Summary: Jesus was killed while Barabbas, the genuinely guilty, was set free. This is a picture of salvation in that Jesus died so we, the guilty, may be set free.
The Irony of Good Friday… I am sure that the irony that reveals itself in the fact that we refer to today as Good Friday does not escape our minds. From the perspective of all who bore eyewitness to the events that transpired during the 24 hours of that first Good Friday, it was anything but good. From the most devout disciple to the most casual onlooker the events that transpired before their very eyes were anything but good. Think about it! It is recorded that the political authorities of the day examined Jesus and the charges against Him and concluded that He was innocent. Jesus was pronounced innocent not once, not twice but THREE times by those who had the power to render such a verdict! The crowd of opposition would not allow the verdict to stand and demanded that these political leaders do as they wished and what they wished for was for Jesus to be put to death.
Friday’s Were Days of Death... Furthermore, the first Good Friday was actually a bad day on the calendar. This was a day of death. The Romans, while not having the appeasement of the Jews as a high priority, did respect them enough to organize themselves in such a way that the Sabbath and the other religious festivals could be observed in peace. Therefore, it was common that executions be held on Friday’s so that those executed could be removed from the cross so that the Sabbath would not be desecrated. We know this to be the case because Jesus’ body was removed from the cross and buried quickly before the Sabbath began. Isn’t it ironic that today we wake up on Monday looking forward to Friday but during Jesus’ day Friday was not so desired especially knowing that condemned criminals would be put to death on that day.
The Romans had prepared for this day. There were three condemned criminals who were to be crucified that day—two thieves whose name we do not know and one murderous insurrectionist named Barabbas. Three crosses had been prepared and were waiting for the occupants to be placed. Three people were being held in the first century’s version of death row. The trials had been held. The verdicts had been rendered. The sentences had been pronounced. Three men were waiting to die that day. Three men were waiting to die that day. Three men were waiting to die that day.
One guilty man destined for death was going to get an unsuspected pardon while One innocent man destined to live was going to die.
What’s The Hold Up? Historians and archaeologists suggests that those who were sentenced to die would have been brought up out of their prison cells and placed in a holding area, of sorts, on the morning of death or possibly even the night before. It is also suggested that executions, especially in Jerusalem, took place early in the day so that everything could be “cleaned up” long before sundown because that is when the Sabbath began. On this day of execution things did not go as normal. There was an interruption in the normal flow of things that day because the crowds, being led by their religious leaders, were demanding that Jesus be put to death with the others who had been condemned to death but the authorities struggled to grant their request because they could not find anything to charge Him with that would deserve death. Everything was on hold because there was this great commotion surrounding Jesus. Nothing was going as normal because of this great commotion surrounding Jesus. Imagine what it must have been like for the two thieves and Barabbas in the holding area. They knew what this day held for them. This was going to be a bad day. They knew their destiny and probably wondered what the hold up was. When you know it is going to be a bad day you just want to get it over with! Everything was being held up because people were demanding that an innocent man be put to death.
The Guilty Set Free. One of the customs of the day was that a prisoner could be released from their sentence of condemnation if the majority so chose. This was a gift from the Romans to the Jews and was done when executions were taking place during or near a time of celebration (the Passover celebration was in full swing). Pilate, hoping that the people would ask for Jesus to be released, asked whether they would have Jesus live and Barabbas die or Jesus die and Barabbas live. Pilate chose Barabbas because he assumed that he, of all people, would never be chosen by the people. Remember, he had found Jesus innocent. Not guilty and his conscience was seething within at the thought of murdering an innocent man. Therefore, he set before them Barabbas rather than on of the other criminals we are familiar with that eventually hung on both sides of Jesus. Barabbas was known by all as both a murderer and an insurrectionist. He not only tried to put to death the system of Roman rule over him but also put to death his fellow man.