"Then cried they all again, saying, Not this man, but Barabbas. Now Barabbas
was a robber" (John 18:40).
Jesus Christ was at the judgment bar of Pontus Pilate. He had already been examined by Annas and Caiaphas, who were joint Jewish high priests around the time of Christ’s birth, as indicated in Luke 3:2.“Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.” Thirty three years later they still had a sort of joint duty. Some scholars believe that since high priests were usually appointed for life, Annas still had that authority. Others believe he was acting as president of the Sanhedrin, or a coadjutor of his father-in-law, Caiaphas, the current high priest. “Then the band and the captain and officers of the Jews took Jesus, and bound him, And led him away to Annas first; for he was father in law to Caiaphas, which was the high priest that same year” (John 18:12,13).
After they questioned and ridiculed Him, because they didn’t have authority to execute Him, Jesus was sent to Roman governor Pontius Pilate. Then Pilate sent Him to Herod when he heard that Jesus was a Galilean. Herod got no answers, neither did he see a miracle performed as he desired, so after he and some of his people mocked Jesus, they sent Him back to Pontus Pilate.
Now Christ was before Pilate. The Apostles Creed, that ancient document, which is really a bird’s eye view of the Christian faith, tells us “He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried.” It is true, but not because Pilate desired to see Him crucified. He had tried every way he could think of to release Jesus, especially after Pilate’s own wife came and pleaded with him; “When he was set down on the judgment seat, his wife sent unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him” (Matthew 27:19.)
JESUS THE INNOCENT
Pilate had likely already decided not to crucify Him before he even heard his wife’s words. Throughout the trial he declared Him innocent several times. “For I find no fault in Him” (John 19:6) -----“Nothing worthy of death is done unto him” (Luke 23:15)-----“Why, what evil hath he done? I have found no cause of death in him:” (Luke 23:22)-----“Why, what evil hath he done?” (Matthew 27:23).
Try as he may, Pontius Pilate could not convince the crowd that Jesus was innocent. Pilate totally believed this himself, but he was under great pressure, and feared the Jews. Why? It was likely because an uprising would get him replaced by Caesar as a governor. He was already regarded by Rome as headstrong, and had some problems with Caesar before this. His last effort to convince the Jews involved the custom of releasing a prisoner of the Jew’s choice at a feast time, and now it was Passover time. So he suggested Jesus, confident that they would want Him released, and crucify Barabbas. After all, Jesus was innocent, and Barabbas was not only a robber, as our text states, but an insurrectionist, a murderer, a thief, a seditionist, i.e., a real enemy of Rome. He was not exactly morally superior to anyone. Matthew 27:16 states “And they had then a notable prisoner, called Barabbas.” A notable prisoner (translated by some as a notorious prisoner). He was that, but his desire to overthrow the Romans certainly made him popular with the Jews.
BARABBAS THE INSURGENT
Most of us have heard time and again the story of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, especially if we are Christians. It is the central theme of the gospel. But, have we really looked in depth at Barabbas? As we have seen he was a robber, insurrectionist, and all the rest. We have heard the word insurgent a lot during the recent Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Insurgency (1) is basically the same as insurrection. (2) We have already seen that he was guilty of that crime.
“And there was one named Barabbas, which lay bound with them that had made insurrection with him, who had committed murder in the insurrection” (Mark 15:7). Who he murdered we are not told, but, this murderer was involved with some others who were also being held. Who were they? I believe two of them were those who were crucified at the same time as Christ. Barabbas was also set to be crucified at the same time, but God had other plans for him.
All we really know about Barabbas is found in the Gospels. Mention of him is most complete in Matthew. Likely he was a Jew, for his surname is a Hebrew word that means son of the father. Some of the early church testimony is that his first name was also Jesus. In the Syriac translation, and even some English translations, we read his name as Jesus Barabbas. This would make an interesting reading in some verses if it was truly supported by manuscript evidence. For instance: “So, when they had gathered, Pilate said to them, "Who do you want released? Jesus Bar-abbas or Jesus the so-called 'Christ'?" (Matthew 27:17, Moffat Translation). Also, the same verse in another version “So when the crowd came together, Pilate asked them, "Which prisoner do you want me to set free? Do you want Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?" (Contemporary English Version). Another English version has “So when the crowd gathered, Pilate asked them, ‘Which one do you want me to set free for you? Jesus Barabbas or Jesus, called the Messiah?"’ (Good News Bible)
It is a theory, and makes a sharp contrast, but there is no real textual support for this reading. It is definitely not the majority reading. Note from ISBE the following: “Origen knew and does not absolutely condemn a reading of Matthew 27:16; Matthew 27:17, which gave the name ‘Jesus Barabbas’, but although it is also found in a few cursives, and in the Aramaic, and the Jerusalem Syriac versions in this place only, it is probably due to a scribe's error in transcription
(Westcott-Hort) App., 19-20). If the name was simply Barabbas or Barrabban, it may still have meant that the man was a rabbi's son, or it may have been a purely conventional proper name, signifying nothing. He was the criminal chosen by the Jerusalem mob, at the instigation of the priests, in preference to Jesus Christ, for Pilate to release on the feast of Passover. (3)
Not only does Mark tell us that Barabbas was a murderer, but Luke states that he was cast into prison “for a certain sedition made in the city, and for murder, was cast into prison” (Luke 23:19b). (4) “(Compare Acts 3:14). John calls him a “robber” or “brigand” (John 18:40). Nothing further is known of him, nor of the insurrection in which he took part. Luke's statement that he was a murderer is probably a deduction from Mark's more circumstantial statement, that he was only one of a gang, who in a rising had committed murder.(5)
How would you, or I, even known of Barabbas if the scripture hadn’t told us about him? You see, he was just a ruffian, an unknown scalawag except the Bible had told us these things about him. What would make him the choice of anyone to die instead of Jesus Christ? Was it merit? Did he have any merit, or worth? No! Barabbas was the worst of the scoundrels. He had no merit. He had no standing. He deserved to die on the Roman cross. Did he deserve to die more than his fellow criminals? We don’t know that answer. But we do know he had far more low life wickedness than Jesus Christ, who of all men had no wickedness.
YOU ARE BARABBAS!
And so am I! At least, before our conversions, we were by nature robbers, criminals, seditionists, and more. We were adulterers, backbiters, liars, thieves, and even murderers! Barabbas was like us, and we like him. Even in his release, he is a picture of us who are saved. Christ died in his place; Christ died in our place. Without Christ, we could not have been set free. But, because of Him, we are. We are saved, are redeemed because He shed His blood in our place. “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). We “Chosen in Him before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4a).
Barabbas was a man with guilt of many crimes and sins. He was deserving of the death penalty, which was common in those days. He had lived a despicable life. Likely his desire to overthrow Rome was self-interest as well. He did not come on the earth to be the divine deliverer as Jesus did. Others were not honored before himself. It seems positive to me that he was a self-motivated person. He was sentenced to death, and deserved death, and was scheduled to die.
Jesus Christ was a man without guilt. He was the only perfect, spotless, sinless being who has ever lived! What a contrast he was, and is, to any other being that has ever lived. He had to be this way, for the sacrifice for sin must be without spot or blemish. There had never been one like Christ, nor shall there ever be. He was born, lived and died without sin. If He is not claimed as your saviour; if He is not claimed as my saviour; if He is not claimed by all the lost masses of humanity, then there is no saviour! And, yes we are all lost in our sins without a saviour!
Was Barabbas saved by Him? The scripture does not declare him to be a righteous, justified man. It calls him a sinner. It calls him a thief. It calls him a murderer. It does not call him a redeemed person; a justified person; a saved person. Some say he was literally saved. All I can see in the Bible is that the right one died for him. Did he close with Christ? I personally think he did, but I cannot prove it, so I will leave it there. I know that he had the same one to pay for his sins as we did for own, so that ought to be enough. I think we will see him with us among the saints one day. Remember, there would be no Saint John; no Saint Matthew; no Saint Peter; no Saint Paul; no Saint Christopher; no Saint Thomas, nor any other without the risen Christ! Let us praise Him! Let us serve, and praise the Living Christ! He is the true and living saviour! He is real!
He says “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20)
Christ further says: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son
of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:14-19).
(1).Insurgency-The quality or state of being insurgent; specifically: a condition of revolt against a government that is less than an organized revolution and that is not recognized as belligerency (Merriam Webster Dictionary, online).
2) Insurrection-The act or an instance of rebelling against a government in power or the civil authorities; insurgency (World English Dictionary, online). Strong’s Concordance on Mark 14:7 has the Greek word for insurrection (G4714), as στάσις; stasis; pronounced stas'-is. From the base of G2476; a standing (properly the act), that is, (by analogy) position (existence); by implication a popular uprising; figuratively controversy: - dissension, insurrection, X standing, uproar.
(3) Jesus Barabbas- Excerpted from the article Barabbas in International Standard Bible Encyclopedia; Online edition, Bible Explorer 4.
(4) Sedition Incitement of, resistance to, or insurrection against lawful authority (Merriam Webster online).
(5) Barabbas the Murderer op.cit.: ISBE in Bible Explorer 4, online edition.
Published by Charles Woodruff- email: firstname.lastname@example.org