David Mathis asks the question: Who do you identify with in the Passion narratives?
Of course, as good Christians, we say Jesus. He’s the good guy, our protagonist. As we relive the story, we pull for him, and against his enemies. And a long list of enemies it is: Judas who betrays him, Peter who denies him, the chief priests who hate him, Herod who mocks him, the crowd that calls for his crucifixion, Pilate who washes his hands and condemns him, and Barrabas who is guilty but gets to go free.
Wait a minute.
Barrabas—the guilty one who gets to go free?
In his 23rd chapter, Luke leads us sinners, in his careful wording of the narrative, to identify in this significant way with Barrabas. As Jesus’ condemnation leads to the release of a multitude of spiritual captives from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation, so also his death sentence leads to the release of the physical captive Barrabas.
In verse 15, Luke quotes Pilate to establish Jesus’ manifest innocence: “Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him.” Then he confirms Barrabas’ guilt in verse 19, as “a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city and for murder.”
In verse 22, after the mob has called for Jesus’ crucifixion for a third time, Luke emphasizes Jesus’ innocence again in the words of Pilate: “Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death.” But unconvinced, the crowd continues to demand the death of Jesus and, wonder of all wonders, the release in his place of the manifestly guilty Barrabas.
So Pilate “released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus over to their will” (verse 25). Here’s the first substitution of the cross. The innocent Jesus is condemned as a criminal, while the criminal Barrabas is released as if innocent.
And still today, because of the willing substitution of the innocent Jesus, Barrabases like us go free.
One thought on “Barrabas and Me”
Interesting take on the story. Some would call it the “Strange Exchange.” Here is a commentary a I like on that very passage. Another angle on Barabbas:
When Pilate declared himself innocent of the blood of Christ, Caiaphas answered defiantly, “His blood be on us, and on our children.” The awful words were taken up by the priests and rulers, and echoed by the crowd in an inhuman roar of voices. The whole multitude answered and said, “His blood be on us, and on our children.”
The people of Israel had made their choice. Pointing to Jesus they had said, “Not this man, but Barabbas.” Barabbas, the robber and murderer, was the representative of Satan. Christ was the representative of God. Christ had been rejected; Barabbas had been chosen. Barabbas they were to have. In making this choice they accepted him who from the beginning was a liar and a murderer. Satan was their leader. As a nation they would act out his dictation. His works they would do. His rule they must endure. That people who chose Barabbas in the place of Christ were to feel the cruelty of Barabbas as long as time should last.
I should insert here that I believe that God has has a special place for the Jewish nation:
Rom 11:1 I say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.
Looking upon the smitten Lamb of God, the Jews had cried, “His blood be on us, and on our children.” That awful cry ascended to the throne of God. That sentence, pronounced upon themselves, was written in heaven. That prayer was heard. The blood of the Son of God was upon their children and their children’s children, a perpetual curse.
Terribly was it realized in the destruction of Jerusalem. Terribly has it been manifested in the condition of the Jewish nation for eighteen hundred years,–a branch severed from the vine, a dead, fruitless branch, to be gathered up and burned. From land to land throughout the world, from century to century, dead, dead in trespasses and sins!
Terribly will that prayer be fulfilled in the great judgment day. When Christ shall come to the earth again, not as a prisoner surrounded by a rabble will men see Him. They will see Him then as heaven’s King. Christ will come in His own glory, in the glory of His Father, and the glory of the holy angels. Ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands of angels, the beautiful and triumphant sons of God, possessing surpassing loveliness and glory, will escort Him on His way. Then shall He sit upon the throne of His glory, and before Him shall be gathered all nations. Then every eye shall see Him, and they also that pierced Him. In the place of a crown of thorns, He will wear a crown of glory,–a crown within a crown. In place of that old purple kingly robe, He will be clothed in raiment of whitest white, “so as no fuller on earth can white them.” Mark 9:3. And on His vesture and on His thigh a name will be written, “King of kings, and Lord of lords.” Revelation 19:16. Those who mocked and smote Him will be there. The priests and rulers will behold again the scene in the judgment hall. Every circumstance will appear before them, as if written in letters of fire. Then those who prayed, “His blood be on us, and on our children,” will receive the answer to their prayer. Then the whole world will know and understand. They will realize who and what they, poor, feeble, finite beings, have been warring against. In awful agony and horror they will cry to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us, and hide us from the face of Him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: for the great day of His wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?” Revelation 6:16, 17.