One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding [Jesus] and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” – Luke 23:39-42
The Roman Empire did not crucify individuals simply for murder. Yes, the individuals who were crucified were often punished for murder, but it was more than that. The murder had to disturb Rome’s social order. When a slave murdered their master Rome would crucify the murderer. But then, Rome also crucified all of the other slaves owned by the dead master. Rome exercised this cruelty because it sent a chilling message to the lower classes: don’t rebel or else.
With this in mind, we can see that the other factors that led to crucifixion were alongside actions against Rome. Rebellion, revolution, insurrection, and terrorism against Rome were all reasons for crucifixion. Calling someone a king that is independent of, or above, Caesar could get that person crucified. Such declarations were acts of rebellion. The criminals that were hanging next to Jesus were likely insurrectionists. While Judeans might have seen them as freedom fighters, Rome saw them as terrorists.
The thing about Rome’s system of oppression and terrorism to topple it is that they were two sides of the same system. Seeking to overthrow a violent king or government with violence does not end the violence; it changes who is the head of the violent system.
In this scene from Luke, we see a powerful contrast. The first insurrectionist wants to get off of his cross so that he may continue pursuing the violent overthrow of Rome. However, the second terrorist realizes that his past political violence would only have led to the superficial change of the kingdom. However, hanging there on the cross, he sees that the Kingdom of Jesus is actually different.
Jesus rules his Kingdom with love, mercy, and self-sacrifice.