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

Jesus and Lazarus

Image by Dimitris Vetsikas from Pixabay


Ezekiel 37:1-14

Romans 8:6-11

John 11:1-45

Psalm 130

When we Christians read the story of the resurrection of Lazarus recorded by John, we should get excited. We understand raising Lazarus as an allegory of the raising of Jesus from the dead.

Non-Christians often negatively see this story, using it as proof that Christianity is a hoax.

Consider the problem. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are completely silent about Jesus raising Lazarus after he was entombed for three days. All three tell us about raising Jairus’ daughter—Matthew 9:18-26; Mark 5:21-43; Luke 8:40-56—and Luke describes raising the widow’s son—Luke 7:11-16. John’s account is more powerful and has a more detailed foreshadowing of Jesus’ resurrection. Why did they not include it?

John 12 moves right into the Palm Sunday triumphal entry. If the resurrection of Lazarus occurred two miles from Jerusalem a day or two before, it would better explain why so many people cheered him, yet the Synoptics just have him come to town.

Having raised the issue, I have to say that it has no solution. Oh, we can give a laundry list of explanations, but cannot support any of the suggestions with facts.

In the end, Faith is required.

In his commentary on John, William Barclay included this story.

Robert McAfee Brown, an American professor, tells of something which this story did. He was an American army chaplain on a troopship in which 1,500 marines were returning from Japan to America for discharge. Greatly to his surprise he was approached by a small group to do Bible study with them. He leapt at the opportunity. Near the end of the voyage, they were studying this chapter and afterwards a marine came to him. “Everything in that chapter,” he said, “is pointing at me.” He went on to say that he had been in hell for the last six months. He had gone straight into the marines from college. He had been sent out to Japan. He had been bored with life; and he had gone out and got into trouble—bad trouble. Nobody knew about it—except God. He felt guilty; he felt his life was ruined; he felt he could never face his family although they need never know; he felt he had killed himself and was a dead man. “And,” said this young marine, “after reading this chapter I have come alive again. I know that this resurrection Jesus was talking about is real here and now, for he has raised me from death to life.”

Barclay goes on to write, It does not really matter whether or not Jesus literally raised a corpse to life in A.D. 30, but it matters intensely that Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life for every man who is dead in sin and dead to God today.


Read my earlier comments on this theme here and here.


Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence