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Luke 23:

39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence?

41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

In the previous chapter Jesus speaks of the new covenant He brings:

In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. (Luke 22:20)

Is Jesus indicating the thief is receiving salvation in the new covenant? Would this be the first time someone was saved through the new covenant?

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Everyone who is saved is saved by the New Covenant.

The "Old Covenant" is the one in which we broke our promise to God. The "New Covenant" is its replacement; however, it is not "new" in the sense of not having previously existed--it is "new" in the sense of "renew," just like the moon being "new" (e.g. Isaiah 66:23) each month and God's mercies being "new" to us every morning (see Lamentations 3:22-23).

We are all saved by Jesus (see Acts 4:12). This applies to anyone who has ever lived.

"And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel." (Hebrews 12:24)

The Bible never says Jesus is mediator for, nor saves anyone by, the Old Covenant. Only the New Covenant applies.

[See also Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Hebrews 8:8-13.]

From here it is a matter of definitions: Was Adam saved first, being the first to receive salvation by faith in God's promise? or was Enoch saved first, being the first one taken to heaven?

As a case could be made for saying even Enoch, Moses, and Elijah, who were already in Heaven at the time Jesus was on earth, might have lost their salvation if Christ had failed in his mission, one could next attempt to identify who came first after Christ's mission had been successfully completed. But wouldn't Adam and the others already have been in the queue?

In the end, we can all praise God for the opportunity to be saved, and count it of small importance as to whom should be the first, remembering these words of Jesus:

"So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen." (Matthew 20:16)

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  • Did you answer the question? – Kris 2 days ago
  • That Matthew 20:16 quotation is talking about only the relatively small number of people that will be saved in the first resurrection. The same people are spoken of in Revelation 20:6: "Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years." – Ray Butterworth yesterday
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    @RayButterworth The first resurrection, according to the text in Revelation which you cited, is the only one for those who are "blessed and holy." The "second death" applies to the second resurrection, which comes at the end of the thousand years. But Matthew 20:16 is not addressing resurrections. – Polyhat yesterday
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In all honesty I would say about 90 to 95% of the answers will say no. They base this answer on the fact that the Old Testament people were under the old covenant or the keeping of the Law.

The Old Testament Saints were saved by faith just as the New Testament Saints are. Please read the 11th chapter of Hebrews. Also the Apostle Paul says the following at Galatians 3:11-12, "Now that no one is justified by Law before God is evident, for The Righteous shall live by faith." Vs12, However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, He who practices them shall live by them." And Galatians 3:24, "Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith."

What's interesting about what Paul wrote is the fact that he is quoting the Old Testament. Habakkuk 2:4, "Behold as for the proud one, His soul is not right within him; But the righteous will live by his faith." I suggest you read Romans 4 where Paul goes into detail about the Law etc.

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Is the thief on the cross the first person saved under the new covenant?

No. There are three important facts about the thief on the cross:

  1. He died before the Gospel was in effect;
  2. He had both faith and works;
  3. He received a unique dispensation.

First: The thief died before the Gospel was in effect. Although the Gospel was preached before his death (Mark 1), it was not fulfilled and binding until Jesus arose from the grave (perhaps even as late as Pentecost). The death and subsequent resurrection of Jesus ended the Law of Moses; while on the Cross, the Law remained. Colossians 2 elaborates these circumstances:

Colossians 2:14: "[Christ] 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."

Presuming he was a Jew, the thief was part of that covenant. Therefore, his hope was not as a Christian.

Second: The thief on the cross had both faith and works. We know faith without works is not faith:

James 2:26: “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”

According to Luke, the thief:

  • Believed in Jesus on the cross;
  • He repented of his sins;
  • He confessed Jesus as Lord before men.

All three of these things are called “works” by Scripture.

Belief is a work:

John 6:29: "Jesus answered and said to [the people], 'This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.'”

Confession is a work:

Matthew 10:32: "Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven."

Repentance is a work:

Acts 26:20: "[But] declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance."

The thief's words reflected repentance while his confession confirmed faith:

James 2:24: “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.”

Third: The thief on the cross received the Grace of God through a “unique dispensation”. The thief's gift did not typify our expectations, but served to demonstrate Christ's authority to forgive sins.

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No. Impossible. The ‘work’ on the cross was not yet complete. Jesus hadn’t yet finished. And, the resurrection was still 3 days away -

ROMANS 4:24 but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.

Verse 24 is talking about righteousness - which is required for [eternal] Life, which the ‘thief’ would receive, [like all Old Testament saints] but could not yet receive, because justification requires Jesus to be raised.

There is far more to what Jesus needed to accomplish than ‘just’ his death. It was also about his ‘life’ and his ‘resurrection’, and even what happened after his resurrection.

That is, what Jesus accomplished required his death, but it actually required more than ‘just’ his death.

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No, the thief wasn't the first person saved; in fact he wasn't saved at all.

This erroneous idea that the thief was saved comes from the common mistranslation of verse 43:

Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

The original Greek writing was written all in one case, without any punctuation. That comma between "you" and "today" was inserted by the translators, based on their own understanding.

A few other translations place a comma differently, such as:

And Jesus said to him, "Truly, I tell you today, you shall be with Me in paradise."
— A Faithful Version

Jesus said to him, Truly I say to you today, you will be with me in Paradise.
— Lamsa Bible

This meaning better fits the Greek language structure, with "I tell you today" corresponding to the "when you come into your kingdom".

It also better fits the doctrinal teachings of the Bible.

Rather than leaving the thief in doubt about his fate, waiting for Jesus to return and perhaps remember him, Jesus assures him immediately that they will meet again in Paradise.

Many people blindly assume that "Paradise" is a synonym for "Heaven". It isn't. Paradise is a large walled garden that will be placed on Earth during the Millennium, when Christ returns to Earth to rule his kingdom with the saints.

This Paradise in God's Kingdom on Earth is described in detail in the Book of Revelation.

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.” ’
— Revelation 2:7

At the end of the Millennium, all the people that have ever lived and died without the opportunity for salvation will be physically resurrected ("the second resurrection"). They will live again in the Kingdom of God, here on Earth, and have their opportunity for salvation.

But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. …
— Revelation 20:5

Remember, God wants everyone to be saved, even thieves and the billions of people that never had a chance to even hear the name Jesus, the only name by which one can be saved.

For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
— 1Timothy 2:3–4

The thief will soon experience death and will then immediately (from his point of view) be alive and well again in the Kingdom of God, where he will meet Christ, will learn and understand God's way of life, and will have the opportunity for salvation.

So no, the thief wasn't saved that day two thousand years ago. But it is very likely that he will be saved in another thousand years from now.

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