It is significant that there were two others crucified with Jesus. Mark records (15:28) that it was a fulfillment of prophecy that the Christ would be “numbered with transgressors.” Jesus did become one of us and was identified with the sinful human race in His death. But let’s be careful to see how that played out.
The two thieves represent the only two possible responses to Jesus. Both were guilty just as the entire human race is guilty before God. The thief on one cross was only concerned about escape and chided Jesus about getting them all free from their predicament. The criminal on the other cross acknowledged his guilt and asked Jesus to remember Him when He came into His kingdom. Jesus recognized the man’s faith and penitent heart and promised, “today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”
But Jesus died on His own cross. Each of the two thieves died on his own cross. Jesus did not take the place of either thief nor was He in a position to do so, now was it God’s will that He do so! Jesus’ cross was His and His alone through which He died for all humanity (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). He was the Lamb of God. His death was a propitiation (Hebrews 2:17; 1 John 2:2, 4:10), that is, an acceptable sacrifice to God on behalf of sinful humanity. Through the blood of His Son, the Father is now able to offer forgiveness and justify those who are cleansed of sin.
Sometimes we hear: “Jesus took your place on the cross.” I don’t believe this is true nor theologically correct. In fact, I don’t even understand what that means. Does it mean Jesus keeps you from pain and suffering? Obviously not. Does it mean He keeps you from dying? Obviously not. And neither your death nor mine on a cross would affect in the slightest the eternal destiny of anyone, including ourselves.
No, the cross on which Jesus died was absolutely and totally His. He humbly accepted death by crucifixion for us. What a Savior!