Bystanders Day 7: Barabbas

By Jaime Sherman

  • Matthew 27:15-26
  • Mark 15:6-15
  • Luke 23:18-25
  • John 18:38b-40

Long before British kings handed down the “prerogative of mercy” and American presidents and governors pardoned or reduced prison sentences for those convicted of crimes against the state, the Roman governor Pilot (26/27 A.D. to 36/37 A.D.) made a name for himself by releasing a prisoner each year during the Passover feast.

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With legal authority over Judea, Pilot made it his business to take his soldiers to Jerusalem during the annual Passover pilgrimage, for the city swelled with peaceful visitors and rabble-rousers. Pilot was needed to hear and to rule on a long list of cases that particular Passover week, including that of a rebel named Barabbas, one charged with robbery, insurrection, and murder.

Barabbas was bound in prison, awaiting his trial when the crowd started shouting for Jesus’ crucifixion. He had accepted his guilt and knew his time was short. He would soon join Jesus at Golgotha, for the Romans spared no time in executing punishment.

When his prison door swung open, he knew his time had come. But, what was this? Instead of being led before Pilot, a soldier roughly removed Barabbas’ chains and told him he was free.

Free. Free to go.

He was the people’s choice. His freedom had been demanded and granted as Pilot’s traditional Passover pardon. Jesus of Nazareth would die on the cross Barabbas deserved. Jesus — the innocent — would be nailed to a cross between two convicted robbers.

What do you think the rest of Barabbas’ life looked like? Did he change his ways and live at peace with those around him? Did he become a Jesus follower? In his brief, post-resurrection days here on earth, did Jesus track down Barabbas and encourage him to walk differently in newness of life? Did he struggle to accept the mercy that he was shown?

We might not be Barabbas awaiting a death sentence, but we have all sinned against the holy God and deserve death. However, in great love and mercy, Jesus came to earth to take on the punishment we each deserve. As we trust in His work upon the cross, He unshackles us and declares us free. Barabbas could do nothing to earn his release, nothing to make himself right with God. We, too, can do nothing to earn God’s favor, but as we believe that Jesus is the Son of God sent to redeem us, we are freed from our death sentence. If you haven’t made this decision yet to trust Jesus, I encourage you to consider what’s holding you back and then ask God to grow your faith. In light of eternity, you are Barabbas, condemned to die and living the final hours of your life. Will you trust Jesus to set you free?

For additional narratives in our Bystanders series, click here.