The crowds of angry, mocking, Jews shout to Pilate for the release of a prisoner and the death of another (Matthew 21:15-23). On the one hand Pilate has in his custody a notorious criminal who had committed, at the very least, robbery (John 18:40), insurrection, and murder (Mark 15:7; Luke 23:18-19). As the Jews were under the authority of the Roman fist, men like Barabbas made life very difficult for the Jews. As certain Jews rebelled against the Roman rule, the fist of the empire tightened on them all. Barabbas actually made the life of the Jews more difficult under the Roman regime.
On the other hand Pilate has in his custody a notorious miracle worker. A man who has healed numerous sicknesses, cast out demons, fed the masses, resurrected the dead, comforted the broken-hearted, healed the lame, lifted up the faces of the repentant, forgave sins, and fulfilled the prophecies of Scripture concerning the Messiah. As the Jews sat under Rome’s rule and spiritual darkness, Jesus brought welcomed relief, not only by His actions, but with His words teaching that the Kingdom of God is at hand (Matthew 4:17).
Pilate stood before the masses and asked, “Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas or Jesus who is called Christ?” and the leaders of the Jews convinced the crowds “to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus.” Pilate, hesitant to comply, asked “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They shouted “Let him be crucified!” and Pilate, not wanting to condemn an innocent man asked one more question, “Why, what evil has he done?” and the Scriptures tell us “they shouted all the more, ‘Let him be crucified!’” (Matthew 27:17-23).There is a deep rooted irony in this account of the persecution of Christ. And a profound pointer of the meaning of the Gospel.
First, the irony. Barabbas literally means, “son of the father”. The point is so glaring it is a wonder we often miss it. The Jews who had been longing for the coming of the anointed Messiah, the King of Righteousness, God’s Son, chose the wrong Barabbas. Instead of choosing Jesus, the Son of the Father, they chose Barabbas, the son of the father. Instead of choosing the One who pours out blessings, they chose the one who robs them of blessings. Instead of choosing the One in whom freedom is found, they chose the one in whom more bondage is found. Instead of choosing the One who brings life, they chose the one who takes life. In other words, they chose the wrong the son. This too, was the hand of God.
Acts 4:27-28 reads, “for truly in this city [Jerusalem] there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” It was God’s plan to crush His own Son for the sake of His people (Isaiah 53:10). God had made it so, that Barabbas would be released and Jesus would be condemned. And this is Good News.
Jesus takes our place of condemnation. Jesus takes upon His back the wrath of justice from our holy God, and by doing so He lets the condemned walk free. This is the grand proclamation of the Gospel. Jesus gives to His people His life and righteousness and He receives our guilt and punishment!
The purpose for this is so that we can become sons and daughters of the Father. Jesus, the Son of the Father, takes the place of criminals deserving death, so that we can become sons of the Father. Rejoice that we rebels have been made right with the King.
“For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God…” Romans 8:15-16