Much has been made of Jesus’ statement to the thief on the cross given in Luke 23: 32-43 (read that, as well as every other scripture when it is cited). The “saved” thief was obviously a God-fearer, and, therefore, a Jew. All three who died on the cross that day, lived and died under the old covenant through which every repentant Jew was protected by animal sacrifices that were done every year (Leviticus 16; Hebrews 9: 7). The sacrifices could not take away sin; rather, they were an annual reminder of guil t that pointed to Jesus‘ death on the cross. Only Jesus’ sacrifice could atone for sin (Hebrews 9: 24-10: 10).
Jesus made the promise to the thief before he died, and was raised, so the animal sacrifice was still in effect.Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection is now complete, making the terms of the first covenant complete for those who were obedient it and freeing them from sins committed under that covenant (Hebrews 9: 15). That included all obedient Jews who had died, including the one thief. That’s what God told his people (Genesis 17: 1-14; Deuteronomy 10: 15, 16) before Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. You and I need to pay attention to what God/Jesus says to us now (Hebrews 1: 1-4; Luke 6: 46-49), under the n ew covenant.After his resurrection, Jesus told his disciples to go into all the world preaching the gospel (Matthew 28: 18-20). The gospel includes the message about Christ (1 Corinthians 15: 1-8) as well as the message from Christ, all of it. It is not appropriate to teach or preach one without the other, or to omit any part.
Doing either of these is not speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4: 14-16). The message from Christ was for his followers to obey all his commands. On the first Pentecost after the resurrectio n, Peter preached the first gospel sermon (Acts chapter 2). When those present realized the truth about Jesus, they asked what they were to do (Acts 2: 36, 37). Peter gave them the instructions Jesus had given, including the requirement for baptism (Mark 16: 15, 16; Acts 2: 38). They complied and became Christians (the saved, disciples, those who love and follow Christ by obeying his commands, John 14: 15; Acts 2: 41, 47; 11: 26). In Acts 2: 39, Peter tells us to whom the promise of forgiveness given throu gh baptism applies. Now whether you consider yourself one of them (“you,” the Jews present at that time), or one their children (any Jew since then), or “those who are far off” (the Gentiles), hopefully you’ll consider yourself as one of the, “all whom the Lord our God shall call” (read also Acts 17: 30).The reason Jesus told the thief one thing and the Jews at Pentecost (only 50 days later) something different is because there was a new covenant with new terms.
By his death he had taken away the first to establish the second. But, look again at the thief on the cross (Luke 23: 40-43). Although he lived and died under the old covenant, he also did everything required for salvation under the new covenant. First, he believed who Jesus was and what Jesus could do (John 8: 24). Second, he recognized his sin an d demonstrated repentance by humbly accepting the consequences of his actions (Luke 13: 3; Leviticus 26: 40-45). Third, he confessed his faith in Jesus (Matthew 10: 32, 33), And finally, he died with Christ that day (John 19: 31-37; Matthew 10: 37, 38). I know, that is might appear to be a stretch in the connection, but we, too, must die with Christ to have any hope of being with him in paradise (Romans 6: 3-11, esp. vs. 5). These are the terms of the new covenant. This is what God says we must do now to b e his people (Galatians 3: 26-29; Romans 2: 28, 29; Colossians 2: 11, 12).
Have you been united with Christ like this in Christian baptism so that your sins can be forgiven and you can become one of God‘s people (Acts 2: 38, 41, 47; 22: 16)? We really must listen to, humbly accept, and obey what God/Jesus says to us today if we want to be with him in paradise. After we’ve been united with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection, we must live our new life for God, continuing to serve him by obeying all the commands of Jesus and seeking forgiveness as his people when we fail (1 John 1: 5-9; John 13: 10).