Jesus Christ and Jesus Barabbas

Daniel Darling
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In God’s providence, in the mysterious outworking of His plan, two men, completely different in every single way, cross paths at the pivot point of history. Two men—Jesus Christ and Jesus Barabbas, as some early manuscripts referred to this notorious criminal.

We don’t know if the two ever met, if when Jesus passed through Judea many times, Barabbas was within earshot or if Barabbas and his murderous thugs were in the crowd at the temple when Jesus spoke or turned over the tables of the money changers. It seems unlikely.

Who was Barabbas?

Barabbas, having unsuccessfully plotted an insurrection against Rome, languishing in a filthy prison with other convicted men, doubt- less was not captivated by the message Jesus had. The one who would use any means necessary to live out his fantasy of being a freedom fighter would not take well to hearing Jesus urge love for enemies and of a kingdom not of this world. He’d love the critiques of the feckless religious authorities, often so subservient to their Roman overlords, protective of their power. But he probably recoiled when Jesus com- mended the faith of a centurion as being the greatest in Israel.

Their lives, so different. Jesus Christ, the child of a poor Nazareth couple, a rabbi who heals and restores, and Jesus Barabbas, a dangerous revolutionary, who tears down and destroys. One with un- impeachable character and perfect purity, and one whose guilt was known and established.

At the cross we find the just One and the Justifier, the One who defeats the enemy powers and redeems the hearts of men.

On the ground, circumstances put them together this way. Judas, once a devoted disciple, turns on his friend and delivers Jesus to the religious authorities who want Him dead. Jesus is first tried religiously by Annas, a former high priest who was no longer in power but still held wide influence over the rest of the religious community. Then He’s brought before Caiaphas, the high priest, and then the full Sanhedrin. All of them convicted Jesus of blasphemy. He claimed to be the Son of God, the Messiah, the promised one sent from God. They didn’t believe Him, so this charge stuck. But they wanted Him dead, and only the Romans had the authority to do this, so it was off to Pontius Pilate, the governor of Judea.

Pilate and the Crowd

Pilate’s investigation found that Jesus was innocent of the charge the religious leaders were making, that He was attempting an insurrection against Rome. This charge was ironic on so many levels. First, languishing in a prison not far away was an actual insurrectionist, Barabbas. He’d easily plead guilty to this and die as a martyr for the cause of Jewish independence. Second, many of the Pharisees who made up the Sanhedrin sympathized with the desire to see Israel restored to self-rule, but they despised Jesus more for His claiming Messiahship, for His following among the people, for His incisive critiques of their hypocrisy.

Pilate first punted the decision to Herod, the governor of Galilee, Jesus’ home region. But Herod passed on this hot potato and sent it back to Pilate. And so Pilate’s second trick was to offer the Jewish people the release of one prisoner. This apparently was his custom every year, where Pilate, after Passover, would allow them the freeing of a prisoner as they celebrated their freedom from Egypt. Surely, Pilate speculated, they’d not side with their feckless leaders and they’d choose to let Jesus go. Jesus, whom they’d seen heal the sick and make the lame walk again. Jesus, who fed them in the wilderness and raised their dead.

And yet the leaders were able to stir up a bloodlust in the people.

We Aren’t Without Blame

The interactions between the crowds and Pilate are chilling to read, even two millennia later. Pilate laying out the facts of Jesus’ innocence, and the mob, not caring about what is true, yelling, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”

We judge, with the smugness of someone who reads history and imagines ourselves the better, but we’d be there in that crowd, joining the unjust arrest of an innocent man. We trade Barabbas for Jesus every day and don’t flinch.

There is such a mosaic of evil on display here at Jesus’ trial: an unjust system of government, a violent terrorist with no regard for human life, a weak-willed leader, and perverted religion. In stark contrast, there stands the innocent One who is the antithesis of all of these. The fruits of sin’s first seedling in the garden in full bloom: systemic injustice, murder, corruption, cruelty, converging on a lonely hill outside Jerusalem, where hung the Son of God. And so it is that at Easter we realize that the solution to the vexing sins that slither through God’s good creation and so infest human hearts is that same crude instrument of torture, meant for Barabbas. At the cross we find the just One and the Justifier, the One who defeats the enemy powers and redeems the hearts of men.

For Further Reading:

The Characters of Easter

by Daniel Darling

Meet the unlikely people who witnessed history’s greatest event. At Easter, the Son of God took on the world’s sin and defeated the...

book cover for The Characters of Easter