It is often said that one of the best pieces of evidence that Jesus is to be understood as a political insurgent who favored the overthrow of the Roman empire by means of (human) force is that he was crucified on charges of political insurgency. If he was charged with insurgency, he was probably an insurgent. There is, of course, a powerful logic to this view, but it has its flaws, and an alternative explanation actually works better.

In terms of flaws, it needs to be noted and emphasized that in our sources the other two people crucified with Jesus were called lestai (sometimes translate “robbers” – but Josephus uses it to refer to someone engaged in guerrilla warfare against the ruling authorities, an armed insurgent). So too in the Gospel of John, Barabbas – the one the crowds preferred to Jesus – is also called a lestes. But – here’s the *big* point: Jesus is NOT called a lestes in these accounts. Ever. And he is not condemned to death –as are these others – for being a lestes. He is condemned for calling himself the king of the Jews. There’s a big difference.

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