What Happened to Barabbas?


We are continuing our meditation of what took place on the day of the crucifixion of Christ. After the scourging and beating by the Roman soldiers, Jesus was taken before the Jewish crowd assembled outside the Roman fortress, Antonia. The scourged Lord Jesus standing before the general public was prophesied more than five hundred years previously by Isaiah:


Just as there were many who were appalled at him—his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and his form marred beyond human likeness (Isaiah 52:14).


The Roman soldiers beat Christ so severely that His form was disfigured to the degree that He hardly looked human anymore. Pilate presented Jesus to them, "Here is the man!" (John 19:5b). Before them all was the most perfect, loving, and compassionate Man the earth has ever witnessed. Here was God in the flesh, showing us what God is like in a way that we could understand, yet humanity rejected him. The Scriptures describe Jesus as rejected of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3).


Pilate, wishing to release Jesus, suddenly had a thought that, due to Passover starting in a few hours, there was the tradition of releasing one prisoner as an act of grace and mercy. With the crowd before him, Pilate raised his voice and suggested this act of kindness to them. He gave them a choice, feeling sure that they would choose Christ. After all, only a few days previously, the ordinary people had been laying down palm branches before Christ as He came into Jerusalem riding on a donkey. They were crying out then, “Hosanna to the Son of David” (Matthew 21:9). Surely, they would pick the Son of David over the criminal and insurrectionist, Barabbas, the one who wanted to upset the order of things. Pilate felt sure that the ruling elite would not want a revolutionary, such as Barabbas, but he underestimated the hatred and jealousy of the religious elite in power.

Let’s imagine what it was like for Barabbas in the dungeon underneath the courtyard. He couldn't hear individual conversations, but he could likely hear the crowd shouting. When Pilate gave a choice to the crowd, Jesus or Barabbas, the corrupt elders went through the crowd whispering for the gathering to shout for Barabbas. Wanting to obey their leaders against the Romans, the gathering of people yelled at the top of their lungs for Barabbas. Imagine what it was like for Mary, the mother of Jesus, and the apostle John, for the elders to manipulate the crowd against Jesus.

20But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed. 21Which of the two do you want me to release to you? asked the governor. Barabbas, they answered. 22What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ? Pilate asked. They all answered, “Crucify him!” 23"Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!” (Matthew 27:20-23).


Down in the dungeon, perhaps Barabbas heard his name shouted, followed by the words "Crucify Him." His heart must have skipped a beat at the dread of his impending crucifixion beside two others. Imagine what it must have been like for Barabbas moments later to hear a Roman soldier coming down the hallway with the sound of keys in his hand. Barabbas must have thought to himself that his time was up. Imagine his shock to hear of his release and that someone took his place. He was free to leave and go wherever he wanted. All charges against him were dropped! I like to think that, later, as he got out of the city of Jerusalem, he saw Jesus crucified in his place as his substitute.

Like Barabbas, we, too, deserve the just death penalty for our sin and rebellion against the King eternal. Like him, we are also offered a free pardon for our actions in this world. Jesus took our place and offered Himself as the substitute for all sin. This substitutionary death is charged to our spiritual account when we place our faith and trust in His finished work on the cross. Imagine if Barabbas chose to stay inside his small cell and not walk outside into freedom. Wouldn't that seem illogical to you? If he were to stay there, the grace offered to Barabbas would have done him no good at all. Like Barabbas, we have at one time or another been in a prison of our own making. Thank God, Jesus sets us free. Who are you most like today: Pilate or Barabbas? When the truth is presented, will you compromise, as Pilate did, or walk out of your cell like Barabbas and thank God for sending a Substitute? Keith Thomas

Taken from the more complete study Jesus Before Pilate