THIEF, THIEVES (Heb. gannāv, steal, Gr. kleptēs, lestēs, thief). The word is used for anyone who appropriates someone else’s property, including petty thieves and highwaymen (Luke.10.30; John.12.6). Under the law of Moses, thieves who were caught were expected to restore twice the amount stolen. The thieves crucified with Jesus must have been robbers or brigands, judging by the severity of the punishment and the fact that one of them acknowledged that the death penalty imposed on them was just (Luke.23.41).
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
thef: In the Old Testament the uniform translation (17 times) of gannabh, from ganabh, "steal," but gannabh is rather broader than the English "thief," and may even include a kidnapper (De 24:7). In Apocrypha and the New Testament, the King James Version uses "thief" indifferently for kleptes, and lestes, but the Revised Version (British and American) always renders the latter word by "robber" (a great improvement), See Crimes. The figurative use of thief" as one coming without warning" (Mt 24:43, etc.) needs no explanation.
The penitent thief ("robber," the Revised Version (British and American) Mr 15:27; Mt 27:38,44; "malefactor," Lu 23:32,39) was one of the two criminals crucified with Christ. According to Mark and Matthew, both of these joined in the crowd’s mockery, but Luke tells that one of them reproached his fellow for the insults, acknowledged his own guilt, and begged Christ to remember him at the coming of the Kingdom. And Christ replied by promising more than was asked--immediate admission into Paradise. It should be noted that unusual moral courage was needed for the thief to make his request at such a time and under such circumstances, and that his case has little in common with certain sentimental "death-bed repentances."
To explain the repentance and the acknowledgment of Christ as Messiah, some previous acquaintance of the thief with Christ must be supposed, but all guesses as to time and place are of course useless. Later tradition abundantly filled the blanks and gave the penitent thief the name Titus or Dysmas.
See Assassins; Barabbas.
Crimes and Punishments