When we look at the Passion Week, we rightly look to the work of Jesus Christ. We even focus on individuals like the disciples or Pilate. Yet, a character we rarely give any attention to is Barabbas, the man who was freed in place of Jesus. So, as we look ahead to Resurrection Sunday, I want us to take a look at this man and see what we can learn from him.

Who Was Barabbas?

Of all the characters that make an appearance during the Passion Week, Barabbas is one of the few names found in all four gospels (Matthew 27:15-26; Mark 15:6-15; Luke 23:13-25; John 18:39-19:16). But, who was this man?

At this time in Israel’s history the people were anxiously looking for the Messiah who would restore their former glory and free them from Roman oppression. Because of this, many individuals arose taking on the moniker, only to fall flat on their face. We cannot know for sure if Barabbas ever claimed such a title, but he at least participated in revolts seeking Israel’s freedom. The New Testament authors describe him as: notorious, a rebel, a murderer, an insurrectionist, and a robber. None of these terms are endearing or give you a feeling that this guy had any good in him. Barabbas deserved to be in prison.

Barabbas’ Place in the Narrative

In each gospel account we are told Pilate wanted to release Jesus, finding no wrong in him deserving death or imprisonment. Yet, wanting to avoid another revolt, which would look bad on his part, he thought he would be clever. With the crowd insisting on Jesus’ death, he decided to give them the choice between two individuals: Jesus and Barabbas. Both he and the people knew how evil Barabbas was, so it should have been obvious that Jesus would be the easy choice to be freed. But, by God’s design, that’s not what happens. Instead, the crowd asks for Barabbas’ release and demands Jesus’ crucifixion. So, Pilate obliges and frees the insurrectionist and murderer, washing his hands of any guilt in the matter.

Barabbas, no longer getting the death sentence he deserved, was now a free man who could go about his way.

We Are Barabbas

When we look at the gospel, we are very much like Barabbas. The Bible tells us our hearts are wicked and seeking evil at all times. We are notorious sinners in God’s eyes who rebel against his commands. Not only that, but we rob God of his glory and harbor murder in our heart. In short, we’re just as bad as Barabbas, deserving of every just penalty God brings our way. Our outward deeds might not be as heinous as his, but our hearts are just as rebellious & sinful.

Just like Barabbas, we were on death row, awaiting our penalty. But then Jesus enters the picture.

Jesus Brings Freedom

When faced with the choice between Jesus and Barabbas, it was easy for the crowd to ask for Barabbas because he was just like them. Sure, Jesus was innocent, healing people, and talking about God’s kingdom; but, he was doing nothing to bring down the Roman Empire. At least Barabbas was fighting, so they thought. He was giving the people what they wanted, so he fit right in. Again, that’s us in our sin, we fit right in with the world.

Silent, Jesus took Barabbas’ place and died in his stead. Jesus should have been the one walking away as a free man, but it was the criminal whose trespasses were forgiven. So, Jesus goes to the Golgatha, where he is crucified between two thieves, who very likely could have been Barabbas’ companions.

But, not only did Jesus take Barabbas’ place, he also took ours. He died on the cross for our sins. Barabbas is a visual representation of what Christ did on our behalf. He took the place of a wicked sinner so that he might live. In like manner, Jesus bore the penalty for our sin so that we might live to God and walk in newness of life.

That is the point of the cross. That is the point of Barabbas. This is the beauty of the gospel!

This week as you ponder the work of Christ, remember that you are Barabbas. and Jesus took your place so that you might be free.

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