WHY WAS JESUS CRUCIFIED BETWEEN TWO CRIMINALS?
“And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left.” [Lk 23:33]
It was no accident that the Lord of glory was crucified between two thieves. There are no accidents in a world that is governed by God. Much less could there have been any accident on that day of days, or in connection with that event of all events – a day and an event which lie at the very centre of the world’s history. No, God was presiding over that scene. From all eternity he had decreed when and where and how and with whom his Son should die.
Nothing was left to chance or the caprice of man. All that God had decreed came to pass exactly as he had ordained, and nothing happened save as he had eternally purposed. Whatsoever man did was simply that which God’s hand and counsel “determined to be done” (Acts 4:28).
When Pilate gave orders that the Lord Jesus should be crucified between the two malefactors, all unknown to himself, he was but putting into execution the eternal decree of God and fulfilling his prophetic word. Seven hundred years before this Roman officer gave his command, God had declared through Isaiah that his Son should be “numbered with the transgressors” (Isa. 53:12).
How utterly unlikely this appeared, that the Holy One of God should be numbered with the unholy; that the very one whose finger had inscribed on the tables of stone the Sinaitic Law should be assigned a place with the lawless; that the Son of God should be executed with criminals – this seemed utterly inconceivable. Yet, it actually came to pass. Not a single word of God can fall to the ground. “Forever, O Lord, thy word is settled in heaven” (Ps. 119:89). Just as God had ordained, and just as he had announced, so it came to pass.
Why did God order it that his beloved Son should be crucified between two criminals? Certainly God had a reason; a good one, a manifold one, whether we can discern it or not. God never acts arbitrarily. He has a good purpose for everything he does, for all his works are ordered by infinite wisdom. In this particular instance a number of answers suggest themselves to our inquiry. Was not our blessed Lord crucified with the two thieves to fully demonstrate the unfathomable depths of shame into which he had descended? At his birth he was surrounded by the beasts of the field, and now, at his death, he is numbered with the refuse of humanity.
Again, was not the Saviour numbered with transgressors to show us the position he occupied as our substitute? He had taken the place which was due us, and what was that but the place of shame, the place of transgressors, the place of criminals condemned to death!