Imagine a family of hoarders that lives such a dysfunctional life that they even hoard soiled diapers. After filling a whole room of their house with them, they proceed to litter all the rest of their house with them as well.
The stench throughout and from the house becomes so bad that even the neighbors are unable to bear it. Imagine then that some concerned community members decide to take action by first getting approval from the authorities to address the problem themselves. They then team up by having one group distract the family of hoarders for a whole day while another group goes through the home and removes all the soiled diapers without the knowledge or consent of the family of hoarders.
How should we label the people in the group that removed the soiled diapers without getting permission from the family? Should we call them thieves because they took something that did not belong to them?
By definition, a thief does what is unrighteous when he takes something of value that belongs to someone else. Would it be right to consider these people as thieves who did what was unrighteous by removing soiled diapers that belonged to the hoarders and not to them?
By definition, a thief takes something from someone else without having authorization to do so. Because the people in this account had proper authorization, is it right to call them thieves because they took something that did not belong to them?
This illustration shows that it would not be right to call these people thieves because they took something that did not belong to them. What they did was righteous and they had authorization to do what they did.
Application to the Work of Christ
Some think that it is ok to speak of Jesus as the third thief who died at Calvary because He took sins that belonged not to Him but to others. Analyzing what Jesus did at Calvary in light of the discussion of the illustration above shows that this is not a right thing to say.
Jesus did not die as a thief at Calvary because what He did was righteous. Jesus did not die as a thief at Calvary because God the Father authorized Him to take the sins of other people upon Himself.
We do not honor God when we speak of three thieves dying at Calvary. Jesus was not in any way a thief when He died at Calvary!