The Thieves On The Crosses
Recently there appeared in Sound Words, edited by Bro. John O'Dowd, an article from the pen of the editor on "The Thieves On The Crosses." He has a late model theory concerning this matter. Not many months ago I heard him deliver it in sermon form from the pulpit. The sermon had as many vulnerable points as any denominational sermon I ever heard. I could have replied to it from the pulpit, but conditions were such at the time that I deemed it unwise to do so. However, it is a matter that deserves careful study, and I am glad to give consideration to the position advocated by Bro. O'Dowd.
In the sermon it was contended that both thieves on the crosses were lost because:
Both Did The Same Thing
An appeal was made to the gospel records of Matthew, Mark and Luke. With reference to Matthew's record it was shown that the chief priests, scribes and elders mocking him said: "He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him. He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God." Mat. 27:42, 43. So these statements made by these men were shown to be mockery—they mocked him. But verse 44 says: The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth." So what the others did, the thieves did also. Hence, they mocked him as they cast the same words in his teeth that others had used. Emphasis was placed upon the fact that Matthew says "the thieves"—not just one of them, but both of them mocked him. Attention was next directed to Mark's record which says: "And they that were crucified with him reviled him." Mark 15:32. It was not a reviling by one only, but "they reviled him." So both thieves did exactly the same thing. Then Luke's record came up for study. And from Luke 23:39 this statement was drawn: "The malefactors railed on him." The speaker went on to show what one of them said" Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom." And he declared that God through Luke said this was railing on the Son of God. He knew nothing about the kingdom, it was said, except by the inscription on the cross" The King of the Jews." It was claimed that the thief used that as a starting point for some fun-making, and his words were paraphrased after this fashion: "Why, you the king of the Jews? Huh, some king! We admit that we are thieves, but you claim you have done nothing amiss. But there you are! Dying on the cross like we are! Well, we will soon be dead and will go to a thief's resort. So we will just elect you to be our king. Now, having elected you as our king, remember me (who led in your election) when you ascend your throne as our king." Thus it was contended that the statement of the thief was nothing but mockery. The whole thing was said to be reproach, because God through Luke said it was.
Now, with respect to the foregoing reasoning, I wish to say that I have never heard any one say that both thieves did not revile the Son of God. According to the records of Matthew and Mark both were guilty. But I have always contended that one of them changed his attitude and asked to be remembered by the Lord when he came into his kingdom. However, if God through Luke said the statement relative to the kingdom was mockery, then I just have been wrong about it all the while. But I want you to know this: Neither God nor Luke said anything of the kind. Luke does not say, "The malefactors railed on him." Yet this is the way Bro. O'Dowd quoted it and actually had it written on the blackboard that way. And he quotes it the same way in his paper. But it misrepresents Luke, for he said no such thing. Here is what Luke said: "And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us." Luke 23:39. Does that sound like the statement already mentioned? Not "the malefactors railed on him," but "one of the malefactors" did so. It is true that both had done so, but at the time which Luke records, he says one of them railed on him. Well, how about the other? Notice it. "But the other --." Now, get that. "But." One railed on him, but the other did something else. It doesn't say, "And the other did the same." That is what this late model theory says, but Luke did not say it. According to Luke, it is "but" instead of "and." That draws a contrast between the two. What one said was railing, but what the other said was not railing—he said and did something else. What was it? "But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom." Luke 23:40-42. In drawing this contrast between the two men, God through Luke said this statement of the thief relative to being remember was not railing. It is not true that they both did the same thing. They did at the beginning, but both did not continue to do the same thing. One of them continued his reproach and asked to be remembered by the Lord. If this thief continued to reproach the Christ, why did he rebuke the other for continuing his? To sustain that idea, it should read that he commended the other. But why make either God or Luke say the very reverse of what they said? Such is wresting the Scriptures. So just remember that Luke said "one railed on him," but the other followed a different course, and what he said and did was not railing. If this is not so, then some one must take the "but" and the "rebuke" out of Luke's record.
One of them said, "Save thyself and us." The other said, "Lord, remember me." Bro. O'Dowd said the first was an unselfish prayer—he prayed for some one besides himself. But the second, he said, was a selfish prayer; he prayed for himself alone. And the advocate of this theory says: "I had much prefer to take my chance with the thief in eternity that everyone says was lost, than with the one that all say was saved. This was the noblest prayer of the two." But the first was not a prayer at all. Luke says: "One of the malefactors railed on him, saying, if thou be Christ, save thyself and us." This statement according to Luke, was not a prayer at all, but it was pure mockery, reproach, railing or reviling. But the words of the other are contrasted with these words of reproach, thus showing the statement, "Lord, remember me," was not reproach. The words of the first were insincere; but the request of the second was sincere. Any one can prefer his chance with the first if he so desires, but I have different ideas with respect to my preference. I would rather take my stand with that which Luke put in contrast with reproach. Every request, of course, is not a prayer in the full sense of the term, but just grant that this was a prayer. Cannot a man pray for anything that concerns himself without being selfish? When Simon the sorcerer sinned, Peter said to him: "Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee." Did Peter tell him to pray a selfish prayer? Did Bro. O'Dowd ever pray for anything that concerned him alone? Was he selfish when he did so?
Sinners' Prayers Not Heard
The sermon next called attention to a number of Scriptures that state that God does not hear the prayers of sinners. The references given were as follows: Prov. 28:9; 1 Pet. 3:12; Prov. 1:24-28; John 9:31. With these we are familiar. But do they indicate that Jesus could not forgive the sins of the thief on the cross? Do these indicate that Jesus could grant no request made of him by sinners? A simple request is not always a prayer in the strict sense of the term. On one occasion a centurion, a Gentile sinner, came to Jesus with a request for his afflicted servant to be healed. Jesus granted the request. Mat. 8:15-13. On another occasion a Canaanite woman, a sinner, requested Jesus to heal her daughter. The request was granted. Mat. 15:21-28. If Jesus could grant these requests without being disobedient to his Father's will, why could he not grant the request of the thief? The fact is that Jesus was a testator (Heb. 9:16, 17), and he could dispense his blessings as he saw fit without it being a violation of God's will. As such he healed the afflicted as already mentioned; he forgave the sins of the sick of the palsy on the faith of his friends (Mat. 9:2-7) ; he forgave the sins of the sinful woman (Luke 7:37-47) ; he bestowed salvation upon Zacchaeus (Luke 18:1-9) ; and he promised the thief he would go to paradise that day. As a testator he had a perfect right to do all these things.
Paradise The Grave
The following is from a statement in Sound Words (And it agrees with statements made in the sermon): " `Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.' To determine the significance of this word all we have to do is determine where Christ went that day. To the heart of the earth' alone did Christ and the thief go. ** Mat. 12:40. Christ simply told the thief that they would both rest in the tomb that day." So the word "paradise" is made to mean the grave. The word means a pleasure garden, but how any one can think of the grave as a "pleasure garden" is beyond me. The three times the word occurs in the Bible do not always refer to the same place, for once it is used to refer to heaven itself (Rev. 2:7); but it never refers to the grave. No one claims that Jesus and the thief went directly to heaven that day. After his resurrection Jesus told Mary that he had not yet ascended to his Father. John 20:17. Paradise is a proper description of heaven; it is also a proper description of the place where Jesus went the day of his death: but it is not a proper description of the grave. To say that Jesus went only to the grave is to accept the doctrine of materialism and to declare that Jesus was no more than a beast. His body went to the grave; but his spirit did not go to the grave. He went somewhere else besides the grave. In an effort to prove that paradise means the grave, Bro. O'Dowd presented the following parallel:
To the Thief: "Today shalt thou be with me in paradise."-Jesus.
To Saul: "Tomorrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me." -Samuel (1 Sam. 28:19).
But Samuel came "up out of the earth." 1 Sam. 28:13. And Jesus went to "the heart of the earth." Mat. 12:40. It is claimed, therefore, that the only difference between the two statements is in point of time—one was to occur "today" and the other "tomorrow." And it is contended that Samuel simply told Saul that he and his sons would be buried tomorrow; and Jesus simply told the thief that he would be buried today. But some parallels are rather deadly; and this parallel proves that this late model theory is all wrong. For Bible readers know that Saul and his son were not buried "tomorrow" from the time Samuel made his statement. The record tells of the battle the next day between Israel and the Philistines in which Saul and his sons were slain. 1 Sam. 31:6. But their bodies lay on the field of battle till the morrow after that. 1 Sam. 30:8. Saul's head was cut off and sent to the land of the Philistines and they fastened his body to the wall of Bethshan. 1 Sam. 30:9. The news reached the men of Jabesh-Gilead, and they traveled all night to Bethshan to get the bodies of Saul and his sons. They took them to Jabesh and burned them, and afterwards buried their bones under a tree a Jabesh. 1 Sam. 30:11-13. So it was at least several days after Samuel made the statement to Saul before he was buried. Hence, the statement, "Tomorrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me," had no reference to their burial. If so, then Samuel missed it a number of days. I would rather think O'Dowd is wrong than to think Samuel was wrong. But Samuel told the truth—they were with him the next day in /he hadean world—in Hades—for they died on the morrow. But they were not with him in the grave. And when Jesus told the thief they would both go to paradise that day, he had no reference to the grave, but to a portion of the Hadean world called paradise—a pleasure garden. So these parallels upset completely the idea that paradise means the grave.
It is unnecessary to originate such a theory in the first place, for let the thief be saved without baptism, and that will have no effect on the plan of salvation today.
We are living since the will of Christ became ratified by his death, and we must meet the conditions of his will. The thief died before his will became effective.