Fill-in-the-blank pop quiz: Jesus was crucified between two _____.
Stop reading ahead and go back and answer the question.
Did you say “thieves”? Well, that’s not quite right but it’s what we usually say. The Greek word in the Gospels would more accurately mean “rebels” or “insurrectionists.”
We see this in newer English translations of John’s Gospel, referring to Barabbas. The version with a king’s name stamped on it inaccurately calls him “robber.” The newest NIV says Barabbas “had taken part in an uprising.” New Living and Holman Christian Standard call him a “revolutionary,” New American Standard goes with “rebel,” and the Berean Study Bible uses “insurrectionist.”
We know the later versions are better than “robber” because we know the Greek words they translate from and the crucifixion practices of the Romans. To wind up on a cross—as many would-be messiahs and their followers did in those days—you must have tried to overthrow the Romans.
This impacts how we read the texts. If Jesus died between two thieves, we might say, “well, he wasn’t a thief so he was innocent.” But if Jesus died between two insurrectionists, in the place of their chief revolutionary (and with a sign declaring him to be a political king), then the Romans saw Jesus as a threat to their claims of absolute authority.
We face the same options today. Do we submit to the empire? Do we choose the violent rebellion of Barabbas? Or do we follow a peace-loving king as members of the kingdom that is not of this world? The path we take makes all the difference.
In what ways does your life reflect the values of our modern empires? What would it look like to live in ways that are considered revolutionary?
Almighty One, help me to live today as one who follows you. May others see your Reign in my life. Amen.