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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?

8 Answers 8

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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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  • 1
    Did you answer the question?
    – Kris
    May 4, 2021 at 1:24
  • 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." May 4, 2021 at 21:17
  • 2
    @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
    May 4, 2021 at 21:26
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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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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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  • @Dave-it is highly recommended that you read all the verses in the New Testament that mention the effectual and salvatory working of the blood of the Lamb. Then consider who was the first recipient of a drop of cleansing blood on Calvary!
    – ray grant
    Jul 28, 2023 at 21:03
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Technically, no, but in a sense, yes. It's impossible to say he was the first saved "under the New Covenant". The "New Covenant" was not yet in effect since "For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established." (Heb 9:16) Jesus had not yet died.

However, in the spirit of some other answers, yes. It's true that all saved - under Old Covenant system or New Covenant system or even before Old Covenant (Abram, Noah, et al) are "by faith". Other arguments for this affirmative "sense" would be that Jesus was from the beginning (Jn 1, Col 1:17-20) and the gospel/"good news" was preached before Jesus' day (Gal 3:8, 2 Pet 2:5).

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  • @CDB-Are we forgetting that Jesus did die first, then the thief had his legs broken to hasten his death? So the "Will" was in effect for a split second when the thief---now a born again, blood washed, sanctified, ex-con!---died, and met Jesus on the other side of the veil of death, and went arm in arm to Paradise! Amazing grace, unending love!
    – ray grant
    Jul 28, 2023 at 21:15
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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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  • @Xeno-Your use if "works" is unreasonable. Believe, repent, confess is how we all get saved (Romans 10:9). These do not refer to the "Works of the Law" as you confuse them; but are acts of a contrite heart that leads to salvation. He did not receive a unique "dispensation;" we all will die and go to Paradise because of the invitation of Christ.
    – ray grant
    Jul 28, 2023 at 21:22
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IS THE THIEF ON THE CROSS THE FIRST PERSON SAVED UNDER THE NEW COVENANT?

The way a person answers this depends on how much faith and importance he puts on the blood of Jesus. Consider the following verses:

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)

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a Lamb without blemish or defect. (1 Peter 1:18-19)

You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect. to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (Hebrews 12:23-24; also check out Exodus 12:13, When I see the blood, I will pass over you.)

In fact the Law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness (Hebrews 9:22, And Jesus fulfilled this Law for us!)

God presented Jesus as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in His blood. He did this to demonstrate His justice. (Romans 3:25, See also Revelation 12:11)

Jesus declared to the thief on the cross that He would be in Paradise (where the tree of life and God's throne are) that very day! And Jesus added "with Me!" What a consolation to a dying criminal.

Redeemed, and Born Again But wait! He's no longer a criminal; he's an ex-con! Jesus's body was bleeding. Blood was streaming down His face from the thorny crown on His head. Blood was oozing from the nails driven in His hands. Blood was being coughed up from His constricted lungs. The Lamb of God was shedding His blood for the redemption of men!

So how many drops did it take to cleanse the thief of ALL his sins? As the song writer once composed, Each drop of blood bought me a million years. Did it not take just one drop of blood to thoroughly wash away each crime from this man's "Rap Sheet"? Totally erased each conviction from the records? Expunged, deleted! He was now an ex-Con, a Convert!

Convict to Convert As Jesus realized, this man was now a blood-washed, redeemed, born again, sanctified, child of God! And he was bound for Paradise! Notice that Jesus didn't say, "See ya later, Joe." Jesus said, "You and Me, we'll go together." "We tight." Today you'll be with Me in Paradise. {Notice Jesus didn't say sheol or hades or Abraham's bosom; he said Paradise, the same place Paul's mystery man had ascended to.} There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus! Just an eternal destiny. The criminal's "sin debt" outlined in every legal code (Roman and Mosaic) was nailed to the cross (Col. 2:14).

What amazing grace. Jesus took a man off from Death Row (literally) and escorted him to heaven. The blood of Jesus can do that. Even grandma knew that because she sang:

  • What can wash away my sins? nothing but the blood of Jesus.
  • What can make me whole again? Nothing but the Blood of Jesus.

Bloody Answer Yes! The criminal (blood-washed ex-con, convert) was the first to be redeemed by the Blood of the Lamb. Saved under the blood covenant. Jesus saw to it.

{To make sure of this man's salvation, Jesus 'gave up the ghost' (died) so that, according to Paul's analogy, the Will of the testator could take effect. (Hebrews 9:16) Jesus then waited on the other side of the veil of death a few minutes while the ex-con's legs were broken so he would die, and then joined Him to go to Paradise together.}

Addendum We know that it is just a movie (novel by Lew Wallace), but Ben Hur displayed the efficacy of the Blood of Jesus at the end of the movie. Judah Ben Hur was huddled with his leperous mother and sister in a small cave during the windy rain storm that enveloped the Crucifixion scene. The picture showed drops of Jesus's blood dropping down the wooden cross in a small trickle, and falling into a puddle on the ground. Then a stream of water carried the precious blood farther down the hill of Golgotha until it reached the place where Judah and his family were huddled. And the moment the Blood reached them, the leprosy was gone. The women were totally healed!

And just as Andre Crouch composed the words: The blood that Jesus shed for me, way back on Calvary, the Blood that gives me strength from day to day, it will never lose its power!...Thank God, it reaches to the highest mountain. And it flows to the lowest valley. The blood that gives me strength from day to day; it will never, never lose its power.

Even in death, the Blood of Jesus has healing, saving power. Ask the thief.

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Jesus pronounced several people "saved" prior to the man who died with him on Calvary. So no, this man was not the first person saved under the New Covenant.

  • Matthew 9:22 Jesus turned around and saw her, and said, “Courage, daughter! Your faith has saved you.”

  • Mark 10:52 Jesus told him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.”

  • Luke 8:50 On hearing this, Jesus answered him, “Do not be afraid; just have faith and she will be saved.”

  • Luke 19:9-10 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house because this man [Zacchaeus] too is a descendant of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”

It may be objected that Jesus did not refer to salvation in the Christian sense here, but only to salvation from sin, disease and death. But was this salvation not done under the New Covenant? And what do people need saving from if not sin and death?

The problem with the above is that it seem to contradict Paul's teaching that, under the New Covenant, one is saved only by faith in Christ's atoning death and resurrection.

24 They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as an expiation, through faith, by his blood, to prove his righteousness because of the forgiveness of sins previously committed. (Rom. 3:24-25)

I would argue that this formula applies only after the fact of Jesus' crucifixion. While he still walked the earth, Jesus had the authority to forgive sin (Matthew 9:6, etc.) and save from death, which in Paul's teaching is the essential sign of salvation and can only be the result of faith in his atoning sacrifice. Nor was Jesus only speaking of the promise of future salvation when he said people were saved -- they actually were saved from death, disease and sin, as this is the plain sense of the text.

Unfortunately, the question invites doctrine-based answers rather that strict hermeneutical analysis. I have tried to base mine on relevant scripture. Paul looked back at Jesus' salvific power through the the lens of the Cross, but the Jesus who walked the earth was not bound by Paul's soteriology.

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  • Saved The word in Greek, sodzo, has a double meaning: "healing" of the body, as well as "saving" of the soul, depending on the context. So the type of saving in this question would be different than the healings you listed, even though the English word "saved" is used. Luke 19:9 is the exception you list. BUT recall that the New Covenant is a blood Covenant so to be fully in effect, blood must be shed. (Romans 2:25, Luke 22:20) The blood was shed, the robber confessed his sins, and recognized the Lordship of Jesus. (Luke 23:41-43) The blood of Jesus cleansed his "rap sheet" SAVED!
    – ray grant
    Aug 5, 2023 at 23:08
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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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  • @RayButterworth-How does your interpretation line up with the Biblical verse: It is appointed unto man once to die, and after that, the Judgment. (Hebrews 9:27)?
    – ray grant
    Aug 1, 2023 at 21:09
  • @raygrant, "judgement" doesn't mean conviction and punishment. Most people will live this life, die without being offered salvation, and then be physically restored to life in the second resurrection. At that time they will be taught God's way and then they will be judged on how they received their first and only offer of salvation. The few that do reject it will experience "the second death" (mentioned 4 times in Revelation) and be permanently destroyed. Aug 1, 2023 at 23:09
  • @Ray Butterworth--The Plain Truth, well spoken. But be careful, this kind of talk will not win you many friends.
    – moron
    Aug 6, 2023 at 0:23
  • @moron, Yes, I'm well aware of that (and if I weren't, the number of my answers that get downvotes would be a good hint). If I didn't already have a SE name, I might have chosen something like "Minority Report" for this site. I try to represent a position that is different from what most others have. Aug 6, 2023 at 0:44

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