Summary: Have you ever wondered if Christ's death had an impact on Barabbas? He knew that Jesus had taken his place on the cross.
And so this is how it would end, it wasn’t what he expected at all. On Friday he had watched as they crucified the carpenter and he walked free. And that is how it should have ended, a happy ending for him, a not so happy ending for Jesus of Nazareth, the carpenter who almost became king.
He had spent his entire life pursing violence, and only as an adult had he attached his violence to a cause, the cause of Jewish freedom, he had become a Zealot, one of the freedom fighters seeking to rid Israel of its Roman oppressors. And of course violence begets violence and one day he killed a man, sure the man deserved to die but the Roman authorities didn’t see it that way and he was arrested and sentenced to die. And not just die but to die on a Roman cross, a horrible violent death that fit a horrible violent man.
But that changed when Pilate, the Roman governor offered a sop to the crowd, because it was the Passover celebration he would grant freedom to one prisoner.
And then he presented the two for the crowd to choose from. And tradition tells us that both men shared a common name, Jesus. There was Jesus of Nazareth, the man who preached love and forgiveness, the man who played with children and healed sick people. The Jesus who the crowds had welcomed into Jerusalem only a week before, waving palm branches and shouting Hosanna, blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
And then there was Jesus Barabbas, or possibly Jesus Bar Rabbis, which means Jesus the Rabbis’ son. And he was a preacher of a different sort. His congregation were those who were demanding an end to the Roman occupation and rule. Perhaps if they had of won they would have been considered heroes but they didn’t win and so they were terrorist and criminals and murderers. Hated by the Romans and distrusted by the ordinary people of the day Barabbas really didn’t see the crowds picking him and yet when offered the choice and it is recorded in Matthew 27:15-17 Now it was the governor’s custom each year during the Passover celebration to release one prisoner to the crowd—anyone they wanted. This year there was a notorious prisoner, a man named Barabbas. As the crowds gathered before Pilate’s house that morning, he asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you—Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?”
A simple choice, “Should I free the one that you wanted to crown as king just a week ago or should I release the one who has been terrorizing the country side? You decide.” It should have been simple but listen to what Luke writes Luke 23:18-21 Then a mighty roar rose from the crowd, and with one voice they shouted, “Kill him, and release Barabbas to us!” (Barabbas was in prison for taking part in an insurrection in Jerusalem against the government, and for murder.) Pilate argued with them, because he wanted to release Jesus. But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
I don’t even think Barabbas expected that. And so the Gospels tell us that Pilate washed his hands and said “Fine, go ahead but his blood will be on your hands not mine.” And Jesus the Nazarene was crucified and Jesus Bar Rabbis walked away. And that’s how it should have ended, but it didn’t. Because that was Friday and today is Sunday.
Tradition says that Barabbas followed the procession to the cross and watched as Jesus was crucified, that makes sense, if only in a gallows sort of way. After all Barabbas above all people knew that it should have been him on that cross.
I wonder if Barabbas made his way to the tomb to watch as they buried Jesus? Perhaps like Yogi Berra, his philosophy was “Always go to other people's funerals, otherwise they won't come to yours.”
But that was Friday and today was Sunday. On Friday Barabbas was the winner and Jesus was the loser. On Friday Barabbas lived and Jesus died, on Friday love hung on a cross and hate walked free. But that was Friday and today is Sunday.
Because history would be measured not from Friday but from Sunday. And on Sunday Jesus of Nazareth became the focal point of human history and Barabbas became just a sad footnote. You might say, “That’s all she wrote.” Because we know nothing else for certainty about Barabbas, he walked away from the cross on Friday and walked into obscurity. Tradition tells us that he was later killed while involved in another rebellion attempt, which goes to prove you can’t teach some people nothing.
You would think, that Barabbas would have been more aware of the fact that Jesus had taken his place on the cross and when the stories of the resurrection began to surface that if only out of curoristy he would have checked the stories out. And that as a result of the reurrection that Barabbas’ life would have been turned around and he would have become a Christ follower. But there is no evidence of that at all, and as rich as tradition is with stories of the disciples and other early followers of Christ there is no mention of Barabbas.