Who Was Barrabbus?

wws_barabbas_neuDuring the Easter season last year (2015) while watching “The Passion” movie, one of the characters caught my attention. For those of you who are familiar with the passages that we read each Easter you know the name, Barrabbus. Barrabbus pops up in the middle of the story and then is gone again. In all four gospels combined there are only about four verses that describe him as notorious, a murderer, and a revolutionary that had taken part in an insurrection. There have been a couple of movies made about him that depict him as someone who struggled going back to his life of crime after the day he was exchanged for Jesus. However, this is just speculation as the Bible doesn’t have much else to say about him. After not getting very far with my search, I moved on. This year while reading through those specific passages again the character of Barrabbus grabs me. This time my search for answers consisted of prayer and listening to what God had to say to me about him.

So what do we know about him? After the arrest of Jesus and being brought to Pilate, Pilate finding no fault in Jesus is trying to persuade the people to come to their senses. During this time, there was a custom each year where the governor would release a prisoner to the crowd during the Passover celebration. Pilate took this opportunity to present two options to the crowd: 1) Jesus: who he could find no fault and 2) Barrabbus: who was a notorious murdering criminal. Surely the crowd would wake up and choose to release Jesus. Faced with this decision the crowd chanted: “We want Barrabbus, crucify Jesus”. So being faced with a looming riot, Pilate releases Barrabbus. Now, I suppose we could give Barrabbus the benefit of the doubt. After all, we don’t know whether he had been convicted of these crimes at this point or just accused and arrested, innocent until proven guilty, right? Whether Barrabbus was guilty or not is unimportant at this point. The result was that Jesus took his place. Jesus, the perfect Son of God, took the chains that Barrabbus once wore. Jesus, the perfect Son of God, stood where Barrabbus once stood. Jesus, the perfect Son of God, took the beating, walked the path, carried the cross, and was crucified in the place of Barrabbus. I can’t help but wonder whether Barrabbus knew Jesus. Had he heard of Him? Did he stick around to see what happened? Did it change his life?

We may not know what Barrabbus did with his newfound freedom, but we can see that he was granted freedom. On this day he had an encounter with Jesus and the outcome of that encounter was life altering. Humor me for a moment and consider a couple of alternate endings to this story. How tragic would it have been if the guards in charge of Barrabbus’ release had not followed through and actually released him after his pardon? Imagine: someone else has taken the place of Barrabbus and he has officially been set free of his chains, but the people with this information neglect to communicate this and as a result, Barrabbus remains a prisoner of charges he has been pardoned of. Now, consider Barrabbus refuses to accept the pardon. The chains are removed, the cell door is unlocked and opened, but Barrabbus decides to remain in jail rather that accepting his freedom and walking out. We’d probably all agree he’d have had to be insane to do this, right?

So what’s the point to all of this? As with most things like this that I can’t get away from, there is usually something that the Holy Spirit is trying to teach me. Sometimes I’m a little slow and it takes me a few years, but God is patient and does not give up on me. It seems that I actually know much more about Barrabbus than I thought, because, as it turns out, I am Barrabbus. The punishment that Jesus went through on this Earth was a punishment that I deserved. The sentence that he fulfilled was my sentence. He took my place, but what I do with that granted freedom is up to me. I can shake off the chains and walk out of the cell or I can refuse the gift and remain a prisoner. I too had an encounter with Jesus and it has changed my life forever! Truthfully, we are ALL in Barrabbus’ shoes and have a choice to make. We can choose to remain prisoners or we can accept the freedom. What will you do with the encounter? In addition to accepting our own freedom, let’s make sure those around us are aware of their freedom as well. How tragic would it be for our family, friends, co-workers, etc. to remain serving a sentence that they have been pardoned from? The answer is that it doesn’t get more tragic than that.