Asking for Barabbas is a supremely bad idea

I’m sure you know the story. It’s the portion of Christ’s passion narrative, recorded in all four gospels, where Pilate attempts multiple times to set Jesus free from the illegal grip of the Jewish religious leaders, and finally he tries a legal maneuver that allows him to free a current prisoner.

Robin Schumacher
Courtesy of Robin Schumacher

He gives the people a can’t-miss comparison choice between Jesus and a man named Barabbas, who is labeled a notorious prisoner in Matthew (27:16), an insurrectionist and murderer in Mark and Luke (15:6; 23:19), and a robber in John (18:40). On one hand, you have a guilty, violent, murderer and on the other you have the innocent, peaceful, sinless Jesus of Nazareth.

What seems like a braindead choice to Pilate ends up going south fast: “But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to ask him to release Barabbas for them instead. Answering again, Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Him whom you call the King of the Jews?” They shouted back, “Crucify Him!” But Pilate said to them, “Why, what evil has He done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify Him!” Wishing to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas for them, and after having Jesus scourged, he handed Him over to be crucified” (Mark 15:11-15).

The stark comparison between Christ and Barabbas becomes even more spiritually significant when one discovers the meaning behind the latter’s name. Bar means “son of” and abba is “father” in the Greek.

The crowd asked for the wrong “son of the father”[1].

Perhaps no event in Scripture depicts the words of Isaiah 5:20 better: “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!”

Choosing Barabbas reveals your spiritual character

In 2015, 75% of Americans identified as Christian, with more recent polls pegging that number at 65%. Even with such a decline, if nearly two-thirds of the population is truly Christian, then the shape in which we find our country is truly a head-scratcher.

When given a choice, spurred on by a minority of radical voices, the ‘crowd’ still seems to ask for Barabbas.

The woke mobs we have today are asphyxiating our society as they cry for the guilty to be set free (and in record numbers today), while innocent unborn babies are sentenced to death. Crime is celebrated while justice is ignored and those who enforce the law are persecuted. Political rioting and massive protests are welcomed while churches are barricaded with three layers of chain link fence and their pastors imprisoned by the government for daring to meet and worship God.  

Enabling these travesties are the current politicians who are the spitting image of Pilate. Rather than doing what is right, their goal (other than staying in power) is perfectly summed up in the verse, “wishing to satisfy the crowd” (Mark 15:15), a sad statement that should be framed and hung behind their office desks. 

Instead of making Godly decisions, the Barabbas-styled choices Americans make today far more resemble a set of lyrics from AC/DC’s song Hell’s Bells:

I'll give you black sensations up and down your spine

If you're into evil you're a friend of mine

See my white light flashing as I split the night

Cause if good's on the left,

Then I'm stickin' to the right

Choosing Barabbas comes with consequences  

We’re constantly reminded in Scripture that asking for Barabbas results in terrible consequences. Paul simply describes the aftermath for Barabbas-seekers as those, “whose end will be according to their deeds” (2 Cor. 11:15).

For the Jewish people of Jesus’ time, embracing a guilty killer and murdering their prophesied Messiah ended with Titus and the Roman army destroying Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and a scattering of the Jewish nation, which was a fulfillment of Jesus’s words: “Behold, your house is being left to you desolate!” (Matt. 23:38).

For us today, the upside-down culture we’re living in was predicted (ironically) by the atheist Nietzsche who said that, since God was dead, a universal madness would globally consume the world. Theologically speaking, the term that describes our current state is “abandonment wrath” where God simply pulls back from those who have rejected Him and gives them over to their corrupt desires (see Romans 1:18-32).

In other words, God’s judgment isn’t coming; it’s already here.  

The remedy for this awful predicament starts with each one of us. The process involves you and me examining our own lives, uncovering how we embrace the wrong “son of the father” each day, and repenting of that decision. Then we can collectively work towards making more disciples of Christ out of the ‘crowd’ whose hearts currently crave Barabbas instead of Jesus.

[1] Some manuscripts and early church fathers append “Jesus” to Barabbas’ name, but no definitive proof exists of this being his full name. 

Robin Schumacher is an accomplished software executive and Christian apologist who has written many articles, authored and contributed to several Christian books, appeared on nationally syndicated radio programs, and presented at apologetic events. He holds a BS in Business, Master's in Christian apologetics and a Ph.D. in New Testament. His latest book is, A Confident Faith: Winning people to Christ with the apologetics of the Apostle Paul.

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