Every Monday, our youth group meets at our local Panera Bread for about an hour and a half to hang out, and to study scripture. Being that Easter was upcoming, I wanted to go through the trial of Jesus. As we were reading, it was like God sent a thought through my head about Jesus and Barabbas.
Not much is said about the release of Barabbas outside of the Gospels. One in particular is Mark 15:6-13.
Barabbas was a criminal. He was imprisoned for a reason (and it was likely not the same reason why the apostle Paul would later be imprisoned). He was an enemy of the state. A bandit. A revolutionary. For all we know, Barabbas deserved to be imprisoned.
Did he deserve the warden’s pardon? Chances are likely that the answer is no.
Jesus’ trial, at least in the scriptures, didn’t last incredibly long. The crowd gathered in a mob and demanded that Pontius Pilate sentence Jesus to death by crucifixion for his crimes.
“What crime has this man committed?” Pilate found no fault in Jesus. There was no one recorded to have given a character witness for Jesus to Pilate, but they didn’t need to. Pilate (in my opinion) was convinced that Jesus was innocent, and that the crowd of mostly Jews (Jesus’ own people), was being quite unreasonable with their request.
So Pilate decided to allow guards to beat Jesus, hoping that would appease the crowd. After all, flesh wounds will heal. After being beaten to within an inch of his life, Jesus was again brought to the crowd.
“I find no fault with this man,” Pilate exclaimed. But the crowd did.
For some reason that is completely beyond me, during Passover the state would release a prisoner at the request of Jewish leaders (research). I assume this was usually where leaders would call on the state to release a family member or a friend or someone imprisoned for a lighthearted crime, such as jay-walking, or ripping the tag from their mattress.
Regardless of the reason for the custom, the Jewish leaders decided this was their opportunity to finally get Jesus. They wanted Pilate to release a prisoner as usual, but Jesus would remain on “death row”.
Barabbas was their choice. I wonder what went through Jesus’ mind as this was happening. Did his eyes meet those of Barabbas?
Nonetheless, Barabbas was released from his chains. His record didn’t matter anymore. He was no longer guilty. His time was served. He was now able to roam about freely, living however he pleased. And the Jews were happy because they would finally see the end of Jesus, who had tormented them with his radical preaching over the previous three years.
Pilate could do nothing but wash his hands of the death of Jesus, and the crowd gladly accepted the responsibility.
(Side note: I firmly believe after reading every account of this story, that Pilate did in fact believe that Jesus was the long-awaited messiah. And even though he sentenced him to death, that has to account for something, right?)
So Jesus was sentenced to death in place of Barabbas.
Nailed to a cross, Jesus died a criminal’s death. A death that Barabbas likely deserved. Fast forward three days. Jesus is resurrected. He defeats death, the grave, and his purpose was totally fulfilled.
But let’s talk about this ‘Jesus for Barabbas’ switch a bit more.
Isn’t it totally poetic that Jesus could’ve been set free, but instead, he was forced to take the chains and the death penalty of another prisoner? Jesus didn’t argue. He didn’t plead his case. He willingly accepted his fate.
The crowd had no idea what they had done. But what they witnessed was a physical glimpse into God’s plan for salvation, one that would be fulfilled in just a few hours. They physically witnessed God’s grace being acted out because of their actions.
Before he took the price for our sins on his shoulders, he took the price for Barabbas’ sins on his shoulders.
For all we know, Barabbas and the crowd went on to feel totally satisfied with what happened during that Passover. Maybe some of them were in the crowd to hear Peter’s amazing sermon once the Holy Spirit came down. I can only assume this was the case.
Maybe Barabbas was one of them, listening to the words of Peter cutting like a knife through his soul. Maybe he came to believe in this same Jesus who never once tried to get out of his death sentence, but instead accepted his own and that of all of human history.
There’s no way for me to know right now. But I do know that at one point in my life, I was Barabbas. Some days I’m reminded of that time in my life. Other days the enemy tries to throw me right back into that prison cell. But I know that a man named Jesus took on my death penalty, and he never once looked back. He set me free.