Well, on the very face of it, you have to say that Jesus died for Barabbas.
I had the good fortune of preaching at University Baptist Church in Waco last weekend. I cheated a bit on the lectionary and preached about Barabbas, the insurrectionist and murderer who was released by Pilate.
There are numerous problems with this passage. One is that there’s no extra-biblical evidence of what Mark writes: “Back in those days, there was a tradition…” That tradition was to release one prisoner during the Festival of Passover. The problems are:
- There was no such tradition, as far as we know.
- The Romans were not respecters of the religions of their conquered subjects.
- The Romans did not release murders and insurrectionists. Ever.
Add to that the generic name of the released prisoner — Barabbas means, “son of the father” — and you start to wonder if this story has more of a literary function than anything.
According to my friend, Rabbi Joe, this is one of the most anti-Jewish texts in the New Testament. It ends up, almost unbelievably, making the Roman governor, Pilate, a sympathetic figure, while putting in the mouths of the Jews, “Crucify him!” Repeatedly.
With that as a backdrop, we can look at the broader implications of this story. IMHO, they are this:
- The cross is incontrovertibly political. Barabbas was a political prisoner, and Jesus was ultimately crucified as a political prisoner, on the charge of sedition. Two governments — the Roman and the Jewish — are implicated in his execution. The cross is and must always be political.
- Jesus died on Barabbas’ cross. Barabbas didn’t do anything to merit his salvation. He didn’t repent, and he didn’t ask Jesus into his heart. Jesus died in his stead, and all Barabbas did was walk out of prison, a free man.
What, if anything, do you take away from the story of Barabbas?