Barabbas has captivated our imaginations for years. The epic Ben Hur (The Chuck Heston one, not the recent one no one saw) is built on the idea we have no idea who this guy was and thus could be anyone. Now, that movie tries to make him out to be a hero of some sort, yet the Bible paints no such picture. But here are 5 things we do know that you might not know:
1) We’re Pronouncing His Name Wrong
We run his name together like we’re saying Barnabas. But it’s a compound name Bar meaning “Son of” and Abbas meaning “Father”. You probably have heard God referred to as Abba. So his name should be pronounced Bar-Abbas – Son of the Father. Ironically this isn’t the only parallel to Jesus. Who is the literal Son of the Father.
2) His Full-name Was Quite Possibly Jesus Barabbas
We have discovered some old manuscripts of Matthew in what are called the Caesarean group that use the name Jesus Barabbas. When Pilate is asking the crowd who they want in Matthew 27:17 he asks, ““Whom do you want me to release for you? Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” Every once in a while we come across tiny little discrepancies like they differ between manuscripts. Don’t be dismayed. We have thousands of manuscripts crossing thousands of miles, and the differences are miniscule. God has truly preserved his Word. However, this is one of those instances. Origen, the 3rd Century church father, basically said that he didn’t like writing Barabbas name with Jesus in front of it out of reverence for the true Savior. Maybe others in the early church had similar feelings. But what a crazy parallel. Which Jesus did you want?
3) Jesus Was Accused of What He Actually Did
Crucifixion was used for deaths that needed to be public. Beheadings worked just fine for your run of the mill murderer; but crucifixion was used for those that committed crimes against the Roman Empire. The thieves probably stole something from the crown, and Barabbas is mentioned as being sentenced for murder and insurrection. The insurrection part is why he’s being crucified and not just beheaded. The Pharisees and religious leaders are claiming Jesus is trying to lead an insurrection and that if Pilate doesn’t crucify Him the treasonous uprising will begin and Caesar will have to send an army to put it down and probably the Roman Procurator in the area too (i.e. Pontius Pilate.) So Jesus of Nazareth was crucified for the allegation for what Barabbas actually did.
4) He Deserved to Be in The Crowd
Barabbas was a murderous traitor. The crowd screaming “Crucify Him” at Jesus are the same. They too are murders for what they are doing to Jesus and they too are traitors for rejecting Israel’s Messiah whom God had sent. He belongs in the crowd.
5) He Is the Symbol of Forgiveness
During the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Pilate became accustomed to forgiving one prisoner to be released. This helped keep the peace in this governed province. So Pilate thought he had an out, and could get the more reasonable in the crowd to ask for Jesus’ sentence to be commuted. There’s no way a sane person who want that scum Barabbas. But the hate filled crowd wanted just that. What we know theologically is that Jesus is the only person in history to not need forgiveness. He never committed a sin thus he never needed to be forgiven. We on the other hand desperately need forgiveness. So the man who needed no forgiveness took the place of the man who had no hope. In the same way Jesus takes out place. He is our substitute – our penalty taker.
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