The Thief On The Cross

As Jesus hung on the cross for the sins of all men, one of the criminals crucified with him said, "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 23:42,43) At the moment of salvation for all men, the Son of God expressed in words of hope the message of redemption. Jesus knew the heart of the thief and by the authority given to Him by His Father, He granted salvation to this man.

This was not the first time Jesus had granted such a blessing to a man. The gospel writers record the story of a paralytic man brought by his friends to Jesus. (Matthew 9:1-8; Mark 2:1-12; Luke 5:17-26) When Jesus saw the faith of the mans friends, He said to the paralytic, "Man, be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven you." When the scribes accused Jesus of blasphemy, Jesus responded when asking them, "For which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven you,' or to say, 'Arise and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins - then He said to the paralytic, 'Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.' And he arose and departed to his house."

Jesus had the power to forgive men their sins as evident by the paralytic and the thief on the cross. From these examples, many conclude that salvation for man today is without works. The teaching of most religious groups is salvation by faith alone and security of the believer (once saved always saved). Does the example of the thief on the cross and the paralytic uphold these doctrines? Let's examine them considering the teaching of the early church.

Following His resurrection, Jesus gave a commission to His disciples to go into all the world, making disciples of all the nations. Did Jesus tell His disciples to teach that the example of the thief on the cross as an illustration of what men must do to be saved? Let us hear what Jesus told His disciples: "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age ... He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned." (Matthew 28:19,20; Mark 16:16) The book of Acts is a history of the disciples fulfilling these commands. In every story of conversion, the thief on the cross is never used as an example of what men should do to be saved.

One of the reasons the thief on the cross can not be used as an example of salvation is because he did not believe in the fundamental teaching of salvation for all men. Paul wrote in Romans 10:9, "That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." The thief did not believe that God has raise Jesus from the dead because Jesus was not dead yet! If men seek today to establish their salvation with the saving of the thief on the cross, the same law will apply. The thief was saved (as also the paralytic in Mark 2) without believing that Jesus was risen from the dead. No man can be saved today without that fundamental belief.

Is it possible to be saved without works? The context of James 2:14-26 illustrates that faith without works is dead. Some would teach there are no works that we can do to be saved. Consider John 6:28-29 - "Then they said to Him, 'What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?' Jesus answered and said to them, 'This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.'" If you believe that works cannot save you, then belief cannot save either.

By Kent E. Heaton Sr.

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