Barabbas, the Other Jesus?

As Jesus is handed over for trial, the prisoner Barabbas comes on the scene. Barabbas was condemned to death for his crime and the method of carrying his penalty was crucifixion. All four gospels show us the custom of the release by allowing Pilate to let the crowd choose between Jesus or Barabbas. The release of prisoners is not a Roman tradition but a Jewish one. John makes this somewhat clear in John 18:39 where Pilate says he is allowing the crowd to chose between the two according to the custom of release at Passover.

Barabbas is a person mentioned only 10 times in the biblical accounts. Matthew calls him notable prisoner. Mark’s gospel is more telling. He explains that Barabbas is an insurrectionist who had murdered. John (John 18:40 ) calls him a thief but he uses the word: _______. This is the same word that is later used in ancient Greek writing with regard to some of the revolutionaries that were called the sicarii. The Sicarii were contract killers who were part of a splinter group of Jewish zealots that attempted to force the Roman occupation from Judea following the destruction of Jerusalem.

So in the moment of pardon, a choice must be made between Barabbas and Jesus. A textual variant in Matthew 27 makes the choice even more interesting because it shows that Barabbas full name is Jesus (Joshua) Barabbas which would have been a common name of that time. Barabbas name means “son of the Father.”

It is clear that Barabbas was most likely zealot who was willing to take his views into the public square by whatever means. So here it is. The choice is between two men. Both of them named Jesus. This is no happenstance. On the one hand you have a Jesus who sought to gain a kingdom by earthly and political means. He wanted to be a savior of the Jewish people so badly that he killed men. On the other, you have a Jesus who sought the kingdom by the pure love of God and neighbor. It’s such a contrast.

God cannot be made in your own image. Yet the crowd does what any crowd would have done in any culture in any era. The result would have been the same because the Kingdom of God runs counter to the kingdoms of this world. In all the ways that revisionists, political bodies, and revolutionaries of our day try these days to attach themselves to God, it’s all been done before. The battle for the human soul is not waged in flesh, or on soil but in the mind and hearts of men. This is why is it so crucial that we allow the lense and constant focus to be on the life of Jesus Christ. No human ideology or philosophy can be attached to Jesus. He simply transcends them all. His life is one of choosing love and righteousness regardless of the personal consequences to himself.