Barabbas – A Prisoner Set Free

by Kent Heaton

The scene was chaos as the crowd shouted, “Crucify Him, crucify Him.” The subject of their wrath was not for a murderer but a man “who went about doing good” (Acts 10:38). Their cries for death were not given for one who had been an insurrectionist but to a man who healed “all that were oppressed of the devil” (Acts 10:38 ). All of the people gathered that day were demanding the punishment – not of one who was a robber (John 18:40) – but of one who gave His life to help others (Matthew 18:11). Voices filled the hall in hatred and envy (Matthew 27:18) as a quiet man stood before a Roman court with no one to defend Him. He stood alone. He stood silent. He stood looking into eyes created by His own hand. Jesus Christ stood before an audience of His own people as they screamed to Pilate to crucify Him.

In a dark jail stood a man who was vile and evil. His life was one of destruction and slaughter. He was called Barabbas. We know nothing of this man until the trial of Jesus (Matthew 27:15-26; Mark 15:6-15; Luke 23:13-25; John 18:39-40). We know nothing more about him following. Yet, his life depicts the very nature of man and the reason for the death of Jesus. A paradox is found before Pilate as the greatest man that ever lived would be traded for the vilest of men of his day. A person of the Godhead was taken away and killed; a person of mortal flesh was released. Barabbas was a murderer; Jesus was the Savior. Barabbas was a thief; Jesus was the great shepherd. Men released an insurrectionist; God allowed His Son to die.

The Roman court was contemptuous in its human design. There was no righteousness and justice. Pilate released Barabbas and handed Jesus over for crucifixion “to gratify the crowd” (Mark 15:15 ). He knew the only reason the Jews wanted Jesus dead was because of envy (Mark 15:10). The human nature was too base to rise above the obvious and the holy. Barabbas was a known criminal – who to some point – Pilate may have thought that as evil a person as Barabbas was – how could the people allow someone like him back into society? Yet they chose to set him free and crucify Jesus.

In Barabbas we find ourselves. Chained to the misery of human despair, we are enemies of God (Romans 5:8) and without hope (Ephesians 2:12 ). The criminal Barabbas was released from prison because of the death of Jesus. The Son of God took the place of Barabbas. Our insurrection is in the rebellion against those things of God and we are by “nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:1-4). We are imprisoned in sin with no hope of release or pardon. (Ephesians 2:8-9). In Christ, we find “redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Ephesians 1:7). How is our freedom granted? By His sacrifice on the cross. He took our place! Jesus died for me! It is not because I deserved my freedom – no more than Barabbas deserved to be set free. His guilt was pardoned because of Jesus. My guilt is pardoned because of Jesus (John 3:16).

God did not reveal what happened to Barabbas. He may have gone back to murder and robbing. He may have become a better man. The story of Barabbas is not about the man Barabbas but how Jesus took his place of condemnation. Jesus was condemned to die so that I can find in Him no condemnation. “There is therefore no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Christ became the curse for every man (Galatians 3:13 ). The innocent blood of the Lamb of God was poured out in the place of a vile and wicked man. That is salvation. Jesus died for the vile and wicked people of this world – you and me. What did Barabbas do? Better yet – what will you do?

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