One important doctrinal point that most Bible students, among both the denominations and churches of Christ, do not recognize about the “thief on the cross,” is that because he was already an Old Covenant “child of God” under the law of Moses. Although he was an unfaithful and disobedient Jew in Israel, the “thief” was already “saved” and had the promise of “eternal life” under the promises of God in the Old Testament law of Moses.
For those who do not believe that there was the promise of “eternal life” in the Old Testament law of Moses -let’s notice some of promises of eternal life for faithful Israelites in the Old Testament law of Moses.
God promised “eternal life” to faithful Israelites through the prophets: “2And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. 3And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever” (Daniel 12:2).
Christ, the last Old Testament prophet sent to Israel, renewed the promises of “eternal life” for faithful Jews in Israel. “29And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s, 30But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30).
Here is the proof that the “thief” was an unfaithful and disobedient Jew - not a heathen Gentile:
God sent Jesus - not to the world of lost sinners of the heathen Gentiles, but to ONLY “the house of Israel”: “6For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. 7Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this” (Isaiah 9:6-7).
Jesus came to “save ONLY the lost sheep of the house of Israel: “24But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24).
No, Jesus did not “save” the “thief on the cross” - he “restored” an unfaithful Jew in Israel. Therefore, no one today can be “saved like the thief on the cross” as many denominations attempt to teach. No, not even impenitent and unbelieving Jews can be restored back to the Old Testament law of Moses as was this Jew, for the Old Covenant law of Moses has been dead for over 2000 years. Every word in the narrative about the “thief on the cross” belongs in the Old Testament record and history of the old covenant nation of Israel.