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Summary: Is the church substituting the Biblical Jesus for a plastic Jesus of their own making?

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Jesus or Barabbas? –And Your Verdict is?

Rev. Mark Barber

ἐêñáýãáóáí ïὖí ðÜëéí ëÝãïíôåò· ìὴ ôïῦôïí ἀëëὰ ôὸí Âáñáââᾶí. ἦí äὲ ὁ Âáñáââᾶò ëῃóôÞò.

And they again cried out: “Not this man, but Barabbas”. Now Barabbas was an insurrectionist..

John 18:40

John does not directly bring out Pilate’s offer to the Jewish people between Jesus and Barabbas. Perhaps to him there was only one choice to make. John is not in the habit of giving details unless it was necessary to make his case. But from the other gospels we know about this ploy on the part of Pilate to evade making a decision about Jesus. But a decision would be forced this very day by him, the Jewish leaders, and the Jewish people. There is really no option. Everyone must choose between Jesus and Barabbas.

There is a fascinating play on words between the names of the two main characters. The last name “Barabbas” is Aramaic “son of the father”. This is a title which would fit Jesus well, especially in the Gospel of John. And if the reading of Matthew 27:19 is correct ([Ἰçóïῦí ôὸí] Âáñáââᾶí {C} in the NA27, then Barabbas’ first name was also “Jesus” or “Joshua”. So here we have to make a choice between two men called “Jesus, Son of the Father.”

John describes Barabbas as a thief (ëῃóôÞò). The word in Greek ranges in meaning from “robber” to “revolutionary”4 Luke in LK 23:19 seems to support the idea of revolutionary (äéὰ óôÜóéí ôéíὰ ãåíïìÝíçí ἐí ôῇ ðüëåé êáὶ öüíïí5, “because of a certain uprising in the city, and murder.”). This would tend to give us the idea that this Barabbas was a Messiah figure whose crime was trying to overthrow Roman authority.

Another key to the puzzle occurs in the Feeding of the Five Thousand in John 6. In verse fifteen (ὅôé ìÝëëïõóéí ἔñ÷åóèáé êáὶ ἁñðÜæåéí áὐôὸí ἵíá ðïéÞóùóéí âáóéëÝá, “and because they were about to come and seize Him for the purpose of making Him king.” In other words, they were trying to make Jesus do what Barabbas had attempted.

So it now becomes clear that everyone has to make a choice between two Messiah figures. The Jesus they chose was the one that fulfilled their expectations of a king, a revolutionary, a proponent of “Liberation Theology”. To this Jesus and his followers, the end justified the means, if people had to be killed in the process, too bad. These people must have felt that God needed a little help to restore Israel to its former glory. They probably would have applauded JFK’s inauguration speech in 1961 where he said “Here on Earth, God’s work must truly be our own”, if taken in the sense that we determine what God’s work is and then set the agenda for doing it. And as long as their king brings success, then they will follow. Barabbas was given another chance at life, but he disappears completely from history. It’s too bad that there are all too many false Messiah’s who have been willing to take his place. His fate of anonymity awaits the rest who follow him. Think of all the figures of the past whose memory has fallen into woeful neglect. Their ten minutes of fame have left them behind. They have been reduced to the wrong answer on a true/false history quiz. And in the ultimate end of things, all their works shall be burned and forgotten.


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