The two robbers
The disciple’s choice
“And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right hand and one on his left” (RSV, Mark 15:27)
As the original Greek of the Gospels makes clear, whereas Judas was a thief, that is, he took by stealth, the two men who were crucified with Jesus were robbers, that is, they took by force.
The first century Jewish historian Josephus, who had thrown in his lot with the Romans, uses the term ‘robbers’ as the equivalent of the Zealots who formed the fanatical underground resistance movement to the Roman occupying power – men whom the Jews regarded as patriots and the Romans as terrorists. And indeed it seems probable from the Gospels that these two men were associates of the notorious Barabbas, who had been caught and sentenced to death on the specific charge of having taken part in an armed rising during which he had committed murder.
As St Mark put it, “…among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barabbas” (RSV, 15:7). Since Our Lord was brought before Pilate early on Good Friday it is likely that the third cross, to which he was nailed, had been originally intended for Barabbas. As Barabbas was the people’s choice, presumably he was the leader of an urban guerrilla group to which the other two also belonged.