saved and who is not by how much time they spent in a hot tub? Certainly we shouldn’t take God’s sovereignty so lightly.

  17. Grahame Grieve says:

    Hi Cole

    I agree with almost everything you said, and I liked the fire hose comment, thanks. But I don’t think that anyone is trying to play God here – even if we were to be convinced by Jim, we still wouldn’t be attempting to delegate who is saved.

    btw, fascinating that this post is the one that has generated the most comment 😉

  18. Jim Day says:

    To Luke, Graham, Warwick, Chris, DEK, Cathy and Cole

    1. This has been a eye opening exercise for me and thank you for all those who tried to correct my error as they saw it.
    2. Traditional views in anything are almost impossible to move. The nearest I got from the correspondents was that it was an “interesting idea”.
    3. It is not that I am between 2 opinions, but that I am totally convinced my assertion about the “repentant thief” and needless to say I was disappointed to find no support at all.
    4.This is an idea I have held for 20 years and I am sorry to say little was added to what I had heard previuosly.

    5. Just consider it from my piont of view for one moment.
    My Lord hangs on the cross alone and deserted by all. He is mocked and tormented by all around him in cluding both thieves. Today all (nearly) talk about this “good” thief as if he is a saint and I find that very hard to take.

  19. DEK says:

    Dear Jim, I think I can well understand the nature of your disappointment as this is something we all have experienced to an extent in our discussions with the people who hold on to views that differ from our own. In other words, this sentiment may well be mutual and shared by all the parties involved in a leading-nowhere discussion. Anyway, there is one more question I’d like to know your opinion on: do you absolutely rule out any probability, however meager, that the thief will receive a place in the Kingdom of God?

  20. Jim Day says:

    Dear DEK,
    Thank you for your concern and in answer to your question.

    1. Judgement is for GOD and GOD alone.

    2. I am sure, if I make the kingdom, that I will be surprised who I will meet there.
    3. However, on the evidence presented to us in the scriptures, it would surprise me if the thief were there.
    4. But as we do not know his previous life or thoughts of his heart and it is not wise to speculate.
    5. Finally (I hope)
    I assert that the thief’s comments are a mock and Jesus tells him that he (the thief) will be in the garden (grave) that day.

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