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
Yep. You read that correctly. Right from the mouth of Jesus….a criminal, whom many call “the thief on the cross,” is told by Jesus right before his death that he will be with Him in Paradise.
How can that be? He wasn’t baptized, and if you must be baptized to be saved and Jesus allowed this criminal to go to paradise without it, wouldn’t that mean He’s being a respector of persons? Isn’t requiring something different of one person to receive salvation showing partiality, and if Jesus showed partiality, according to James 2:9, isn’t He committing sin? Yet, Jesus is supposed to be sinless so how can that be?
These are excellent questions I think many good bible students would ask and definitely worthy of further study.
First of all, we must recognize that baptism, as we have it today, was not even a factor until Jesus died, was buried, and then rose again. Yes, there was John’s baptism, but this baptism had a special purpose in preparing the people to receive Jesus and in Acts 19:1-5 we see an instance where those who were previously baptized under John’s baptism “were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.”
Furthermore, those who had come before this time, going all the way back to Adam, were also not baptized. Even Abraham was not baptized. Does their lack of baptism mean that none of them are saved? Wouldn’t that be the conclusion if someone says you must be baptized to be saved? It would be unless you understood the bigger picture of what God requires to be saved and that baptism is only a part of that picture.
The people living before Jesus came to earth were looking forward to His coming whereas those of us living today are looking back. They had to have foresight whereas we have to have hindsight. However, no matter when you live according to Jesus’ coming there has always been one thing required to be in God’s good graces….FAITH!
Faith is the glue that ties all the saved together from the beginning of time till the end and it is the requirement of faith to be saved that makes God impartial. This concept can be understood by looking at God’s promises to Abraham.
In Genesis 12:1-3 God made three promises to Abraham that would be recognized not in his lifetime, but by his descendents. The first was about a great nation, the second was about the land this nation would inherit, and the third was about a blessing in which “all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
This third promise we call the seed promise because we understand that it is through Abraham’s seed (lineage) that Jesus would be born into this world and complete His purpose by saving mankind from their sins. But guess what, just because God said it would happen doesn’t mean that Abraham didn’t have to have faith that it would.
Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
Even though Abraham couldn’t physically see the promises of God, he still had to have the faith that God would carry out what He had promised. But, what does this faith mean?
Further on in Hebrews 11 verse 6 we get a clear picture of what God expects when it comes to faith:
“But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”
Three things are said here. First, we can not please God without faith. Second, faith means believing in who God is. Third, faith that is rewarded is faith that is diligent in seeking God.
So, Abraham not only had to have faith in who God is which includes His ability to provide what He had promised, but He had to also diligently seek God to be rewarded. How did Abraham diligently seek God?
“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.” Hebrews 11:8
By faith Abraham obeyed. That’s how. And if you read the whole chapter of Hebrews 11 you will read over and over again about many people in times past that not only believed in who God is and what He promised, but acted upon that belief in whatever way was required of them. That is diligently seeking God and by definition in Hebrews 11:6, that is a necessary part of faith.
So when we read about people like Adam, Abraham, Moses, David, and yes, even the criminal (aka thief on the cross) that was crucified with Jesus, we must understand that baptism as we have it today was not a necessary part of their faith. However, it is a necessary part of ours if we want to receive our reward to be heirs to the promise of Abraham’s seed for according to Galatians 3:26-29 “you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”