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During yesterday's sermon, the pastor mentioned the theory that the thieves crucified next to Jesus likely weren't simple thieves to warrant such a sentence, but were probably "thieves with a cause." He suggested today they would likely have been considered religious or political zealots, or "terrorists."

The pastor's suggestion seems a little far-fetched to me, based on how the thieves responded to Jesus: One mocking him, the other asking pardon. These don't seem like the sorts of attitudes that religious or political zealots sentenced to death are likely to exhibit. I would expect "terrorists" to more closely identify with their cause.

Do we have enough information, historically or textually, to draw any conclusions about these thieves' crimes? Was crucifixion used to punish "simple thieves?"

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The correct answer to your question is massive so I am not even going to try. Your pastor is quite correct though and the 'thieves' (bad translation) were from a variety of groups that were in revolt against Rome and the local governments. Josephus is your best source. (A good investment.) Crucifixion was to an extent reserved for rebels. –  gideon marx Nov 11 '13 at 13:54
    
I agree with Gideon marx to answer would be massive, however if you prefer there is a free Bible study downloadable from the internet with which you can also down load a free copy of Antiquities of the Jews by Favius Josephus. It can also be downloaded from several free book download sites in either book form or audio form. That site is e-sword.net. –  Bye Nov 11 '13 at 16:14
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Unless their crime was to commit a huge, complicated conspiracy to overthrow Voldamort with the help of Darth Vader and the Klingon Empire, I don't see how the answer can be so complicated it can't fit into an answer here. And even my complex conspiracy theory answer fits in a single sentence. –  Flimzy Nov 11 '13 at 16:16
    
People called 'terrorists' today cover a lot of ground: South African anti-apartheid guerillas; anti-communist Solidarity rioters; rebels against a colonial power. Let's not forget Palestine was occupied territory - they could be the 1st century equivalent of the French Resistance. –  DJClayworth Nov 11 '13 at 18:34
    
@DJClayworth: I agree. Is your comment meant to suggest an adjustment to my question? Or just commentary? –  Flimzy Nov 11 '13 at 23:28

3 Answers 3

The Greek work kleptes refers to a common thief; but in Matthew and Mark's account of the thieves crucified, the Greek word lestes is used, which has the root meaning "to plunder." Though we don't have information on the nature of their crimes, the use of this term indicates they were probably a part of a rebel group.

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There is no mention of the crimes committed by thieves that were crucified along with Jesus Christ.

But through the testimony of the repented thief, we know that both of those thieves deserved crucifixion. So they have committed crimes that deserved crucifixion.

Luke 23:39-43 (NIV):

"One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you 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.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise."

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Yes, so what crimes, at the time, earned crucifixion? Stealing bread, I'm guessing, did not. –  Flimzy Nov 13 '13 at 23:18
    
@ Flimzy Crucifixion was a Roman punishment, and could only be inflicted by Roman authority. Local Laws dictated the punishment for crimes against local authority, and only those crimes which were in conflict with Roman laws were handled by Roman authorities. Capitol punishment was reserved for Rome. So no stealing bread unless it was stolen from the Roman attachment would not come under the jurisdiction of Rome, but would be handeled according to local Law. –  Bye Nov 14 '13 at 13:24
    
Is there a parallel between the second thief asking Jesus to remember him and the butler asking Joseph to remember him? –  Clint Eastwood Feb 12 at 15:32

The most probable reason that he said that is because Crucifixion was so horrendous that it was reserved for the most egregious crimes against Rome. Usually rebellion or sedition. Common criminals were not crucified.

It was so horrible that Roman citizens were usually exempt from it.

The punishment of Roman crucifixion was chiefly inflicted on slaves and the worst kind of criminals. Crucifixion was considered a most shameful and disgraceful way to die and condemned Roman citizens were usually exempt from crucifixion. (source)

That was why the Sanhedrin accused Jesus of claiming to be a King when they took him to Pontius Pilate.

Mat 27:1,2,11, and 12 NRKJV

1 When the morning was come, all the chief priests and elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death:

2 And when they had bound him, they led him away, and delivered him to Pontius Pilate the governor.

11 And Jesus stood before the governor: and the governor asked him, saying, Art thou the King of the Jews? And Jesus said unto him, Thou sayest.

12 And when he was accused of the chief priests and elders, he answered nothing.

At any rate it can be said that they were not common criminals, and since they are called thieves, they had most likely stolen something of value from the Roman officials, perhaps something such as tax money.

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