I have several friends and acquaintances who point to the thief on the cross to show that baptism is not necessary for salvation. This is how I answer them.
To discuss the thief on the cross we need to start with James and John.
MK 10:35 James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, *came up to Jesus, saying, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You.”
MK 10:36 And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?”
MK 10:37 They said to Him, “ Grant that we may sit, one on Your right and one on *Your *left, in Your glory.”
MK 10:38 But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”
MK 10:39 They said to Him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you shall drink; and you shall be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized.
What is this baptism that Christ speaks of? We know that he was baptized by John. It is safe to assume that these disciples were baptized by water also. It would seem that He is speaking of a different baptism that water baptism.
The Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary has an interesting take on this baptism.
“**38 **Jesus’ answer is sharp and penetrating. The two disciples did not really know what they were asking. The way to privileged position in the messianic kingdom is not by grabbing for power but by relinquishing it through suffering and death. Jesus explained this to them by using the analogies of the cup and baptism. The cup, symbolizing trouble and suffering, is found in the OT (Ps 75:8; Isa 51:17; Jer 49:12; Eze 23:31-34 [see comment on 14:35-37]). Baptism is a symbol of a deluge of trouble (cf. Pss 18:16; 69:1-2).
**39-40 **With a confident “We can,” the disciples answered Jesus’ question about going through the suffering of his passion. How naive! James and John failed to understand what was involved in Jesus’ sufferings, though they would indeed participate in them. But to grant them privileged positions in his kingdom was not within his authority. Jesus refused to usurp the authority of his Father. “
Jesus was then speaking of His crucifixion in terms the cup and baptism.
Let us look at Paul’s take on baptism.
RO 6:3 Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?
RO 6:4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
RO 6:5 For if we have become united with *Him *in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be *in the likeness *of His resurrection,
RO 6:6 knowing this, that our old self was crucified with *Him, *in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin;
RO 6:7 for he who has died is freed from sin.
RO 6:8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him,
RO 6:9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him.
If we are crucified in our baptism, and arise with Christ, then was not the thief on the cross not also baptized by sharing Christ’s agony? Is this not the same baptism that Christ spoke of the James and John?
The Thief may not have had water baptism. He did have baptism in the Blood of Christ.