“What was that?” he thought. “Is that my name? Are they really shouting for my name?”
“How could that be?” the prisoner may have asked himself. “I am guilty. I am sentenced to die.”
Barabbas, the criminal, assumed his death was forthcoming. A death by crucifixion was his sentence. Barabbas, the anarchist had helped lead a rebellion against the Roman authority which had resulted in his imprisonment. Under Roman occupation, Barabbas sought freedom for his Jewish countrymen. Like so many other conquered people before him and so many afterwards, Barabbas and his fellow rebels sought a violent solution to vanquish their subjugators. In the melee of the insurrection, Barabbas had fought and killed. Yet, in the end, his revolutionary efforts were too weak for the strong and powerful Roman guard. Barabbas was captured. Charged with murder, Barabbas was convicted for his crimes against the Roman Empire.
As Barabbas contemplated his life and actions in his prison cell, certain that his death was imminent, what would he have thought as he listened to the crowds outside the prison yell for his freedom?
Barabbas knew his name. His name’s meaning in Aramaic was “son of the father – bar abba” or “son of the teacher.” His name implied that his father was a Jewish leader of some sort. According to Biblical scholars, the full name of Barabbas may have actually been Jesus Barabbas – since Jesus was a common first name.
Somewhere near, listening to the uproarious crowd stood another man. His name was Jesus, as well. This Jesus claimed to be the Son of God. He, too, had been captured and presented before the Roman authority for judgment and sentencing. Yet, at this time of year, during the Passover Festival, the Roman authority offered one prisoner an opportunity for redemption. The people would choose whom to release, and this year, their calls identified one man. His name was Jesus Barabbas.
Barabbas’ story is told in all four Gospels. He is first introduced in the book of Matthew…
Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus Barabbas. So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him.
While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message:
“Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.”
But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.
“Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor.
“Barabbas,” they answered.
“What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked.
They all answered, “Crucify him!”
“Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.
But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”
When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”
All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!”
Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified. New International Version Matthew 27: 15-26
Barabbas, the rebel
Barabbas, the fool
Barabbas, the insurrectionist
Barabbas, the criminal
Barabbas, the murderer
Barabbas, the people’s hero
This was the incriminated and complicated man that the clamorous crowd insisted be released.
In the place of Barabbas, Jesus, the man who shared his common name, was condemned. Jesus, the Son of God, was sentenced to death on a cross; ultimately bearing the sins of Barabbas and all of mankind upon his body. The man that Peter identified as guilty of murder was exonerated. “But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this.” New International Acts 3:14-15
Barabbas was spared death and offered redemption as a result of an unruly crowd’s demands. But was he really pardoned by this group, or by God Himself?
Truly, I believe that God out of His love for Barabbas, for the unruly crowd, for you and for me, initiated the pathway to life and eternity when Jesus was convicted to death on a cross. Barabbas should have died then. He was guilty. He knew it. His captors knew it. The demanding crowd knew it. And God knew it.
Yet, Jesus chose to accept the undeserved, scandalous death penalty for Barabbas and ultimately for you and for me in order to vanquish the grip of death on all of mankind.
There is no further mention of this man in Scripture. However, this single life intersection between Jesus Christ, Son of Man and Jesus Barabbas, son of the father/teacher impacted eternity. Today, Barabbas, the condemned, is known as the one for whom Jesus died.
Just like me.
I am Barabbas.
I am known today as a believer for whom Jesus Christ died.
Perhaps you are, too.
Jesus surrendered his life and bore my sins on the cross at Calvary. He fractured sin’s influence and control in my life. Jesus Christ was “…delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” New International Version, Romans 4:25
Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day. New International Version, 1 Corinthians 15:3-5
He died so that I may live – just as he died for Barabbas’ sins – so that he may live.
Soon thereafter, Barabbas disappeared into the annals of time. His name was not mentioned again in Scripture – other than in reference to his life intersection with Jesus Christ.
This was not the case with Jesus, the Son of God, and Savior of the world!
The uproarious crowd believed that death would be the end of Jesus – instead it served as the pathway to resurrection and life for all who would call upon the name of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. New International Version, Philiippians 2:9-11
Image retrieved from Flickr