The men who under this name appear in the history of the crucifixion were robbers rather than thieves, belonging to the lawless bands by which Palestine was at that time and afterward infested. Against these brigands every Roman procurator had to wage continual war. It was necessary to use an armed police to encounter them. (Luke 22:62) of the previous history of the two who suffered on Golgotha we know nothing. They had been tried and condemned, and were waiting their execution before our Lord was accused. It is probable enough, as the death of Barabbas was clearly expected at the same time that they had taken part in his insurrection had expected to die with Jesus Barabbas, and you can find more about that here on st-takla.org on other commentaries and dictionary entries. They find themselves with one who bore the same name, but who was described in the superscription on his cross as Jesus of Nazareth. They could hardly have failed to hear something of his fame as a prophet, of his triumphal entry as a king; They catch at first the prevailing tone of scorn. But over one of them there came a change. He looked back upon his past life, and saw an infinite evil. He looked to the man dying on the cross beside him, and saw an infinite compassion. There indeed was one unlike all other "kings of the Jews" whom the robber had ever known. Such a one must be all that he had claimed to be. To be forgotten by that king seems to him now the most terrible of all punishments; to take part in the triumph of his return, the most blessed of all hopes. The yearning prayer was answered, not in the letter, but in the spirit.
Main reference: Smith's Bible Dictionary (1860s)
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