Jesus and Barabbas

0902. Rooting For Barabbas

Following a last Passover supper with his disciples, Jesus led them to the Garden of Gethsemane, where he would be arrested by Jewish religious leaders. After a brief trial, they turned Jesus over to the Romans and gave Pontius Pilate the task of determining whether or not the prisoner Jesus should be crucified. Although he could not find fault through his own interviews with Jesus, Pilate found himself under pressure from both Roman and Jewish leaders to maintain order. In an attempt to extricate himself from this difficult position, Pilate decided to pit Jesus up against another Jew, Barabbas, and let the Jewish crowd decide who should be executed, and who should have his freedom. In doing so, Pilate fulfilled one of the many prophecies about the Messiah so many Jews hoped would come.

In Matthew 5:17 (CSB), Jesus tells us: “Don’t think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.” This meant that Jesus needed to fulfill all of the Israeli religious customs. We have discussed one such example from the Holy Scriptures in the role of the shepherds during Jesus’ birth. In Genesis 22:1-18, God asks Abraham to take Isaac up to Mount Moriah and sacrifice him. Abraham willingly obeys God, and is just about to slaughter his son, when God moves in and stops him and praises him for his unquestioning obedience. A nearby goat is sacrificed in place of Isaac. This story is where the modern term, scape goat, is derived. In order to commemorate this event in their history, a sacrifice was performed by Jewish religious leaders. Each year, two identical goats were brought before the high priest. The high priest would lay his hands on the goats to place the sins of Israel upon their heads. Then one goat would be freed (symbolizing Isaac), and the other would be sacrificed.

With that background laid out, we return to the event that took place involving Pilate, Jesus, and Barabbas. Pilate is the Roman governor of the Judean province, and represents the authority by which the sacrifice is carried out, similar to the high priest. Jesus and Barabbas represent the two goats. However, in the ritual sacrifice, it is a requirement that the two goats be identical. Jesus is a peaceful, innocent teacher being accused of claiming to be the King of the Jews. Barabbas, on the other hand, is a guilty, violent zealot and murderer who wishes to overthrow the Roman rule in the region. So how can this part of the ritual be fulfilled? This requires a deeper understanding of the Hebrew language. The Hebrew word for son is pronounced bar (בר). So when Jesus was growing up, he would have been known in Hebrew as Yeshua bar Yosef, or Jesus, son of Joseph. The Hebrew word for father is pronounced abba (אבא). However, back then the word father was also used to denote God, since Jews thought that the true name of God, Yahweh, was too sacred to speak out loud. When the Jewish leaders arrested Jesus in Matthew 26 and put him on trial, the charge they used was blasphemy for claiming to be the Son of God. In other words, they arrested him for calling himself Barabbas. In some Jewish non-canonical texts, Jesus’ name is written as Yeshua Barabbas. Therefore, through Hebrew names, we find that Jesus and Barabbas were identical, fulfilling the Jewish law as Jesus said he would.

One of the rifts that exist between Christians and Jews is over the mob mentality of the crowd deciding the fate of the two prisoners. It is easy to read the story and point the finger at the Jews for rejecting Jesus as the Messiah. However, this train of thought is completely illogical to understanding the reason why Jesus came to Earth to minister to us. And once again, we must use the Hebrew language to understand this completely. We have already established that Barabbas means son of the father.  However, what if there was another meaning? The term bar (בר) can not only mean son, but it can also mean child. And as we have already discussed, the term abba (אבא) can mean both father and God. That means that not only Barabbas can mean son of the father, it can also mean child of God. Given this context, if we are God’s creation made in his image, then we are children of God. That means that we are Barabbas, and humanity is standing on trial besides Jesus. It is through this comparison between Jesus and Barabbas do we truly realize the gift bestowed upon us by God. To root for Jesus to be spared is to condemn ourselves to death for the sins each and every one of us has committed. In a choice between Jesus or Barabbas, the only logical way we can save ourselves is to do as the Jews did, and also choose Barabbas. By doing so, we allow Jesus to take our place on the cross and die for our sins. So the next time you re-read the story of Jesus and Barabbas, ask yourself: Who are you rooting for? Ponder that this week.

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