John 18:40 describes Barabbas as a robber, and Matthew 27:38 calls the two men on the cross on either side of Jesus thieves (KJV). Are these two words, “thieves” and “robbers,” synonymous? Why would one word be used in one place and the other word used in another?
The words “thief” and “robber” are synonymous. Both come from the Greek word lestes. Various English translations and versions tend to interchange these two words. However, the words can, if not given some study, produce a wrong concept of just who Barabbas and the “two thieves” were.
These men did not merely take something that did not belong to them from some shop, house, or bank. Going beyond these passages, we find that the men were dangerous criminals and murderers. To indicate this fact, the Gospel of Matthew uses the term “malefactors” to describe the two men who died on the cross with Jesus (Acts 3:14). Additionally, some Bible scholars maintain that Barabbas was considered the ultimate criminal of the time, the “most wanted” on the list. Mark 15:7 tells us, “And there was one named Barabbas, who was chained with his fellow insurrectionists; they had committed murder in the insurrection.” Luke 23:19 also relates this background concerning Barabbas. Thus we see that Barabbas was a revolutionary, one who tried to overthrow the Romans. For this activity, Barabbas was a hero to some Jews.
Sadly the haters of Jesus preferred that this criminal of criminals be let go rather than Christ Himself. Barabbas had a reputation for his crimes; in Christ, however, the Jews could produce no evidence of fault, other than fabrications told about Him.
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