But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitudes that they should ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. (Matthew 27:20)
The spiritual confrontation of Christ’s final hours is one that has had the greatest impact on the human race than any other event in history. While it undoubtedly took place in the physical or natural arena, the real battle occured in the spiritual realm. That His death and resurrection was not a purely natural-world event is easily validated by anyone who cares to look. Perhaps the simplest example is this: Countless people were crucified, and Jesus Himself was crucified between two thieves. The actual physical act of crucifixion, then, is not what sets Him apart. It is the fact that this one man out off the multitude of men who met their deaths on the cross is the only one who has changed the entire course of the history of mankind.
The coming of Christ is recognised internationally as the turning point of measured time. Eveyone, whether believers, agnostics, atheists or not-quite-sures, universally accept the temporal deliniation that governs our historical timeline, against which even science is measured – things are BC or AD, Before Christ or anno Domini, the latin phrase meaning ‘the year of our Lord.’ Whether they believe in Him or not, the entire world acknowledges that He is the pivot-point of our history.
The drama played out between Pilate and the people contains a wealth of spiritual significance that we often overlook. The magnitude of detail and perfection in everything God does never ceases to awe me, because He infuses and presents spiritual reality with such poignant illustration. He leaves nothing to chance, and the parallel drawn with such harsh clarity between Barabbas and Jesus is utterly astounding.
These two men, firstly, represent the complete opposite extremes. The nature and character of Christ, revealed to us over and over throught the Gospels, stands in direct antithesis to the rough character of Barabbas – a seditionist, bandit, revolutionary and all-round troublemaker, the kind most leadership would ordinarily condemn out of hand. Yet this is the man that is chosen to stand opposite Jesus as one of the two choices offered to the people.
The message is clear. There are two choices. They represent two extremes. There are no ‘grey areas’ – it’s one or the other. The same choice faces each and every single person. We all have to choose either Christ or Barabbas. In this sense, it’s plain and simple, but there are layers of spiritual truth that we often don’t consider. The polar opposites of these two figures is significant, but the parallels are equally important because they reveal the spiritual condition and consequences that our choices included and cause.
The first parallel is one that is virtually never mentioned. It does, perhaps, stir a little controversy, but I prefer to look at what is historically available in terms of validation rather than religious sentiment. In some ancient manuscripts Barabbas’ full name is written as Jesus Barabbas. That it is not included in many of the Bible translations is possibly due to an understandable sentiment that His name could not be shared with a man such as Barabbas.
While understandable, this does not make sense theologically. The name Jesus is just that – a name, like Tom or John or Ron. Christ’s identity – His divinity – lies in His authority as the Christ, the anointed one, the anointed King of heaven, the Messiah. There are no doubt countless men throughout the ages who were called Jesus. The name itself is remarkable, and our reverence for the name lies solely in the truth that, when used, we infer Jesus Christ, or Jesus the Christ. Pilate himself makes this particular distinction when he uses the phrase ‘Jesus who is called the Messiah’ to differentiate between the two men.
While the name itself is unremarkable, the fact that two men by the same name placed side by side in one of the most significant moments in history is remarkable. And, lest we be tempted to simply gloss over this, another even more dramatic parallel is included. The name Barabbas is written in the Greek texts as bar-Abbas, and is derived from the Aramaic Bar-abbâ, which means ‘son of the father.’ The dramatic juxtaposition of these two men representing the choice of the world suddenly makes a whole lot more spiritual sense, doesn’t it.
On one hand we have Jesus, the Son of the Father, the anointed King of heaven. On the other we have Jesus, the son of the father, which may justifiably be interpreted as both the worldly father and ‘your father, the devil.’ In thousands of years, this truth has not changed in even the slightest. Our choice is between the Son of the Father or the son of the father. It’s a universal truth, an unchangeable spiritual reality. We must, whether consciously or unconsciously, choose between the two. We demonstrate by our choices and actions which side of the line we’re on. We are either for Christ or against Him. There is no middle ground.
What is interesting about today’s verse is the practical manifestation of this in our lives and even in our churches. Let us never forget that Jesus came to His own. The Jews were His people, the people of God. The Romans might have carried out the execution and added ‘legal authority’ to it, but the actual instrument was the choice of the Jewish people. They could have chosen differently, and Pilate would have released Christ, not Barabbas. Their choice, though, is clearly defined in the declaration that they had no king but Caesar. In rejecting their rightful, God annointed King, they chose captivity by the enemy. Again, the parallel is obvious. Our choices determine whether we live in the freedom that is in Christ or the captivity of the world and Satan.
It’s really important that we view everything in both the light of the cross and the teachings of Christ. The cross is the symbol of Christ because of the battle and the victory He purchased through His death and resurrection. We can never forget that He voluntarily undertook that agonising journey in order to assure our salvation. It was never forced upon Him, nor was He ever unable to avoid He. He laid Himself down willingly. He subjected Himself to the ‘authority’ of man in order to fully identify Himself with us, but He overturned the authority of man in His resurrection, thereby establishing Himself as the only anointed King.
Significantly, the authority of man is always representative of the ‘will of the people’ rather than the will of the government, yet it is usually controlled by the will of Satan or the will of God, depending on the spiritual condition of the peole who exercise the authority. And this is where the interesting emerges. We look at government, particularly today, in a world that is rapidly moving away from the righteous will of God, and see little to encourage us. We vote for the ‘lesser or two evils’ and hope we made the right choice. The world we know is rapidly moving away from new life in Christ towards new age philosophies and teachings that exclude God and include the demonic. And the same, tragically, applies to our churches.
We cannot ignore the fact that the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude. Pilate did not persuade them. Caesar did not persuade them. The Roman soldiers did not persuade them. It was their own Jewish religious leaders and wise men who convinced them to reject the true Jesus and choose the counterfeit. Jesus teaches that false Christs will arise and deceive many. Paul teaches that others will teach a false Jesus and many will willingly accept it. The shepherds will, through their responses, persuade the people.
At the end of the day, however, we each carry our own accountability. We cannot blame others and even our leadership, because the choice is ours. We can allow ourselves to be persuaded or we can stand on the truth and fix our eyes on the true Christ. It’s not a choice that is restricted to the one-time moment of salvation. Rather, it’s an ongoing, daily choice in our walk with Him. In this moment, this situation, this circumstance, this difficulty, I choose the real Jesus. I choose His will, His way, His truth, His purpose, His righteousness, His example.
I do not suggest, as many do, that our wrong choices – those moments when we reject the teaching or will of Jesus – effectively ‘crucifies Him all over again.’ That may sound ‘powerful’ but it’s manipulative, using guilt to bully people into good behaviour and right choices. Jesus died and rose from the dead once and for all. It is is finished. And He came to set us free. But it does mean that we can make a mockery of what He did. That’s an entirely different matter. In any situation, if we choose Barabbas, we put ourselves in the same spiritual shoes as those who stood before Pilate. We effectively say Jesus deserved to die, denying the truth that He died in our place.
The mercy of God is immeasurable, His grace beyond comprehension. Even on the cross, forgiveness was extended – they know not what they do. Our ignorance of the spiritual reality behind the events often puts us in the wrong position, but our God is gracious and merciful and quick to forgive.
In that deciding moment, Jesus stood as the representative of mankind – the Son of Man – before the father and offered us His own identity as the Son of God as the way of salvation and restoration. Barabbas stood in our place, as a representative of what we are before salvation – of the world and of our father, the devil. Barabbas may have been set free, but it was into the world and under the authority of kingdom of darkness. A false Jesus will always bring a false freedom and deeper bondage.
We choose either what we were or what we are in Christ. We cannot have a little of both. Christ’s way was to the cross – total and complete surrender to the will of God and the freedom and new life that lay beyond. Barabbas is me and Barabbas is you. Do I choose me or do I choose Christ?
Your great mercy and grace, Lord, is our shelter, our protection, our guide and our strength. Help us to choose right in our daily decisions, big or small. Give us discernment to recognise the true Jesus and the false, and to turn away from all that is not of You. Help us to remember that the Barabbas in us is defeated by the Jesus in us, and to find strength to stand for what is true in the secure knowledge that greater is He that is in us than He that is in the world.