Why Barabbas?

Palm Sunday

Isaiah 50:4-9a

Philippians 2:5-11

Matthew 27:11-54

Psalm 31:9-16

This day and this week is about the Messiah, and rightly so.

But let’s take a short look at one of the bit players in this life-giving drama. Barabbas is said to be both a terrorist and a thief in the For Gospels. We learn from Matthew that Pilate seemed reluctant to condemn Jesus, especially when his wife asked him not to. Yet, he ended up giving in to the crowd’s chant.


We know that Pilate was a cruel man in his early years as governor and that he received a warning from Caesar to clam down when it came to the Jews. The man we see on crucifixion day was not the real Pilate, rather a man determined not to lose his job.

To placate the crowd, he had Barabbas brought out and offered to release one of the men. Encouraged by the Temple leaders, they shouted for the guilty one to be released.

There are two key points I want to look at. First, Barabbas should be read as Bar Abba, meaning Son of the Father; some manuscripts read Bar Rabba, Son of the Teacher. There are several ancient manuscripts which have his name written as Yeshua bar Abba, Jesus son of the Father.

You will find it in the NIV: Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah? NIV Sixteen other English translations use the name of Jesus.

Origen, writing in the Second Century argued that it was impossible for Barabbas to be called Jesus. He said that those manuscripts were wrong.

Yet, the same Origen wrote, I believe that these events reveal something of a mystery. Barabbas represents the one who enacts dissension, war and murder in human souls, but Jesus is the Son of God who works peace, reason wisdom and everything goodACCS

That leads us to the second point; in this one brief piece of history, people are given a clear choice between Yeshua Barabbas and Yeshua Messiah and WE chose poorly.

This is symbolic. Barabbas was no creator of sin; he was not a bigger sinner than any of us; but in this one choice he stands in for you and me. I am a sinner the equal of Barabbas.

Notice in the reading that Jesus made no comment on the choice. He had every right to plead his innocence, but he was determined to do his Father’s bidding.

Yeshua bar (Yosef, in the world’s eyes) Abba the Messiah made his own choice to die on the cross. The only way that Barabbas could be saved was, and is for Yeshua to die on his, and our behalf. The execution of Barabbas would not have changed him, but the execution of Yeshua did change him, if he accepted the change.

There is no record of Barabbas outside of this account. Barabbas is a 1950 novel by Pär Lagerkvist. It tells a version of the life of Barabbas, the man whom the Bible relates was released instead of Jesus.


Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

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