I have often used the story of the two thieves on the cross to explain the substitutionary atonement of Christ. Both children and adults can learn from this simple chart!

The pertinent verses are Luke 23:40-43.

The penitent thief says, “Don’t you fear God, since we are under the same sentence? We are punished justly for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

When using it, I would:
1. Draw the three crosses.
2. I would ask what was true of the two thieves. Then I would fill in the boxes above their heads.
3. I would ask what was true of Jesus. Then I would fill in the box above his head. Notice it says “Righteous” not “Innocent.” There is a difference.
4. I would ask, “So, how does the thief get to be in paradise?” Then I draw the line from the thief to Jesus. And then the line from Jesus to the thief.

Theologians call this double imputation. Our sin is placed on Christ and his righteousness is placed on us. God made him who knew no sin be sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). What a great truth!

Figure 2 Cross

This illustration comes from the resource The Disciple-Making ParentThere is a whole chapter on explaining the gospel to our children. Order your own copy of this resource today. After all, what is more important than the gospel and our children?