Wisdom International Mission - "He who believes and is baptized shall be saved" Mark 16:16
I Want to be Saved Like the Thief on the Cross
     Several years ago I heard the title of this message as a statement from someone concerning salvation.  I truly love the story of the thief on the cross.  It is vital to spiritual understanding that we embrace every scripture in its context in order to have a complete picture of any subject.  Many people like to toy with the scriptures as if they are playing checkers.  They want to take the scripture that fits their concept and use it to jump the other scriptures as if they can knock them out of the game.  The truth is: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (I Tim 3:16 NKJV) and they all work together in perfect uniformity.  We cannot simply disregard the scriptures that do not fit our beloved perception on an issue. We will be judged by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God, not simply the ones we choose.  If there seems to be a conflict in two passages, then we must study the difference in context.
      The first point that has to be understood about the story of the thief on the cross is that it is not a New Testament story.  This is confusing to many because men have introduced titles into the scriptures that were not part of the original writings. Jesus was born under and lived under the law: But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law” (Gal 4:4).  The New Covenant did not begin until after the death of Jesus: For where there is a testament, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is in force after men are dead, since it has no power at all while the testator lives” (Heb 9:16-17).  The command for Christian baptism into Christ did not begin until the Day of Pentecost, after the death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Christ.  This is also confirmed by Paul’s description of baptism in Romans 6:
Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4). 
     This being the case, the thief on the cross died under the law of Moses and went to Hades that day  where all of the Old Covenant characters awaited the coming of Christ.  It is not sensible at all to conclude that this Old Testament story somehow eliminates the plethora of commands and examples for baptism into Christ in the New Testament.   I could stop at this point and that would suffice to show that baptism into Christ was not yet ordained by God as a term of salvation, however, that would take away from the beauty of this story that can be seen when we take a spiritual look into this picture.  
     All that occurred before the advent of the New Covenant was part of God’s lesson plan for us.  Paul remarked that the law taught us what sin was in Romans 7:
“What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, ‘You shall not covet’” (Rom 7:7 NKJV).
      In 1 Corinthians 10 Paul gave many examples from before Christ’s advent to instruct the Church on how they should live.  As he was concluding in verse 11 he said: 
Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Cor 10:11).
     In the Old Testament of the scriptures we see many pictures given for us to form our thoughts.  It is important to remember that we as humans think in pictures, not words.  Words help us to form a picture, but we think in the picture.  If someone says something about a horse, what does our mind see?  Do we see an image of letters, H o r s e?  Or do we picture a horse?  That is the reason God gave us pictures through history and life.  That is why Jesus used parables to teach us.  He wanted us to get the picture. 
     In the Old Testament, God used rituals and events to give us pictures.  He set up the Passover and the sacrifice of a lamb to picture the coming of the Lamb of God Jesus Christ whose blood would save us.  In the aforementioned passage of 1 Corinthians 10, Paul used several historical events to show us how God uses a metaphoric picture from the past.  He told of how the crossing of the Israelites through the Red Sea was a picture of our baptism, and the rock from which they drank water was a picture of Christ and us today:  

“Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea,  all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.” (1 Cor 10:1-4).
     In the same way, God has given us this picture of the thief from the Old Testament as a metaphoric picture of baptism into Christ.  Think about this step by step in comparison to Romans 6:

“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection,  knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin” (Rom 6:1-6).
     In verses 4 and 6, Paul reminds us that we are crucified with Christ and buried with Him.  So also, when the thief had confessed his belief in Christ, he was crucified and buried with Christ.  We must take into account that Jesus told the thief: “This day you will be with me in paradise.”  Where did Jesus go that day?  He went to Hades, the abode of the dead.  Jesus told us:
"An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt 12:39-40).
     Jesus went to the heart of the earth that day, not to heaven.  That is the place where the faithful of the Old Testament age were waiting.  This was the Old Testament picture that Jesus gave at the teaching of Lazarus and the rich man:
So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom” (Luke 16:22-23).
Lazarus was in the paradise side of Hades while the rich man was not. 
     In Romans 6:4 we are told that we are then raised with Christ when we arise from baptism.  In the same way, the thief was raised with Christ when He resurrected from the dead.  Paul wrote:
But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore He says: "When He ascended on high,He led captivity captive,And gave gifts to men." (Now this, "He ascended"--what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things)” (Eph 4:7-10).
    After Christ descended to the lower parts of the earth, Hades, He resurrected and He led captivity captive.  This is the reason that many of the saints were seen in Jerusalem after His resurrection:
“Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many” (Math 27:51-53 underline added).
     When Christ ascended on high He took paradise, the faithful of the Old Testament, with Him along with that thief who had confessed Him as Lord, was crucified with Him, buried with Him, and resurrected with Him.  The conclusion is that I was saved like the thief on the cross.  I too was crucified with Christ and buried with Him in the grave of baptism.  I was resurrected with Him to walk in a new life.  At the end of this earthly life I will ascend to the third heaven until the Day of Jesus Christ where I will dwell on the New Earth in the presence of my God.  If you want to be saved like the thief on the cross, you can be.  You have two choices.  You can time travel back to the Old Testament era preceding the date of the crucifixion, become a thief, pray that the date of your execution is the same as Jesus’, get physically nailed to a cross with Jesus, get buried with Him, spend three days in Hades, and resurrect with Him, or you can confess Him as Lord today, be buried with Him in baptism, and resurrect to walk in a new life having crucified your old man.  Thank God for His grace that allows us to be crucified, buried, and resurrected through this simple act of obedience to His command and faith in the operation that He is performing through His promise:

“Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call” (Acts 3:38-39 - underline added).
Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead” (Col 2:12 KJV - underline added).
     What a beautiful picture of God’s loving grace.
His servant:
Bob Hartman

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