Revelation 3:20 says, “Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” Once again, there are a few different things that we need to notice about this passage: #1, there is still no reference to The Sinner’s Prayer or to asking Jesus into your heart. #2, We must keep in mind the context. Revelation 3:14 sets up the context of this passage, “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write…” (emphasis mine). If this is to the angel of the church, then this passage is clearly written to those who are already Christians. We cannot take a Scripture dealing with those who are already Christians out of it’s context and apply it to the process of becoming a Christian.
Luke 23:43, “And he said to him, ‘Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.’” This passage is frequently referred to simply as, “The thief on the cross.” Many point to this passage as proof that baptism is not necessary for salvation, citing the fact that Jesus Himself clearly tells this man that he will be in Paradise with him. Once again, we must be very careful to take off the blinders of our preconceived ideas and let God’s Word speak for itself.
For starters, the New Testament baptism that is taught and practiced today is necessary as the point at which we contact the blood of Christ through his death, burial, and resurrection (Romans 6:1-14). How could it have been possible for the thief on the cross to be baptized into the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ when Jesus had not yet died? It is simply not possible, and certainly not logical. Until the church was established by the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost, the Jews were still under the Law of Moses, therefore Christian baptism would not have been necessary yet.
That being said, there is ample evidence that the thief on the cross had in fact been baptized under John’s baptism. Much of this evidence is seen in this very passage. In Luke 23:40 we read, “But the other rebuked him, saying, “‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’ And he said to Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Keep in mind here that the majority of the Jews believed that Jesus was a blasphemer who deserved to be crucified. How then did this particular man know that Jesus was innocent? How did he know that Jesus was capable of saving him? How did he know that Jesus, although he was dying, was going to come into his kingdom when even the apostles had believed that all was lost?
One logical answer to these questions is that this man had been taught and baptized by John the Baptizer. Luke 3:1-6 tells us that John was going throughout all the region around the Jordan proclaiming a baptism for the forgiveness of sins. John 1:35-42 and John 3:22-35 tell us that John was sending his disciples to Christ, and that Jesus himself was baptizing many of them. This would be after Jesus’ own baptism which we read about in Matthew 3:13-17, and was described as being necessary to fulfill all righteousness. (As a side note, if Jesus who actually was perfect was required to be baptized in order to fulfill all righteousness, what does that say about its necessity for us as lowly sinners?)
When one reads the Scriptures openly and honestly it becomes clear, based on his own statement of faith concerning the identity of Jesus the Christ, that the thief on the cross could very well have been baptized with the baptism of John (which, once again, was all that was required at the time) before he met Jesus on the cross. When this is added to the fact that the thief died before the resurrection, it becomes clear that if we are fair with the text, we cannot use him as an example of baptism not being necessary for salvation today.
Baptism, its necessity, and how and when it should be done are very sensitive issues in our world today. It is very difficult to even consider the idea that we might not be right with God when we have believed with all of our heart that we are. It is very difficult to accept the fact that what we have been taught by those we love, trust, and have respected all of our lives may not be accurate. In response, I beg you to please be like Apollos (Acts 18:24-28). I am convinced that those who teach that baptism is not essential, and teach that it is merely an outward showing, that sprinkling or pouring are adequate, or even that saying it is essential makes one guilty of a work of merit, are honestly and truly sincere and love Jesus. Apollos was described as a very fervent, knowledgeable, and sincere man. However, when he realized that his knowledge was incomplete he gladly accepted the teaching of Aquilla and Priscilla and changed his ways.
We have now been taught, the truth of scripture has been shown and demonstrated, not through the opinion of man, but through God’s word. What will we do with it now? Will we be an Apollos who loves Jesus enough to change long-held and fervently sincere beliefs, or will we be guilty of loving the teachings of others more than the teachings of Christ?
Articles in this Series: