When we look at the crucifixion of Jesus, and the trial that led up to it, we see that Pilate did not really want to condemn Jesus. When the mob brought the Jesus to the govenor, Pilate questioned Jesus. “And Pilate, when he had called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, said unto them, Ye have brought this man unto me, as one that perverteth the people: and, behold, I, having examined him before you, have found no fault in this man” (Luke 23:13-14). Pilate did not want to condemn Jesus; nay rather, Luke tells us he was “willing to release Jesus” (23:20). So Pilate began to plot.
Jesus’ trial was going on during one of Israel’s most important feasts: Passover. And the Bible tells us that “at that feast the governor was wont to release unto the people a prisoner, whom they would” (Matt 27:15). At Passover Pilate was accustomed release one prisoner—whoever the people wanted. “And they had then a notable prisoner, called Barabbas” (Matt 27:16). Barabbas was in prison because he was an insurrectionist and a murderer. He was notable, well known as the murderous rebel that he was. He deserved to be in prison.
So Pilate gave the people a choice. When the crowd had gathered “Pilate said unto them, Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus which is called Christ?” (Matt 27:17). The choice was obvious! Jesus was a teacher that was loved by the masses. Barabbas was no doubt despised by the masses as the notable prisoner he was. Jesus worked miracles and raised the dead. Barabbas was a murderer. Jesus had done so much good for the multitude. Barabbas had caused sedition.
The choice was clear! Nobody in their right minds would pick Barabbas! He was a murderer; he was a criminal. Who would want Barabbas? Nobody would want Barabbas. Pilate’s plan was genius: everyone knew that Barabbas was a seditious murder. Pilate would give them a choice between Jesus and Barabbas. Obviously they would not ask for a murder; so Pilate could release Jesus and it would be the crowd’s idea. Who would want Barabbas? No body would want Barabbas.
“The governor answered and said unto them, Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you?” You have two choices: Jesus the healer that everyone loves or Barabbas the murderer that everyone hates. Which one do you want, Jesus or Barabbas? “They said, Barabbas” (Matt 27:21). So Barabbas was set free and Jesus was taken to be beaten and crucified.
I have to wonder if Barabbas knew what was happening. Barabbas, did you know who took your place that day? Did you know who your substitute was? Did you know that Jesus took the punishment that you deserved? Did you know, Barabbas; did you know that he took the beating for your back and that he carried the cross for your shoulder and that he held the nails for your hands? Did you know, Barabbas? Did you know?!? Did you know that Jesus had taken your place?
And I have to wonder if Jesus knew. Did Jesus know that he would take the place of Barabbas that day? Luke’s gospel tells us that one day at the start of Jesus’ ministry he went into the synagogue on the sabbath. He stood up to read and they gave him the book of Isaiah. “And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it is written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, the recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:17-19). When Jesus read the part about delivering the captives and setting people at liberty, did he have Barabbas on his mind? Was he thinking about him as he would take his place those three years later?
I am a lot like Barabbas. I was sinful, and in bondage to sin. Sin is a prison, and just like Barabbas I was in a prison of my own making. I too had rebelled; but my rebellion was against the law of God and not of man. I too was a murderer, because John says “Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer” (1 John 3:15). And we all were, because “we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving diverse lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another” (Titus 3:3). Just like Barabbas, I deserved to be in my spiritual prison. I deserved my punishment for my sin.
But one day a man named Jesus took my place. He set me free and carried a cross that I should have carried and now “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2). Just like Barabbas, I deserved to die. Like Barabbas, nobody would have wanted me. I was a prisoner who deserved the shackles of my sin. But Jesus set me free because Jesus took my place.
I want to give one more little tidbit before I end. The name “Barabbas” is actually a combination of two Aramaic words. The first one, bar, means “son” or “son of”. Jesus called Peter “Simon Bar-jona” (Matt 16:17) because he was “Simon, son of Jonas” (John 21:15-17). The blind was called “Bartimaeus” because he was “son of Timaeus” (Mark 10:46). The second, abba, means “father”. Jesus used this word as he prayed about his imminent crucifixion in the garden of Gethsemane: “Abba, Father,…take this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will but what thou wilt” (Mark 14:36). So we see that the name Barabbas means “a son of the Father”: bar-abba, a son of the Father.
Thanks to Jesus, now I am Barabbas. I was in a prison of my own making but Jesus set me free and now I have been made a son of the Father. The Bible says that when Jesus came to earth, “He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God” (John 1:11-12). God said, “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty” (2 Cor 6:17-18). Paul told the church at Rome, “For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15, emphasis added). Again, he told the Galatians, “And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying Abba, Father” (Galatians 4:6, emphasis added). I do not deserve to be God’s son. I was a sinner shackled to my shame; but Jesus set me free when he died for me. Now thanks to him I can be “a son of the Father”. I am Barabbas, a son of the Father!