The “Thief” [Robber] on the Cross

Posted By on Apr 15, 2019 | 0 comments


When  I contemplate the account of the “thief on the cross”[Luke 23:39-43], It usually is about the orthodox theology within the passage: “absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.” (2 Cor. 5:8).  And this theological belief would be absolutely correct.  However, what I failed to understand [because I never heard it taught] was the proper identity of the newly redeemed criminal.  Upon conducting further research on the passage, I discovered that the converted criminal crucified alongside Jesus 1 was not a “thief” [kléptés]as he is commonly referred, But instead he was actually a “robber” [léstés], which carries a significantly different meaning.  R.C. Trench defines:  

When  I contemplate the account of the “thief on the cross”[Luke 23:39-43], It usually is about the orthodox theology within the passage: “absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.” (2 Cor. 5:8).  And this theological belief would be absolutely correct.  However, what I failed to understand [because I never heard it taught] was the proper identity of the newly redeemed criminal.  Upon conducting further research on the passage, I discovered that the converted criminal crucified alongside Jesus 1 was not a “thief” [kléptés]as he is commonly referred, But instead he was actually a “robber” [léstés], which carries a significantly different meaning.  R.C. Trench defines:  

“kléptés and léstés…both appropriate what is not theirs. But the kléptés does so by fraud and in secret, the léstés does so by open violence.  The former is a ‘thief’ and the latter is a ‘robber’…No passage has suffered more seriously by confusing thief and robber than Luke 23:39-43 [“the thief on the cross”].  The previous moral condition of the penitent thief, is obscured by the associations that clings to his name.  Both malefactors crucified with Jesus, (one was inflexible, the other penitent) probably belonged to the band of Barabbas who had been cast with his fellow insurgents into prison for murder and insurrection (Mark 15:7).  Barabbas was a léstés (John 18:40), not a common malefactor but a ‘notorious prisoner.” 2

In closing, by understanding that the “thief [robber] on the cross”, was a flagrant and villainous criminal, rather than a furtive and non-violent one, adds profundity to the forgiveness Jesus held out to him: “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43).  Although he received a physical death sentence, Jesus granted him spiritual clemency.  Instead of receiving eternal condemnation, he was provided heavenly accommodation.   Prior to conversion, we were all “robbers on the cross”.  We were flagrant sinners against God, who mercifully received God’s saving grace: “But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Cor. 6:11).    

1 There were two criminals crucified alongside of Jesus, one on His right and one on His left.  (Matt. 27:38, Mark 15:27, Luke 23:32, John 19:18). 

2 R.C. Trench, Trench’s Synonyms of the New Testament, Hendrickson’s Publishers Inc., 1989, pg. 171-172 –brackets added.

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