The Encourager

The Encourager

“What About the Thief on the Cross”

What About the Thief on the Cross?

By Jeff Curtis


Using the story of the thief as an example for non-Christians today to violate a principle taught in 2Timothy 2:15: “Be diligent to present yourself approved of God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” One way to handle the word of truth is to distinguish between that which relates to the old covenant (Old Testament) period and that which relates to the new covenant period.

The Bible teaches that Jesus’ death is dividing point between the old and the new covenants. Paul wrote to the Colossians that God “made you alive together with Him [Christ], having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14). In case there was a question about what regulations the apostle had in mind, he listed several categories in verse 16: rules “in regard to food or drink or in respect to festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day.” The phrase “Sabbath day” proves that Paul included the law of Moses in his statement; one the Ten Commandments was “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8).

The phrase “canceled out” and “taken it out of the way” are strong terms indicating that the Law had been abolished. When did that occur? Notice the words “having nailed it to the cross.” This is not a reference to the piece wood on which Christ was nailed, but rather the allusion to the death of Jesus. Jesus, and Jesus only, fulfilled the old covenant, keeping its demands perfectly. At the end of His life, it became a fulfilled (completed) agreement. The old covenant was “taken out of the way” at Jesus’ death.

At the same time the new covenant came into force. In Hebrews 9:15, we read that Jesus “is the mediator of a new covenant.” He then explained what had to transpire before that new covenant came into effect: “For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it. For a covenant is valid only when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it lives” (Hebrews 9:16-17). The analogy is based on a special covenant (or agreement) called “a last will and testament” go into effect? When the will-maker dies; and not before. Many Bibles have these words on the page before the Book of Matthew: “The New Testament of Jesus Christ.” When did Jesus’ New Testament go into effect? When He died. The death of Christ was the end of the Old Testament Era and beginning of the New Testament Era.

The thief is not an example for the salvation of non-Christians today because he was forgiven before the old law was taken out of the way. True, he was promised Paradise just a few hours before Jesus died, but the promised was still given “on the Old Testament side” of the cross/

The comparison between the New Testament and a last will and testament can be extended. A principal purpose of a will is distribution of the will-maker’s property. After the will-maker dies, people have to follow the terms of the will to benefit from the provisions of the will. As long as the will-maker is alive, he can distribute his property on any basis he desires.

As far as the inspired record goes, during His earthly ministry, Jesus exercised His right to forgive sins only a handful of times: in the cases of the paralytic (Matthew 9:2-6), the woman taken in adultery (John 8:3-11), and the thief on the cross. All are examples of Jesus distributing His spiritual assets before His “last will and testament” came into effect; none should be used to try to establish the basis on which a non-Christian is saved today.