Barabbas appears in every gospel account. He is an important figure during the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. He appears after Jesus has been arrested and tried before the Sanhedrin when the Jewish leaders bring Jesus before Pilate to have him crucified.
“Very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin, made their plans. So they bound Jesus, led him away and handed him over to Pilate.
‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ asked Pilate.
‘You have said so,’ Jesus replied.
The chief priests accused him of many things. So again Pilate asked him, ‘Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.’
But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed.
Now it was the custom at the festival to release a prisoner whom the people requested. A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising. The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did.
‘Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?’ asked Pilate, knowing it was out of self-interest that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead.
‘What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?’ Pilate asked them.
‘Crucify him!’ they shouted.
‘Why? What crime has he committed?’ asked Pilate.
But they shouted all the louder, ‘Crucify him!’
Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.” – Mark 15:1-15
(Similar accounts are in Matthew 27:11-26, Luke 23:1-25, and John 18:28-40).
Who is Barabbas?
Barabbas means “son of father”. The disciple Peter’s full name was Simon Bar-Jonah, meaning Simon son of Jonah (Matthew 16:17). Barabbas could imply that his father was unknown, maybe he was born out-of-wedlock or something of that nature. As it is, Barabbas is able to stand in as a sort of “every man”. We are all sons of a human father of some kind. We are all Barabbas in this sense–more to come on this point.
Barabbas was also a criminal, a murderer, and a rebel. As an “insurrectionist” that participated in an “uprising, he had sought to overthrow the Roman authorities, but had failed. In his attempt to do so, he was closer to what the majority of the Jewish people and leaders had been looking for in a Messiah. They thought the Messiah was going to overthrow their oppressors and set up an earthly kingdom, not inaugurate a heavenly kingdom and overthrow spiritual oppression. In trading Jesus for Barabbas they traded the true Messiah for a failure that was closer to what their expectations had been, but this was all part of God’s plan for salvation. The Son of God giving His life for a failed rebel, one that was not even fighting the true enemy.
We are Barabbas
To some extent, we can see ourselves in Barabbas. He was a rebel towards the Romans just like we were rebels towards God. Barabbas was physically jailed for his crimes, we were in spiritual bondage. He was receiving the just penalty for his actions, we also were under spiritual condemnation.
But Jesus took his place. Jesus took our place.
Barabbas was released from prison, we are released from our spiritual chains. The crimes Barabbas committed were pardoned, the penalty for our sins was paid. Barabbas was set free even though he did not deserve it or do anything to earn it. Jesus took our sin even though we did nothing to earn or deserve forgiveness. Barabbas received temporary earthly freedom, we have received eternal spiritual freedom.
You and I, like Barabbas, were rebels and prisoners, chained by our sins and waiting under punishment until Jesus came and took our place, suffering for crimes He did not commit and setting us free from sin and death. However, our salvation goes even further, we are no longer just “sons or daughters of whoever”, we are made part of God’s family. He is our perfect Father and we are co-heirs with Christ. Not only is our penalty cancelled, but we receive the perfect righteousness of Christ and are eternally reconciled to God.
Jesus took our place so that we could join Him in His place.