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.
Jesus Is Alive!
By Jeff Curtis
Tombstones proclaim, in whatever words are inscribed, “Here lies one who lived is now deceased.” Jesus’ tomb, in contrast, was empty; it proclaimed a different message. The day Jesus died was the darkest day in history, but three days later that changed. Paul wrote that, if Jesus is still dead, then “we are of all men most to be pitied” (1Corinthians 15:19).
Upon what legitimate basis can we place our confidence in the resurrection?
The resurrection was prophesied (Matthew 28:6). It was prophesied in the Old Testament (Psa. 16:8-11; Isa. 53:10-12; Hosea 6:2), and Jesus often spoke of it Himself (Matt. 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; 27:40,63; John 2:19).
The resurrection was proven (Matthew 28:7-10). It was confirmed by eyewitnesses, and the empty tomb was proof. In addition, the transformed lives of His disciples gave evidence that Jesus had risen from the dead. The church stands today as a testimony to our risen Lord.
The resurrection was received with skepticism (Matthew 28:11-17). In spite of the proofs, from the beginning people doubted. Many efforts have been made to explain away the resurrection.
After Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus buried the body of Jesus in Joseph’s tomb, they went home to prepare for the Sabbath. If that was the end of the story, we would have every reason to be sad – because we would be living in a world without hope. Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth about the resurrection (1Corinthians 15:19). Why? If Jesus did not rise from the dead, our faith and our preaching are in vain, the apostles and others who said they saw Jesus alive after His resurrection were all liars, we are still in our sins, those who died in the Lord have perished, and this world is still without a Savior (1Corinthians 15:14-18). To the contrary, Paul asserted, “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep” (1Corinthians 15:20). In other passages he tells us that Jesus “was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1:4).
The day Jesus died was literally and figuratively the darkest day in human history. Even those closest to Him didn’t believe they would ever see Him again. His disciples went into hiding in an upper room somewhere in Jerusalem (John 20:19). They didn’t really believe that He would return to life, even though they had seen Him raise others from the dead. However, on the first day of the week, all of that changed as reports began to circulate that His body was missing from the tomb. One by one his followers began to share amazing stories of having seen Him alive. Some walked with Him, talked with Him, and even ate with Him. It soon became evident that these were not the reports of a few fanatical followers hallucinating because of their deep grief. Jesus was really alive. That one fact dramatically changed everything.
What difference does the resurrection make? It makes an eternal difference in the lives of those who believe and accept it.