Because Jesus had taken the place of Barabbas, the two criminals who were crucified alongside Him were likely collaborators with Barabbas in his insurrection. Some translations call them “robbers” or “thieves” because that is the most common meaning of the Greek word, but it can also mean any kind of criminal or specifically an insurrectionist. Nowadays the word used might be “terrorist”. These two men are important because they help fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah 53:12.
Another prophecy (Psalm 22:18) is fulfilled by the soldiers casting lots for Jesus’s clothing. This was standard practice at the time for the Roman executioners to receive the clothing of the condemned. The rulers and the soldiers mock and abuse Him still while he hangs from the nails, and yet Jesus asks His Father to forgive them. The reason He gives, that they don’t know what they are doing, sounds absurd at first. How could they not know they are killing Him? What He means is that they don’t know who He really is and how significant it is that He, the Son of God, is dying.
One of the criminals beside Jesus gets a dig in as well. He thinks the Messiah should have some way of fixing the whole situation and is angry when He doesn’t. The other man, though, recognizes his guilt and the justice of his punishment, but asks for something far greater than a mere reprieve. Just as Abraham believed that God could keep His promises even if he sacrificed Isaac on an altar, this man expected Jesus to have a kingdom even if He died on a cross. Don’t forget the curse that is handed down when a body is hung on a tree. (Deut. 22:23) Despite knowing that, he believed that Jesus would rule and reign in a heavenly kingdom and be able to remember him favorably there. That faith is what Jesus rewards with those beautiful words, “today you will be with me in Paradise.”
We long to see Your kingdom, to be remembered by You there.