Summary: Who was Barabbas and how the story of Barabbas applies to our life.
Now at that feast [Pilate] released unto them one prisoner, whomsoever they desired. And there was one named Barabbas, which lay bound with them that had made insurrection with him, who had committed murder
in the insurrection. And the multitude crying aloud began to desire him to do as he had ever done unto them. But Pilate answered them, saying, Will ye that I release unto you the King of the Jews? For he knew that the chief priests had delivered Him for envy. But the chief priests moved the people, that he should rather release Barabbas unto them. And Pilate answered and said again unto them, What will ye then that I shall do unto Him whom ye call the King of the Jews? And they cried out again, Crucify Him. Then Pilate said unto them, Why, what evil hath He done? And they cried out the more exceedingly, Crucify Him. And so Pilate, willing to content the people, released Barabbas unto them, and delivered Jesus, when he had scourged Him, to be crucified.
Five days before the events of our reading, Jesus made His triumphant entry into Jerusalem riding a donkey to fulfill the prophecy recorded in Zachariah 9:9. The Jews in the city hailed His arrival, praised His name, and pretty much crowned Him their king. He had a few encounters with the Priests and Pharisees during the week concerning the scriptures, but it was nothing the Word of God had any trouble in correcting mistaken ideas. The day before was the Passover and Jesus ate the traditional meal with His twelve chosen disciples. But that Thursday night was to be an unusual night.
During the Passover meal, Jesus broke with tradition and instituted what is now known as The Lord’s Supper. During this time the disciple Judas Iscariot left the group to go to the priests to betray Jesus to them. Later that night Jesus took the disciples Peter, John, and James with Him to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray before the next day’s events. It was while in the Garden that Judas betrayed Jesus to the priests. Jesus was arrested by the Roman military, His disciples abandoned Him, Peter denying knowing Jesus, and He stood trials before the Jewish priests, the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, the Jewish puppet king Herod, and once again to stand before Pilate. Pilate believed Jesus innocent of the charges against Him and tried everything he could do to get Jesus released.
Pilate declared to the crowd he found no fault in Jesus, nothing that He should have been arrested over. The book of Mark tells us Pilate knew the priests turned Jesus over to him out of jealousy. Pilate had Jesus flogged, whipped, and he planned on releasing Jesus after that. According to Roman law, a prisoner would be sentenced to death or flogged and released. And the flogging was horrific in itself. The leather of the whip was braided around pieces of metal or bone, so the flesh on the back would be torn and ripped off during the ordeal. The maximum amount of lashes allowed by Roman law was 40, but the count was set at 39, in case the man doing the whipping got a bit overzealous.
According to custom, a prisoner was to be released on the festival of Passover, and Pilate was bound to this custom. The book of Matthew stated that Pilate offered the crowd a choice of who to release, either Jesus or a man named Barabbas. Throughout the Gospels, Barabbas has been described as notable, to mean notorious, in Matthew, a murderer and guilty of insurrection in both Mark and Luke, and a thief in the book of John; certainly by all accounts not a good or decent man. To Pilate, this should have solved the issue about Jesus’ release. After all, once insurrections were put down by the Romans, some stiff penalties were levied against the people, like early curfews, bans against large gatherings, and an increase in taxes were common; and Barabbas was part of the reason any penalties were in place, plus this was not a man the people should want walking the streets. Imagine Pilate’s surprise when the Jews cried “Give us Barabbas.” According to John, Pilate was told if he released Jesus he would not be a friend to Caesar. If Pilate was found not being a friend of Caesar, he would have lost his governorship and all political influence and aspirations, and that’s on the good side. After this Pilate had no choice but to hand Jesus over to death by crucifixion and release Barabbas.
What needs to be asked is who was this Barabbas that Pilate offered to free? In all of scriptures he is only mentioned at this time. In some of the more ancient texts of Matthew, Barabbas is identified as Jesus Barabbas. The early church father Origen, this would have been around 220 AD, was troubled by this fact and Barabbas’ first name was the same as Christ’s and had it dropped obviously so this terrible man would not be so closely identified with the Savior. An interesting note about his name; Barabbas in the Aramaic is written as bar-Abba, which means “son of the father”; so his name is Jesus son of the father.