Summary: It is impossible to study the Easter Story without studying Barabas. However, this interesting character deserves careful study on his own. He was all the Bible said he was and more, yet, he serves as a type of every sinner who is set free because Christ

MARK 15:6-15




A. Bitterness.

B. Brutality.

C. Bonds.


A. Bartering.

B. Balancing.

C. Biasness.


A. Blameless.

B. Beginning.

C. Beholding.

Barabbas has to be the most fortunate prisoner in the world. He was scheduled to die and Christ took his place. Yet, this forlorn prisoner is a type of all of us who have been set free by Christ when He forgave us our sins. However, a close look at this common prisoner of years gone by reveals a very peculiar fugitive. He was all that Rome claimed him to be and probably more. Yet, he was set free. In studying the trial and death of Jesus one has to include the study of this very hard hearted man named: Barabbas.

One moment he was facing total extinction by the means of crucifixion and another moment he was set free. It is highly unlikely that he had a change of heart, politically speaking, it is hopeful he had a change of heart, spiritually speaking after he found out just Who it was that brought about his freedom.

The Bible is ripe with a few facts about this renegade and how he got into the situation in which he found himself. However, there is much we do not know about him. What we do know about him is contained in a few verses. He suddenly appears at the trial of Jesus and then upon being set free, he seems to have disappeared into the mist of the past.

It is my firm belief that the moment he found out about his release, he was in shock and utter disbelief. However, that did not stop him from enjoying his new found freedom. I have to wonder if he made it to the spot where Jesus was dying in his place and he thanked Him for what He was doing? I wonder if he ventured near Golgotha’s hill and stood watching Christ die in his place? I wonder if he ever tried to make contact with Jesus and tell Him thanks for what he was doing for him? Then, I wonder about my self. When was the last time I thanked Christ for dying for me? As I study Barabbas, I cannot but see myself in many reflections of this mysterious prisoner. If Barabbas never told Jesus thanks for dying for him-I want to re double my efforts and tell Jesus thanks for dying for me. Jesus could have walked away from that motley mod that day as His life hung in the balance between Himself and Barabbas, but He stayed chained and bound and knew that the crowd would chose a low life over Him-the Son of God. This was what had to be, yet He deserved more and He deserves more of my gratitude for His death for me.

In my sermon on Barabbas, I see three things here. I see his BIOGRAPHY, that which he wrote-not with words but with his actions. Next, I see the very BIZARRNESS of this whole episode. Then, I cannot but help to notice, the BLESSINGS this felon enjoyed all because of Jesus.

I. THE BIOGRAPHY: Just what was it that Barabbas wrote? I do not think he wrote things down with words, but someone did write something that has passed on into the Sacred text and into the annals of history. We must remember, all of us are composing our auto-biography for someone to read. We are writing page after page, every day of our life. We are busy telling a story about ourselves that is more potent than mere words. Our actions, our conversations, our deeds are all being read by someone, somewhere. It behooves us to write a godly auto-biography for all to read about our faith in God.

The first thing I see written in his life’s story is his Bitterness against Rome. He hated Rome and her occupation of his homeland. He was one of many Jews of his day who hated these foreigners. The Jewish people were proud people and wanted their freedom more than anything else. Almost to a citizen, the Jewish populace hated the Romans. They hated the taxes imposed on them by these dastardly Romans. They hated the arrogant soldiers who stood over them, humiliating them, and sometimes making them carry their heavy loads at their behest.

The Jewish populace hate the Roman restrictions on their ability to speak Hebrew in the open. The Jews hated the Romans because these foreigners restricted their worship and the ability to carry out the law of Moses regarding their own legal system. The Jewish populace hated the Romans because they, were powerless to throw the pagan Romans out of their land so they endured. They endured their situation; they endured their hatred; and, they prayed for deliverance.

Yet, the majority of the Jewish people would never attempt anything so foolish as taking part in an insurrection against their captives. The mass of the Hebrew people might have hated the Romans, but they were smart enough not to challenge Rome. I said most of the Jewish populace was that intellectually blessed. However, not all of the Jewish people thought alike and Barabbas was no common run of the mill Jewish person. His hatred towards the Romans grew and grew within him. It gnawed at him like a cancer gone amok in a sick body. His hatred was so keen that it turned him into a bitter, angry person who felt like doing something against the Romans was better than not doing anything. His Bitterness ate and ate at him until one day he could take the terrible hatred no anger and participated in an open insurrection against Rome.

The Bible does not tell us if he acted alone or with others. What the text does say is that he was guilty of participating in an open challenge to Rome and lost. In losing, he engendered more hatred and became more bitter against his superiors. He could not win. He gave vent to his emotions once but his emotions and actions were not good enough to accomplish that which he desired.

Not only was he a man filled full of Bitterness, but he was also a murderer-he killed someone in his insurrection against Rome. We do not know the identity of the nationality of his victim but we probably are safe in saying he killed one of his enemies-possibly a hated Roman. Now, besides being filled full of Bitterness, we read where he was a brutal person. He vented his anger in one way he no felt was the best way to show his disgust with his occupiers-He killed someone. We do not know if he killed before, or if he killed more than one person in that insurrection, but we can be safe to say that he was probably known for his Brutality to those who opposed him. Needless to say, this man would not get the “Mr. Congeniality” award from his community. He was an avowed ruffian who openly vented his spleen upon the Romans. He took his stand and made his statement and left enough of his life story behind for the Bible writers to write a fairly accurate BIOGRAPHY of him.

However, one has to ask, “Barabbas, where has your anger and viciousness landed you?” The answer is written in his story-it landed him in jail, in Bonds. All of his inner hate and outward actions served him long enough to get himself arrested, thrown in jail and held in chains: literally or figuratively. We find Barabbas, not out doing his mayhem, but we first read of him being held in jail for what the did. I hope that when people read about me for the first time-if there is ever an occasion for anyone to read about me-that it will not be in an adverse light, as we read about Barabbas. There he was-held by his hated Romans and he was now more bitter than ever and if he would have been given a chance, he would have killed another Roman or more.

To think, that one day he was held in his mother’s arms. He was no doubt rocked to sleep by a tender mother. He was once, a curious toddler who stub his toe and ran crying for comfort to his mommy. He was no doubt loved by his family, his friends and his own wife, flesh and blood, if he was married and had children. He was a person, a real man, a real thinking, talking, active human being. He held promises of making something of himself at one time. He had dreams, hopes, aspirations and plans for a better tomorrow, but now he sat, lonely, bitter, filled full of beastly brutality and held against his wishes. He had no more hopes of a better tomorrow. He was facing a cross and he was marked for death. His was a wasted life indeed and he knew it. He was now a nobody. He was alone

As I study Barabbas, I cannot but help identify myself with him in so many ways. No, I am not a murderer. No, I never took part in an insurrection. No, I do not feel I am a brutal man, but I am so much like him in so many other ways. I made plans; I had hopes; I fastened my wagon to a wrong star; and I wound up in the devil’s prison house, held in chains of bad habits and self-inflicted torture and self-doubt. My life was a shambles and I was a nobody. But, like him, my life was soon to turn around due to Jesus and like him, my life would never be the same.

II. THE BIZARRNESS: The whole affair of the discussion that evolved around Jesus and Barabbas is ludicrous. On the one hand there was the One who was perfect and even had the unofficial endorsement of Pilate that He was not worthy of death. Jesus was not on trial for harming anyone nor for causing an insurrection, yet there He stood, waiting, to hear what the rabble would say. On the other hand, there was the one who was a cut throat, a rabble rouser, an insurrectionist and one who deserved to die. Yet he too waited to hear what the crowd would say. How much more bizarre can any situation ever become?

The first thing I note about this most bizarre episode is in relation to the Bartering that ensued when Pilate asked the mob whom it wanted to be set free. Surely, any rational person would have called for Jesus, but not this motley mob. I cannot help but think of what went through the mind of Barabbas if he knew that the people in the streets were deciding his fate. When Pilate asked for clarification of which one to be released, those who engendered the release of Barabbas went into overdrive. They either worked the crowd at that time or they had more than likely primed their selected people before this time to begin calling for the release of Barabbas. I do not have proof but I think that Barabbas must have heard the shouts of his name as the intensity of the noise grew and mushroomed. In fact, the Bible states that Pilate had to call the situation early due to his fear that a riot was about to become full blown. The Bartering over these two men strike me as being very bizarre.

Besides making a decision between the two, I also note that there was a Balancing aspect of this event that was more than mind-boggling. When the decision was given to the crowd to make the choice between Jesus and Barabbas, the leaders of the street scene had to walk a fine line-they were put on the spot and they had to balance their wishes with great vigilance.

The mighty shadow of Rome hovered over Jerusalem that day as the incident played itself to a conclusion. On one hand, if the crowd called for the release of Jesus, Rome could have interpreted that as being a call for a rabbi to begin his liberation movement. The Jewish leaders reminded Pilate that Jesus said He was a King, and if the crowd called for His release, Rome could have looked askance at this as an open affront to its hold on Judea.

However, by asking for the release of one who already started a riot for freedom from Rome, the Imperial Court could have viewed the call as a resistance movement well under way. The Balancing act that was played out in the streets that day was beyond being bizarre. Regardless of the choice made, Rome would view the final choice as being a dangerous selection. The One choice would be viewed as a possible revolution going to take place. The other choice would be interpreted that a revolution was already in place. The sane thing for the crowd to do would be to call for the release of Jesus and Rome would be placated. But that was not the choice made. By offering up One who could possibly lead an insurrection, the crowd voted to signal to Rome that an insurrection was underway and the Jewish leaders were going to stand with a proven hater of Rome. It is no wonder that a few years later, Rome leveled the city. Rome read the tea leaves when the cup of hot liquid boiled over and Pilate was unable to cool the situation to a moderate temperature. The die was cast in the streets that day for the death of Jesus and for the destruction of the Holy City.

The last part of this very bizarre rigmarole showed the open Biasness of the Jewish leaders. The gloves came off in the streets of old Jerusalem that day. Barabbas, the evil one, was preferred over the holy One. No longer could the Jewish leaders masquerade their hatred of Jesus-it was now front and center stage. If they were willing to trade Barabbas for Jesus, they were capable of doing anything, and Pilate knew it. I really feel that Pilate thought that he could shame the people into setting Jesus free. As wicked as Pilate was, he saw that Jesus was innocent and I think he thought in his heart, that if he could put the question to the mass as to whom it wanted to set free-the mass would choose Jesus. He knew that the people knew that Rome would read this decision in only one way; he operated under the pretence that the common man would side with Jesus and safety over Barabbas and the future destruction of the city. He, I feel, really felt that the mob would stand against the leaders of the religious system and choose Jesus. How wrong he was.

The mob, being whipped into a frenzy by the religious leaders calling for the release of Barabbas, shocked Pilate and he at last saw how biased and hateful the religious authorities were and how much power they wielded over the common man on the street. I also feel that Pilate realized at that moment, that Barabbas had just killed his career as a Roman Curator-he had met his demise at the hands of a rabble rouser, an insurrectionist and a killer. Barabbas had just killed Pilate professionally, because the religious leaders were biased and hateful and there was now nothing he could do to stop this terrible event from going on to its conclusion.

III. THE BLESSINGS: Regardless of how bad the situation was-and it was bad- there was a blessing that eventually evolved from this occurrence. We know the BLESSINGS of salvation, the forgiveness of our sins and all that is involved with the death and resurrection of our Lord. However, there were certain benefits that Barabbas enjoyed immediately and these gifts serve as types for all sinners who are held in chains awaiting death-just as Barabbas was held in his chains and was awaiting his death.

The first part of Barabbas’ benefits he received when he was chosen over Jesus, was that he was Blameless according to the agreement reached that day on the streets of old Jerusalem. He was, at one moment, guilty before the law of serious misdeeds. These deeds were so terrible that he was soon to be put to death for his atrocities. Then, in a matter of minutes, he was set free and all of his past deeds were nullified and he was now considered forgiven as if he never committed any wrongful deeds-ever. When a judged person appeals his/her case for review and possible exoneration, the process can take weeks, months and even years for the non-guilty verdict to be rendered. Once the pardon and/or the reversal of judgment is rendered, the person’s record is clean. Sometimes, these exonerations are conditioned with probation, house arrests for a time, etc. But in this instance, Barabbas was set free in a matter of minutes and he walked away Blameless according to the Roman Law. This was done because Jesus was condemned and took Barabbas’ place. The insurrectionists, the murderer went free while the guiltless Man took his place.

Somehow, I cannot but see a parallel between Barabbas and myself. No, I have not done the things that Barabbas did, but I was guilty just as he was of sin and being guilty before the Law of God. Yet, when the verdict was rendered, I went free and Jesus stayed behind and took my place. I walked away from my encounter with Him, Blameless. There were no more sins accredited to me because in an instant, I was set free by the only One who could take my sins and die for me.

Not only was Barabbas set free, but he had a brand new Beginning. I do not know what he did after he was set free, but from that very moment of his pardon, he faced a brand new start in his life. He was free to begin anew, afresh, ready to start all over again. If he were a smart person, he should have taken advantage of his once in a life time opportunity to begin anew. As I stated, I do not know what he did from that moment on, but he was given a golden chance to start all over again, with no criminal background to haunt him. What a break that man received and he received it because Jesus was the one who gave him this opportunity.

Again, I see myself in Barabbas. When I met the Master, I was guilty and loaded with my sinful ways. Yet, He took my place, set me free while He remained to take my guilt and I walked away with a brand new start in life. When I was set free by Jesus, God the Father looked at my life as one looks at a brand new baby-a whole life ahead of me with the chance to start all over living again. Thanks to Jesus, He gives all of us this chance of starting afresh and anew.

Finally, as I look at THE BLESSINGS which Barabbas enjoyed that day so long ago, I see where he was eternally Beholding to Jesus for what He did for him. I do not know if Barabbas went to see Jesus die in his place. If he did not go-he should have gone. He should have stood at the foot of the cross and he should have told Jesus, “Thanks for dying in my place.” I do not know if Barabbas ever thought much about Jesus later in his life, but I have a feeling he did think about Him from time to time and deep within the recesses of his heart, this hardened man must have felt a great deal of gratitude for Jesus. He was eternally Beholding to Jesus for ever.

I am also akin to this wicked Barabbas. I am eternally Beholding to Jesus for what He did for me. I think of Him often-but never enough. I thank Him from time to time-but never enough. I worship Him always-but never enough. I am for ever in His debt for what He did for me. Someday, when this life is over for me, I want to get up close to the Master and tell Him thanks for what He did for me. I know there will be millions of souls in Heaven, by the time I arrive. I know there will be many people who will want to tell Jesus thanks for what He did for them-I will be one of them. But, somewhere in the Celestial City, somewhere alone-just Jesus and me, I want to tell Him, “Thanks.” My praise and adoration of Him here is so limited by my command of the English language. My words and thoughts are not able to convey what I feel towards my Saviour, but when death has finally liberated myself from this prison house of bones and flesh, when death has finally set my mind free, and I inherit a non-corruptible body, mind and tongue, I will, at last, be able to express my thanks to Jesus. I am and always will be, Beholding to Him for what He did for me.

Yes, Barabbas was set to die. His bio was filled full of nothing but hatred, evilness and guilt. Yet he met up with Jesus and the strange contest was set in motion as to who should go free. He won and Jesus lost. I do not know what happened to Barabbas, but I do know that Jesus died in his and my place. By His death all of mankind now has the golden opportunity to have all sins forgiven, to appear innocent before God, to receive a new start in life and to have the chance to be a believer in Him and to be His servant for life. What a trade! We got the best of everything, thanks to Christ giving His all for us.