By the authority of Article II Section II of the U.S. Constitution, President George Washington issued a pardon to John Mitchell; who was an insurrectionist in the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794. We, the people, have given Presidents, and Presidents only, this far reaching power of pardon within our society. No other one person possesses this same authority. Presidential pardons are easy to study and comprehend, and it is that same type of understanding that we need to apply when considering the pardon of Jesus in Luke 23:43 of who is commonly called “The Thief on the Cross”.
1. Pardons are Exceptional – And I place the emphasis on “exception”. That is, they are not the norm, they are not the rule; they are indeed… the exception. In all of George Washington’s terms in office he only issued 16 pardons. Out of thou-sands of people who had been convicted of various crimes less than 1% of them received a pardon. That is exceptional. Under the Old Covenant we do see a few instances of Jesus forgiving people of their sins (Lk 5:20; 7:48, Jn 8:11), and one such instance of healing the paralytic in Luke 5:24, was a miracle, a sign, to prove that Jesus had the power and authority to forgive sins. However, it was not the common practice of Jesus to grant pardons on this earth. These instances were exceptions in His daily work and mission.
2. Pardons are NOT a Precedent – Pardons are not a blueprint (standard) of justice. When George Washington issued a pardon to John Mitchell, he was not laying forth a standard of justice for all insurrectionists. There have been plenty of people since the life of John Mitchell who have risen up against their government and never found forgiveness in a presidential pardon. When Jesus provided forgiveness to a thief on a cross, there is NO indication He was establishing a standard (system) by which men are saved. Jesus communicated His plan (standard) of salvation through the Apostles’ teaching (Mark 16:15-19; Acts 1:8; 2:32-33 & 36), and He verified the authority of that message by the miracles performed on Pentecost (Heb. 2:3-4). There is NEVER a new covenant reference to the “thief on the cross” in the teaching of the gospel, and his pardon is NEVER mentioned as an exemplary standard for how we are to be saved. Rather, we are commanded to “repent” and “be baptized” (Acts 2:38) so that we might have remission of sins (Acts 3:19; Acts 22:16; I Peter 3:21) and entrance to the kingdom of God.
3. Pardons are Dispensational – A dispensation is “a certain order, system or arrangement; administration or management”. We can relate that to the various Presidential Administrations. The pardons under the Washington Administration have no bearing on the pardons of any other administration. In other words, if there were a guy named John Mitchell today that rebelled against the government and was sentenced to death, he could not claim clemency stating, “George Washington’s Administration granted pardons to various rebels”. He’s not under that administration. The Old Covenant was the covenant under which Jesus (and the thief on the cross) lived and died (Heb. 8:7, 13; Ephesians 2:13-16; I Cor. 11:25). The new dispensation, or administration, or covenant began in Acts 2 with the beginning of the church (2:41, 47). For people today to claim pardon of sins by the example of the “thief on the cross” is like an insurrectionist of today trying to claim pardon under the George Washington Administration.
4. Pardons are an Executive Process and NOT Judicial Process – In the U.S. the highest level of the judicial system is the Supreme Court. There is nothing higher. A President can authorize a pardon at any time after a person is charged with a crime. It is completely independent of the judicial process. EVERYONE proceeds through the justice system. Only a few (exceptions) will ever receive an Executive pardon. Under the New Covenant we have a judicial system. We sin, we die (Ro. 6:23). Spiritual death is the penalty. However Jesus sacrificed Himself so that through His blood we might have access to remission of sins (Eph. 1:7; Heb. 9:12; Heb. 13:12). Obedience to the gospel is what gives us saving access to the blood of Christ (Heb. 5:9; Mk. 16:15-16). That is how we today have salvation. NOTHING in the New Covenant says that we are to expect some sort of “pardon” from Christ outside of, or independent from, the blood of Christ through obedience to the gospel.
In understanding these 4 points we can clearly understand that the “Thief on the Cross” is not an example of how we are saved in Christ Jesus under the New Covenant. Pardon me for saying so, but to preach and teach that sinners are saved (pardoned) by the standard of the “Thief on the Cross” is illogical, unreasonable, and worst of all… unscriptural. It cannot be more clear, that those who do not know God, and do not obey His gospel, will perish in their sins (II Thessalonians 1:7-9). May we know and obey so as to receive the King’s pardon, and not perish in man-made doctrines that are as lacking in reason as they are truth. May we ever see that salvation is by clinging to the Cross of Jesus… not of the Thief.
The gospel of salvation, God’s system of justification in the New Covenant in Christ, has been clearly preached from the day of Pentecost to this very day. If men want salvation they must hear and believe the true gospel and obey it (Acts 10:43). They must confess that Jesus is the Christ the son of God. (Rom. 10:9-10; Acts 8:37) They must repent of their sins. They must be baptized for the remission of their sins (Acts 2:38; 3:19). There is NO other gospel that saves, because there is no other gospel than this one from God (Gal. 1:1-9). There is one Lord, one faith (gospel), one baptism; and I am fairly certain if the “Thief on the Cross” could tell you one thing today, it would be something like “Fear God, obey the gospel, be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins, and be faithful to the Lord’s kingdom.” Have not your salvation thieved by the false doctrines of men, but received in the true gospel of Christ!