Between Two Insurrectionists

“And, two other evil-doers were led away with him to be executed. And when they came to the place that is called “The Skull,” there they crucified him — and the evil-doers — one on the right side and one to the left.”

(Luke 23:32-33)

“There they crucified him and with him there was also two others, one on either side and Jesus was between.”

(John 19:18)

“They made his grave with the wicked, as a rich man in his death. He did no violence and no fraud was in his mouth.”

(Isaiah 53:9)

We are now introduced to the two other criminals that were being crucified on that frightful day. At this point, they are simply called κακοῦργος (kakourgos) — literally, “evil-doers.” Many of our English translations translate this more idiomatically as “criminals.” And, while that is a perfectly accurate translation, it is this translation that seems to have created the notion that these men are robbers or thieves of a sort.

Yet, a little further into the account, Matthew uses a different term for these two evil-doers: λῃστής (lestes). While this word again can refer to a criminal or even to a highway bandit (see Luke 10:30), it is more commonly used to refer to someone who is a revolutionary or an insurrectionist (see Mark 15:7). Such a translation also fits the context far better than would someone who was simply a robber because Rome tended to reserve crucifixion as the punishment for those who would stir up dissent within their kingdom. A simply robber would have been beaten or whipped; an insurrectionist would have been crucified.

The more important designation, though, is not found in the crime of which these two men are found guilty. It has to do with the prophesy of Isaiah regarding the death of the Suffering Servant…he would die with the wicked. And thus, Luke is making a clear point that Jesus is being flanked in death by two wicked men — evil-doers. This fulfills a prophesy that was given more than 700 years prior to the event…what a remarkable God we have.

And so, the lamb is led to the slaughter without protest (again, fulfilling prophesy — see Isaiah 53:7). And he would be crucified in shame on the Hill of Calvary. A sad and grievous sight, but a reminder of the cost of your sin and mine. How ungrateful we often are for this wondrous gift — maybe not ungrateful in the way we speak in church, but ungrateful in the way we live out our lives.

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