April 15, 2007
THE CROSSES ON CALVARY
Tradition has it that there were but three, the Lord in the center and one on each side. The men crucified with Him are called both thieves and malefactors. It is generally assumed that these terms overlap and include each other, that is, thieves and malefactors refer to the same two men. While this is a stretch, we need to consider also several other statements.
Matthew and Mark record, “two thieves were crucified with Him, one on the right hand, and another on the left, and they that passed by reviled Him... The chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said, ‘He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He be the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him. He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now...for He said, I am the Son of God.’ The thieves also, which were crucified with Him, cast the same in His teeth” (Mt. 27:38-44). These thieves united with His mockers reviling the Lord.
Yet “...there were also two other, malefactors, led with him to be put to death. 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... And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, said, ‘If You be Christ, save Yourself and us.’ But the other answering rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, seeing you are in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man has done nothing amiss.’ And he said unto Jesus, ‘Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom’” Luke 23:32-42). Unlike the reviling thieves, one malefactor defended the Lord’s innocence, confessed his own guilt and worthiness of death, and asked to be remembered in Christ’s coming kingdom.
Perhaps the clearest passage which sheds light on this issue is John 19:18, where “...they crucified Him, and two other with Him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst.”(KJV). These words should more accurately read, “they crucified Him, and with Him others, two on this side and on that side.” Thus with two on each side, a thief and a malefactor, we understand that the crosses total five. The malefactors are apparently closer to the Lord and thus aiding their exchange of words. While the number of crosses is not of great importance or consequence, it is a matter of rightly dividing the word of God and discerning things that differ.
Ivan L. Burgener