The Three Crosses of Calvary
By Clovis E. Miller
Have you ever wondered why there were three crosses on Calvary (Matt. 27:36)? Why not two or four? Or, Why not only the Cross of Jesus? A number of websites offer explanations for this most interesting point in Scripture. Consider the following explanation:
As you study the Bible, you will find that God basically sees all people as members of one of three groups: the righteous; the wicked and the sinner. This was understood by the Jewish people of Jesus' day, but they completely missed the connection of that idea with the crucifixion of Jesus. Many Jewish people (even today) understand, that every year on Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), God divides all the people into these three groups.
The righteous represent those who believe God's word and look for the appearing of the Messiah.
The wicked represent those who do not believe the Word of God and reject any idea that there is a Messiah. They will not repent of their sins, no matter how long God gives them, or what witness is presented to them . These people have no fear of God or of judgment and if they had a 500 years to repent, they would not do it. They have stone hard hearts with no room for God, and are described in the Scriptures as...vessels of wrath fit for destruction (Romans 9:22). At the Second Coming of Jesus, he is not going to judge the sinner, but the wicked. For in that day there will be only two groups of people; the Righteous and the Wicked (Matt. 25:33). Everyone will have made their choice as to which group they will be in. There will not be a third group of people as there is today. In I Peter 4:17-18, we see the three groups represented,
For the time is come that the judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?
And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly [wicked] and the sinner appear?
and also, Proverbs 11:31
"If the righteous will be recompensed on the earth, How much more the wicked and the sinner."
The third group, the sinners, are those in the middle (between the righteous and the wicked). They represent the vast majority of the world's population. These are the ones Jesus came to call to repentance (Mark 2:17). These are those who have not yet heard about, or made up their minds about God's word. They have not categorically rejected the Word of God, nor have they accepted it. They may or may not believe there is a Messiah, but are not yet convinced or committed to that idea. Unlike the wicked, they have not hardened their hearts beyond reach, but are somewhat willing to hear the Word, and may be persuaded to accept the Word of God and his Messiah. Every Christian was in this group before conversion. It can also be stated that every wicked person was in this group in the beginning. Jesus died for every person because God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (II Peter 3:9). When a sinner decides in his heart that he will have none of Jesus; and God knows this decision is final, then that person has committed the unpardonable sin. Only God knows when a person has reached that point. The person who has made this decision has cast the greatest insult possible into God's face. They have, in effect, made Jesus to die in vain for them. The Scriptures say that God is angry with the wicked every day (Psalm 7:11). The sinner who dies in his sins will be counted by God as wicked. There is no remedy for them , for they have rejected the death of Jesus as payment for their sins.
In the Jewish understanding, the fate of the Righteous and the Wicked is sealed. The Sinner, however, is given ten days (from Rosh Hashanna until the close of Yom Kippur) to decide which of the other two groups they will join. The prayer of the Righteous every year is, May you be inscribed in the Book [of Life] for a good year.
The three crosses of Calvary give a perfect picture of this understanding.
The first man on the cross said to Jesus, If thou be the Christ, save thyself and us . (Luke 23:39 ) This man represents the wicked of the World. Satan spoke through his mouth, tempting Jesus even while he was upon the cross in a last ditched effort to thwart God's redemptive plan, calling on Jesus to not die but come down from the cross and show everyone he is the true Messiah. The other man crucified with him and Jesus rebuked him saying, Dost thou not fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? There is no Scripture indicating that Jesus ever spoke to the first man.
Jesus, the second man on the cross, represented the Righteous people of the World . In Matthew's Gospel, when Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness, the first words to come out of his mouth were."If you are the Son of God". These were basically the same words of the first man on the cross (the wicked one). In the third temptation in the wilderness, Satan promised Jesus the Kingdoms of the World ( Matt. 4:8-10) if he would only bow down and worship him. Would he have given Jesus the Kingdoms of the World if he had bowed down and worshipped him? No! Satan is a Liar. If Jesus had bowed down and worshipped him, then he could have led Jesus to the cross and had him justly crucified as a sinner .
Jesus however, said to Satan, Get thee behind me.
In effect, Jesus was saying to him, I'm going to the cross and you are in my way; so get thee behind me, You can follow me, but you shall not lead me there. If Jesus had bowed to Satan, then the Devil would have been able to steal everything God has or will make for the righteous, just as he took everything from Adam and Eve. God's plan at Calvary was to show, at one time, the fate of the wicked; and the fate of the sinner who puts their trust in his son, Jesus.
The second man crucified with Jesus represented the sinners of the World. Something special however, happened between Jesus and this man that did not occur with the first man.
The second man did three important things while hanging on the cross:
(1) He admitted that he was a sinner and was receiving the just recompense for his deeds (Luke 23:40)
(2) He Testified to the Righteousness of Jesus (Luke 23:41)
(3) He exercised Faith in Jesus. Acknowledging that he had a kingdom and although Jesus was going to die, he believed he would rise from the dead and be it's King (Luke 23:42).
After the man had finished speaking, Jesus told him, today thou shalt be with me in paradise ( Luke 23:43). At that point (after the man had finished his confession), Jesus imputed his righteousness to that man (and sinners of all times who call upon him). Jesus then took that man's sins, and ours, unto himself and assumed the role of the sinner, becoming worthy of death. He was made sin for us (II Cor. 5:21), and crucified in the sinners position (the middle) between the wicked, and the one now counted as righteous. Having taken our sin, then was he able to say to the Father, "It is Finished".
Paul understood that we have to be crucified with Christ (Gal.2:20), just as the third man on the cross was, and that the only way to Salvation is to exchange our sins for the Righteousness of Jesus. The one who posesses sin is worthy of death. Jesus took possession of the man's sins (and our also); then gave his righteousness to us that we might appear totally acceptable to God the Father.
When Jesus said it is finished , he was stating that he had possession of our sins and that he was ready to die with them. God however, was not finished at this point. Jesus bore our sins to the grave; but he was righteous in his own stead (having no sin of his own). God therefore, could justly raise the sin bearer, and at the same time leave our sins buried in the grave.
Oh death, where is thy sting?, Oh grave, where is thy victory?
Consider this for a moment:
When you sin against God, your conscience troubles you. The uneasiness we feel after sinning is the Holy Spirit speaking to our hearts telling us that this is the wrong way.
Now consider, feeling the effect (in one moment) of all the sins you have committed or will commit in your lifetime. It would be agonizing for us, because sin has such a destructive effect.
On Calvary, in a single moment of time, Jesus suffered the effect of all the sins of the world, for all time. So agonizingly intense was this that the Scriptures record that Jesus, the very Son of God, cried out with a loud voice, before he died (Matt. 27:50).It was a horrendous price for him to pay for our redemption, but he willing did this because he loved us so much.
Each of us must come to God in the same manner: acknowledge our sinfulness; lay our sins down before Jesus and accept his freely given righteousness for ourselves.
God is so good and merciful to anyone, no matter what your past sins are, if you will simply call upon him with a truthful heart.
You can have God's Salvation too. Just pray the simply Sinner's prayer:
Oh God, be merciful to me, a sinner. I believe Jesus is the Son of God, and that he died for my sins. And that he rose from the grave after three days and ascended to Heaven where he constantly makes intercession for us. Come into my heart Lord Jesus and lead me every day by the Holy Spirit, that when you appear I may forever dwell in your presence. AMEN
If you prayed this prayer with a truthful heart, you can be assured that God will receive unto himself and that he will never leave you or forsake you as the Scriptures state (Hebrews 13:5).