Summary: A study of the faith of the thief who was saved even as he was dying.

“Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!’ The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’ There was also an inscription over him, ‘This is the King of the Jews.’

“One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, ‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’ And he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ And he said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.’” [1]

Mobs gathered to watch the crucifixion of the condemned were usually raucous, but this mob was even more rowdy, noisier, more agitated than usual. The soldiers standing guard were alert to any attempt to rescue those condemned to die. However, through this mob was larger, those madly shouting were not condemning the soldiers or cursing Rome as usually happened, they appeared to be agreeing with this execution! They were actually yelling out their approval of what was happening and mocking one prisoner in particular.

To be certain, a small knot of the prisoner’s followers was standing near the cross. Someone had identified one of the women as the condemned man’s mother. Her sister and a couple of the women who had followed him were there with them and a cousin, a teenager who had apparently been quite close to him were present. But none of them gave any indication that they were prepared to stir up trouble. Even when the religious leaders shouted out vile mockery, his followers didn’t respond. They appeared numbed by the insults that were hurled at him.

After a while, the soldiers appeared to relax; it was obvious that there would be no trouble from this mob. In fact, they became sufficiently relaxed that they joined in the mocking. In reality, their participation at that point was a continuation of what had begun when this man was first arrested. The man had been beaten, flogged and mocked until He was near death; but even that level of violence didn’t appease the mob—they were intent on his death.

The governor had repeatedly attempted to free the man, but the mob would have none of that. When Pilate had beaten him and then led him out in front of the mob, he thought that such humiliation would suffice to quiet the Jewish leaders. He brought the man out, obviously beaten and in great agony, but even that would not quell the angry shouts. Three times Pilate attempted to release the prisoner, and three times the mob resisted his attempts. The final time Pilate tried to set the man free, the Jewish leaders grew almost rabid. Enraged, they shouted, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend.” These religious leaders then led the mob in a chant that terrified the governor, “Crucify! Crucify! Crucify!” they raged.

At one point, Pilate thought he had hit upon a perfect stratagem for setting the man free. He had offered to release a prisoner in honour of the approaching Passover. He would offer to the mob a notorious insurrectionist that had caused great pain among the populace. If they had to choose between these two men, surely they would opt to release the one who had caused no injury to the nation. Imagine the governor’s surprise when the religious leaders led the mob to demand the freedom of the notorious insurrectionist! “Give us Barabbas,” they shouted. Pilate felt cornered, but he was unwilling to take any action that could serve as an excuse for a riot.

Still, he asked, “What shall I do with Jesus who is called the Christ?” The mob shouted again, “Let him be crucified!” They had no legitimate reason to demand his death, but mobs seldom act rationally. Their emotions running hot, they shouted all the louder, “Let him be crucified!” At this, Pilate took water, washed his hands in front of the raging mob while declaring, “I am innocent of this man’s blood.” These words seemed to stir the maddened people to new heights of frenzy as they shouted, “His blood be on us and one our children!” Imagine! Jews, shouting that they would gladly accept responsibility for what was about to be done.

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