The accounts of the crucifixion tell us that on “the place called Golgotha” there were placed three crosses. The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and John, give us little information about two of the three who were to be crucified on these three crosses.
Then two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left…And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way. (Mat 27:38, 44 ESV)
And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left. (Mar 15:27 ESV)
There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. (Joh 19:18 ESV)
Luke’s gospel, on the other hand, gives us a little more detail.
Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left…One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luk 23:32-33, 39-42 ESV)
I wonder about these two men. We know that they are robbers, but is thievery punished by crucifixion? Some commentators suggest that they committed murder in their act of thievery. Some also suggest that they belong to Barabbas, whom Pilate had released. Yet, it is their attitudes towards the Saviour that causes me to have questions about their lives. Was the one who “railed” at Him a thief at heart, and would have been such regardless of the circumstances? Was the other a thief because of circumstances, stealing out of hunger or for someone else? It doesn’t excuse the sin, but due to the nature of his heart as he hung on his cross, it does make me wonder.
The real dilemma I have, though, is which thief am I? Most people want to talk about their rights, the status and possessions that they deserve, and what is owed to them. They “rail” against the Master, either directly or by extension in the way they treat others. They are right in saying they have rights and that something is owed them. They, you and I deserve to be on that cross between two thieves.
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (Rom 3:23 ESV)
For the wages of sin is death, (Rom 6:23 ESV)
Do we not realize that the fact that we are even alive is a gift of His grace? From the moment we first sinned, we have fallen under the penalty of death and do not even deserve the very breath that He gives us.
The one thief rebuked the other, saying,
we are receiving the due reward of our deeds
Which thief am I? Which thief are you? Will you rail against Him? Or will He remember you? The choice is yours. Believe in Him and obey, and if you were to pass from this life today, He could say the same to you that He did to the thief,
Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.