It's no accident that when Jesus hung on the Cross, He found Himself between two thieves. Thieves are the class of criminal that Jesus most often compared Himself, and His work, to.
Take, for example, what He says about the kingdom of God. He says that the Kingdom of God comes like a thief in the night, when you're home but you least suspect that something could be afoot. Just when you seem to be at rest, just when you are comfortable, just when you are surrounded by all the things and all the people that you love, that's when God breaks in and disrupts things. That's when God shows up. The Kingdom of God comes like a thief in the night.
Jesus is crucified with thieves.
Related to this same idea, Jesus tells persons to always be ready. He says that since the Kingdom comes like a thief, it's good to always be on guard. Have your affairs in order. Know what you're going to do when this thing happens. Because the thief comes when you least suspect it.
And your Lord is crucified with thieves.
He tells a parable about a thief who encounters a strong man. He says first, the thief must tie up the strong man. Otherwise, he will never be able to rob the house. He will always have to deal with the strong man. But if he takes care of the strong man first, then he is free to rob the house and take whatever he pleases. Jesus ties this to the spiritual battle raging all around the people who heard these words. When Jesus comes, He will come as a thief into a strong man's house. The prince of this world will have to be dealt with first. He will have to be tied up, restrained, harnessed. Only then will Jesus be free to have His take of the house. Jesus Himself comes like a thief in the night.
And He is crucified with thieves.
Along with all these metaphors in which Jesus describes Himself, and His Kingdom, in criminal terms, using heavily this image of the thief, Jesus makes one more bold statement: I am not a thief. He says He is coming in the night when no one expects Him, that it is wise to always be ready because you can never know when He is coming, and that when He comes, He must take care of the strong man of the house first, the way any good thief would. And then He declares, "I am not a thief."
The thief comes to kill, to steal, and destroy. But I have come that they might have life. And have it abundantly.
I'm a thief; I'm not a thief. I am the Lord, your God.
And I am crucified with thieves.
Isn't this just like God? Isn't this just His story? He spends so much of His time drawing on the metaphor of thievery, of this criminal act, even though He Himself is neither a thief nor a criminal. And yet, when the time comes, this is exactly where He finds Himself - a criminal among criminals, a thief among thieves, crucified on Calvary with a thief on either side of Him. It's no accident, no mistake, and no mere coincidence.
It's the story of God, told in just such a certain way. Told in the way that only God can tell it. Told in the way that He always does.