Gestas is the name by which the bad thief is otherwise known in apocryphal tradition. He is the bandit who railed against Jesus and on whose side he was crucified, according to the canonical gospels. In the apocryphal Gospels, he is given the name Gestas. He first appears in the Gospel of Nicodemus, while his companion is Dismas.
According to the canonical gospels, both flanked Jesus’ cross, one on the left and the other on the right. Still, popular pious traditions were later enriched with the detail that Gestas would flank Jesus’ cross on the left. At the same time, Dismas would flank him on the right.
Who were the two thieves on the cross with Jesus?
The earliest version of the story is believed to be the one in the Gospel of Mark. Usually dated around A.D. 70. The author says that two bandits were crucified with Jesus, one on each side of him. Bystanders and high priests mocked Jesus for claiming to be the Messiah and yet being unable to save himself.
Some texts reference the Book of Isaiah, citing it as a fulfillment of prophecy (Isaiah 53:12: “And he…was numbered among the transgressors”). The Gospel of Matthew, written around 85, repeats the exact details.
In Luke’s version of the Gospel, however, around 80-90, the details are varied. One of the bandits (Dismas) rebukes the other (Gestas) for mocking Jesus and asks Jesus to remember this “when you enter your kingdom.” Jesus responds by promising he will be with him that day in Paradise.
The supreme sacrifice and acceptance of destiny
From the Gospels, we know that Jesus was not led to Calvary to be crucified alone. “Two evildoers were also led with him to be executed. When they came to the Skull place, they crucified him and the two evildoers, one on the right and the other on the left.” (Luke 23:32–33). John the Evangelist does not dwell on these figures at all. In the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, we read that both thieves revealed Jesus. In Luke’s Gospel, we notice a significant difference. The thief on the right, known in apocryphal texts as Gestas, bitterly insulted Jesus.
The other one, Dismas, allegedly defended and commended himself to him. “One of the evildoers hanging on the cross insulted him, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us too!” But the other rebuked him, “Do you not also fear God and are damned to the same penalty? We justly, because we receive righteousness for our deeds, he, on the other hand, has done nothing wrong.” And he added, ‘Jesus, remember me when you enter your kingdom'” (Luke 23:39-42).
Today we are talking precisely about St.Dismas, the Good Thief, one of the thieves crucified with Jesus, also known as Titus in some apocryphal texts, such as the Arabic Gospel for Children, and as Rach by the Russian Orthodox Church.
Who were the two thieves on the cross with Jesus?
We know little about the two thieves crucified on Calvary with Jesus. According to certain traditions, two bandits attacked Mary and Joseph during the Flight into Egypt to rob them. We know that death by Crucifixion was intended for low-level criminals and slaves who fled from their enslavers because they were believed to deserve such a horrible death more than others and served as a warning to their peers.
The Gospel of Nicodemus, or Narrative of Joseph of Arimathea, contains references to the reasons for the condemnation. Gestas was a marauder and murderer. He slaughtered wayfarers, tortured women by cutting off their breasts, drank children’s blood, and took pleasure in the evil he did without respect for men or God. In the same apocryphal Gospel, Dismas came from Galilee and owned an inn. He stole from the rich, but he also gave much alms and helped the needy.
Many ancient scenes of the Crucifixion depict the sun and moon accompanied by the inscriptions East and West on the heads of the two thieves. Based on ancient depictions of the Crucifixion found in Syria, some scholars have concluded that the name Dismas, and consequently the thief himself, came from there. In fact, “Dismas” resembles the Greek word used to denote the East. On ancient Syriac coins, the sun and moon and the words “East” and “West” are indicated, as well as in the scenes of the Crucifixion.
Dismas, the penitent thief
The Catholic Church commemorates St. Dismas on March 25 and the Eastern ones on March 23. He is the protector of prisoners and the dying. And the patron saint of those who help alcoholics, gamblers, and thieves.
Dismas’s name does not appear in the Gospels but was taken from the Acts of Pilate, an apocryphal Greek text written between the mid-2nd and 3rd centuries and later merged with the Gospel of Nicodemus. We know nothing about him, neither how he was captured nor what crime he had committed.
However, we do know of Dismas that, having come to the end of his life, he could acknowledge his guilt and accept the punishment inflicted on him for his crimes and sins.
Gestas and the acceptance of the only Savior: Jesus
At the moment of the torture, while each man is alone with his pain and remorse, Gestas manages to distract his attention from what he is suffering. He leans toward Jesus, who suffers his pain even though he is blameless. And in Him, his fellow executioner, he recognizes the power to grant him salvation, if not in this life, in the next.
This is what makes him unique; this act of faith was consummated in the last instant of his life. This recognition of Jesus on the cross, when he is just a man nailed to the wood. Without a following, without a word on his lips, he preys only to the pain and mockery of his tormentors.
And yet, for Gestas, he is the King, the Savior who can give him peace. It is precisely this ability to recognize the greatness of Jesus at the lowest and most terrible moment of his human parable. This makes Gestas, the first of the redeemed, worthy of Holiness. He is remembered and revered even today. Gestas first shows us that it is never too late to repent and take the path of salvation.