Don’t follow the crowd. Remember, the crowd chose Barabbas over Jesus! They picked him not because he was a good guy, or they liked him but because they hated the truth. We’re not called to follow the crowd or even the crowd who call themselves “Christians;” we’re called to follow the Christ!

Barabbas is mentioned by name eleven times in Scripture, all connected with Jesus’ trial. His release is recorded in all four Gospels. Barabbas’ rap sheet is extensive. Matthew 27:16 calls him “a notorious prisoner,” infamous for his criminal conduct. Mark 15:7 (NASB) labels him as an “insurrectionist who had committed murderer.” Luke 23:19 (ETRV) indicates “Barabbas was a man who was in jail for starting a riot in the city and for murder.” Some scholars say he was a zealot who revolted against Roman rule with terrorist tactics. John 18:40 (NKJV) simply says, “Now Barabbas was a robber.” Peter added, You denied the Holy One and the Just, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and killed the Prince of life, whom God raised from the dead” (Ac. 3:14). In slang terms, Barabbas was a rude, crude dude—public enemy number one.

It was customary to release a prisoner during the Passover. When this custom began and who started it is unknown. Scripture clearly indicates that Pilate wanted to release Jesus (Jn. 19:12). Peter later reminded the crowd at the Temple, “Whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let Him go (Ac. 3:13). Pilate hoped the people would choose Jesus and was shocked when they chose Barabbas instead. Three times in John’s Gospel Pilate said, “I find no fault in Him” (Jn. 18:38; 19:4, 6). As a prosecutor, Pilate routinely proved people guilty. He didn’t want to crucify Jesus but he ended up doing what politicians do—he caved in to pressure from the people. So Pilate, wanting to gratify the crowd, released Barabbas to them; and he delivered Jesus . . . to be crucified” (Mk. 15:15). The mob even threatened Pilate with treason against Rome if He released Jesus, “If you let this Man go, you are not Caesar’s friend” (Jn. 19:12). Trapped, Pilate theatrically washed his hands to guilt trip the mob, “I am innocent of the blood of this just person” (Mt. 27:24). Then Pilate reluctantly ordered Christ to be crucified.

Here’s a mind-blowing bombshell: multiple sources (books, commentaries, articles, and even some Bible versions) say Barabbas’ real name was JESUS! In a few of the original Greek texts he is called by an expanded name “Jesus Bar-Abbas.” In fact, the Message, the New English Translation, and the New International Version all call him “Jesus Barabbas.” “Pilate asked them, ‘Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?’” (Mt. 27:17, NIV) Jesus is the New Testament equivalent of Joshua and was a common name among Jews. Barabbas, meaning “son of the father,” is more of a distinction than a name (like Simon Barjona or son of John—Mt. 16:17). So, Pilate was really asking which Jesus do you choose? Do you want an imposter named Jesus or do you want the REAL Jesus? The big question is why isn’t it recorded that way in all Bible versions today? Scholars explain that scribes and translators gradually omitted it because they couldn’t bear to believe that such a vile man shared the same sacred name with Jesus—the Just One.

Don’t miss the irony. The crowd chose the wrong Jesus! They chose evil over good, a vicious villain over a virtuous hero, a murderer over a minister, a robber over a redeemer, and a con man over the Christ. They chose a son of Satan over the Son of God, a man of hatred and violence over a man of love and peace, a mobster over the Messiah. A taker of lives was traded for the giver of life. A guilty, career criminal was traded for the only truly innocent man. People still choose the wrong Jesus today. They look to the wrong heroes as their saviors and role models. They turn to celebrities, movie stars, musicians, singers, performers, athletes, or politicians. Who does Hollywood and our society glamorize and idolize, the righteous or the rebellious? Celebrities who live wicked lives are lauded and applauded as heroes while moral and upright people are often villainized or marginalized as zeroes. What a warped value system! People also choose things over Jesus such as hobbies, careers, entertainment, recreation, addictions, and more.

Like it or not, Barabbas is an ugly picture of US. We can all identify with Barabbas and, like looking in the mirror, we don’t like what we see:

  • We are all guilty. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).
  • We are all murderers, in a sense, because our sins put Christ on the cross. Plus, if we’ve ever hated anyone, “Whosoever hates his brother is a murderer: and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 Jn. 3:15).
  • We are all rebels and thieves. We’ve all rebelled against God’s Word and will and have stolen from His glory—“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Is. 53:6).
  • We were all prisoners set free. We were all bound in chains of sin and doomed to death eternally but Christ delivered us. “Whom the Son sets free, shall be free indeed” (Jn. 8:36).
  • Jesus died in our place on the cross. Just as Barabbas deserved to be crucified and Jesus literally took his place, Christ was our substitute in death. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8).

Charles Spurgeon, a brilliant British preacher in the 1800s, summarized his entire theology with four, simple words—“He died for me!” These song lyrics say it all, “I should have been crucified, I should have suffered and died, I should have hung on the cross in disgrace, but Jesus, God’s Son, took MY place!” Isaiah prophesied over 700 years before Christ’s vicarious suffering, “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed” (Is. 53:5).

A young woman was caught speeding and appeared in court. The judge fined her $100. Then he stepped down from the bench, removed his judicial robe, and opened his own wallet. He took out a $100 bill and paid the woman’s fine. The reason? She was his daughter. God, our Father and just Judge, sentenced us to death for our sins, but He sent His only Son to pay our penalty. When Jesus cried from the cross, “It is finished,” He used the Greek term tetelestai, which means “paid in full!” Archeologists have found old tax receipts stamped with tetelestai to indicate a zero balance.

Friend, destiny is not a matter of chance; it’s a matter of choice. If we allow anything to replace Jesus as the Lord of our lives, we are, in essence, choosing Barabbas. Don’t repeat the mob’s mistake. Don’t choose the wrong Jesus!