The Thief On The Cross Was Saved Without Being Baptised!


The thief on the cross has become an example of how a person is saved in the eyes of many sincere people. Earlier this same thief had joined the other thief in reproaches against Christ at the beginning of the crucifixion, Matthew 27:44.

However as time passes, we see in this man, unfailing evidence of a great change. He becomes increasingly aware that this was God Himself in the person of Jesus.

We read of genuine repentance and humility on the part of this dying thief, Luke 23:39 / 2 Corinthians 7:10. We read of his faith in God, Luke 23:40 and we read of his open confession of the Deity of Jesus, he calls Jesus, ‘Lord’, KYV, Luke 23:42.

He wanted to change and be in the Lord’s kingdom, with Jesus as his king, Luke 23:42. ‘Jesus answered him, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise,’ Luke 23:43 / Luke 16:22 / 2 Corinthians 12:1-4 / Revelation 2:7.

Many people spend time arguing as to whether or not the thief was baptised earlier by John, Mark 1:1-5 / John 4:1-2. He certainly knew some truths concerning Jesus but was he baptised by John?

Maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t, the Bible doesn’t say. Even if he was baptised by John, we know that John’s baptism became irrelevant because John’s baptism pointed to Christ and people were to be baptised in Jesus’s name after Jesus rose from the grave, Acts 2:38 / Acts 19:1-6.

The question isn’t, was the thief on the cross saved? The question is, how can he be saved without being baptised?

There is no doubt that the thief was saved WITHOUT being baptised and as a result, many people point to the thief on the cross to argue that baptism isn’t required today for salvation because he wasn’t baptised. However, we need to remember the following:

1. The salvation of this thief occurred while the Law of Moses was still in effect.

However, today, we live under the new law of Christ found in the New Testament, not under the Law of Moses. When Jesus was alive on earth, He lived under the law of Moses, Galatians 4:4, and He had the authority to forgive sins, Matthew 9:6 / Mark 2:10 / Luke 5:24. But at the time of His death, His authority to forgive sins was transferred to His testamentary ‘will’, Hebrews 9:15-17.

Jesus had to die to bring His testament into force. And the terms of that new covenant states baptism as a condition for the forgiveness of sin, Mark 16:16 / Acts 2:38 / Acts 22:16.

2. The thief could not obey a command which had not yet been given.

Jesus didn’t give the command for everyone to be baptised until AFTER He rose from the grave, Mark 16:15-16 / Matthew 28:18-20. Common sense tells us he could hardly come down from the cross to be baptised.


I believe that circumstances are truly relevant, however, most of the circumstances people give as examples are often extreme and the people giving those circumstances are not in the same position.

For example, someone is stranded in the middle of the desert, and after reading their Bible, they come to believe, repent of their sin, and confess that Jesus is Lord, but there is no water around. A few weeks later they die without being baptised.

Would they be saved? That is another exceptional circumstance, and some would say yes, they are saved, and others would say no, they are condemned.

Here is another example, if a person who comes to believe in Christ, repents of their sin and confesses Him as Lord of their life but as they are on their way to be baptised, they are involved in a fatal car accident and they die.

Would they be saved? Again, this is an exceptional circumstance, and some would say yes, they are saved, and others would say no, they are condemned.

Here’s another example, if a person commits a sin one day, forgets about it, didn’t confess their sin to God, and died in their sleep, would they be saved? That is another exceptional circumstance, and some would say yes, they are saved, and others would say no, they are condemned.

In all three of these examples and I am sure there are many others, I do not believe Christians should put themselves in the position of God in terms of these people’s eternal fate.

We shouldn’t put ourselves in a position where we become the judge, jury and executioner. We don’t know what was in their heart at the time of their deaths like God does, Jeremiah 17:10 / Acts 1:24, and so, we should just trust that God will do what is right in those circumstances, Genesis 18:25.

Exception Rule

‘Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.’ Hebrews 9:27

I am sure everyone would agree that the above verse is the general rule for all of mankind, people will die once and then face judgment. But were there any exceptions to this general rule?

The answer is yes, the exceptions to this general rule were Enoch, Genesis 5:22-24 / Hebrews 11:5, and Elijah, 2 Kings 2:11, as both men did not die but went to heaven.

Are people going to believe and teach that people will no longer die, like Enoch and Elijah, but will go straight to heaven based on these two exceptions to the rule? Surely no one would suggest such a thing.

Then why do people believe and teach the exception rule concerning the thief of the cross and ignore the general rules for salvation? The general rules always outweigh the exceptions.

General Rules

Many people go to the exception rule as an example for salvation, as a means of bypassing baptism but ignore the general rules for salvation. And what are the general rules?

The general rules are what we see happening when people heard the Gospel after Jesus rose from the grave. Everyone we read about in the Book of Acts not only heard the Gospel but obeyed the command to be baptised, Acts 2:14-41 / Acts 8:5-13 / Acts 8:35-39 / Acts 9:1-20 / Acts 10:34-48 / Acts 16:13 / Acts 16:32 / Acts 18:8 / Acts 19:1-5.

If baptism was an optional extra as some claim, then why was Paul baptised, and why did he and Peter preach and teach it? Romans 6:3-5 / Ephesians 4:5 / Galatians 3:27-28 / Colossians 2:11-12 / Titus 3:5 / 1 Peter 3:21.

Why did people obey the command to be baptised, if all they had to do was believe to be saved like the thief did? None of this makes sense unless we understand the importance of baptism.

None of this makes sense unless we understand that people were baptised because Christ commanded it, John 3:1-5 / Mark 16:15-16 / Matthew 28:18-20.

Importance Of Baptism

Faith is expressed in humble obedience. Mark 16:16

Come in contact with the atoning blood of Jesus. Ephesians 1:7 / 1 John 1:7 / Revelation 1:5

Done by Father, Son and Spirit in the spiritual realm. 1 Corinthians 12:13 / Colossians 2:12

Believers’ heart is circumcised by Jesus. Colossians 2:11-12

Death burial and rebirth of the believer occurs. John 3:5-7 / Romans 6:2-11

All sins are forgiven and remembered no more. Acts 2:38

Spirit of God is given as a gift to live in the saved believer. Acts 2:38

Clothed with Christ (put in Christ) and becomes a son of God. Galatians 3:26-29

Baptised believer is added by God into His kingdom. Acts 2:47

Baptised believer enters into a close purifying fellowship with God, and fellowship with other saved believers. 1 John 1:3-7

Baptised believer is raised alive with Christ and seated with God in Christ in the heavenly realms. Ephesians 2:4-6


There is no denying that the thief on the cross was in an extremely difficult circumstance. The thief on the cross was an exception to the general rules for salvation because of his circumstances.

The thief on the cross is a wonderful example of grace and forgiveness; and demonstrates that it is never too late to come to Jesus.

The person in the desert, the person dying in a car crash, the person forgetting to confess his sin and the thief on the cross are all examples of the exception rule and their circumstances were truly relevant.

However, they are not the general rules for salvation. The thief on the cross is not an example of what one must do to be saved today as his salvation was based upon a different covenant, different circumstances, and a different relationship to Jesus.

Most people today are not under these kinds of circumstances, yet they sincerely go to the exception rule for salvation and totally ignore the general rules for salvation.

Christians don’t live under the Law of Moses today as the thief did, yet some sincerely go to his example for salvation but totally ignore every single example we have in the Book of Acts of what people did to be saved.

Most people have access to water today, no one is hanging on a cross next to Jesus today, and so they are not in the same circumstance as the man in the desert or the thief on the cross.

Instead of focusing on the man on the cross who asked Jesus to remember him when he came into His kingdom, Luke 23:42, why not simply obey the words which Jesus commanded AFTER He rose from the grave? Mark 16:15-16 / Matthew 28:18-20.

Why not simply follow the general rules for salvation which God has laid down within His Word?

God’s Plan Of Salvation Hasn’t Changed

God’s Part

1. The great love of God for man. John 3:16

2. He gave His Son, Jesus Christ, as the Saviour. Luke 19:10

3. Sent the Holy Spirit as a guide. John 16:13

4. Gave the Gospel (Good News) as ‘the power’ unto salvation. Romans 1:16

5. Provided atonement by the blood of Christ. Romans 5:9

Your Part

1. Hear the Gospel. Romans 10:17 / John 8:32

2. Believe the Gospel. Hebrews 11:6 / John 20:31

3. Repent of past sins. Luke 13:3 / Acts 17:30

4. Confess faith in Jesus Christ. Romans 10:10 / Matthew 10:32

5. Be Baptised ‘full immersion’. Galatians 3:27 / Mark 16:16 / Acts 2:38

6. Be faithful unto death. Revelation 2:10