“Give Us Barabbas!”

Back in the 1980s, when I was a young believer, I heard a sermon called something like “Three of the Most Frightening Words in Scripture.” I don’t remember who the pastor was, but the message was incredibly powerful. In this post, I will share some of the things I remember from that sermon, as well as adding some of my own thoughts.

If you’re a Christian, you probably recognize the name Barabbas because of what happened on Good Friday. All four of the Gospels tell us that Barabbas had taken part in a rebellion against the Roman empire. Mark and Luke tell us that he had committed murder; Luke also reminds us in Acts 3:14 that Barabbas was a murderer. Matthew, Mark, and John all tell us that it was the custom for the Roman governor (at that time Pilate) to release a prisoner at the time of the Passover Feast. When Jesus appears before Pilate, he finds nothing to charge Jesus with, so Pilate wants to release Him. In John 18:39, Pilate asks the Jewish mob, “Do you want me to release the king of the Jews?” In verse 40, they respond, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” If you look at Matthew 27:20, you will see that the chief priests and elders had persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.

One of the most frightening things about the mob asking for Barabbas, not Jesus, to be released is that just 4-5 days earlier, the “great crowd” (John 12:12) of Jewish people were shouting something very different when Jesus entered Jerusalem (verse 13): “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the King of Israel!” Yes, even calling Jesus their King! Now, I’m not saying that all of those in the Jewish crowd did a complete about-face five days later, but the implication is that the vast majority of them did. Acts 1:15, for example, tells us that before Pentecost, there were only 120 believers. Even taking into account I Corinthians 15:6, which says that Jesus appeared to more than 500 brothers at the same time after His resurrection, that still doesn’t sound like the “great crowd” in John 12:12. Some have studied mob mentality in regard to what happened; while I find that interesting, it is beyond the scope of this post.

A second frightening thing about the Jewish mob asking for Barabbas instead of Jesus is what we read in Matthew 27:24-25: “When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood,’ he said. ‘It is your responsibility!’ All the people answered, ‘Let his blood be on us and our children!'” Ponder those chilling words from the mob for a moment; truly frightening–and prophetic. Israel ceased to exist as a nation just two generations later, in 70 A.D., when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans.

I believe the most frightening thing of all about the mob’s desire to have Barabbas released rather than Jesus is this: it reveals the human heart, not just at that time, but for all time. Obviously, people don’t consciously think of it in terms of choosing a criminal rather than our Savior, the perfect One, but whenever people reject Jesus, that is in essence what they are doing. I suppose thinking of it in a slightly different way may make it clearer: most people choose sin instead of Jesus; they choose to follow the crowd rather than the Lord. Here are the words of Jesus Himself, from Matthew 7:13-14: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Indeed, following Jesus is becoming increasingly hard in today’s world.

Thankfully, the death of Jesus a few hours later was not the end of the story! And even though following Jesus is not the easy road, people put their faith in Him every day. There’s a message by S.M. Lockridge called, “It’s Friday, But Sunday’s Comin’!” Short, but powerful. Here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8gx6_rGLz20

Speaking of Sunday’s comin’: A year ago, I wrote a post about evidence for Jesus’ resurrection; here’s the link, if you’re interested: https://keithpetersenblog.com/2021/03/24/evidence-for-the-resurrection/ The beginning of Holy Week is just a few days away; may you have a most blessed one, culminating in the celebration of Easter! And if you’re not a Christian, may this be the time you put your faith in Jesus Christ.

13 thoughts on ““Give Us Barabbas!”

  1. Excellent post, Keith. Good analogy, and you’re right, a lot of people are saying, in essence, “We want Barabbas.”
    Like three other words we hear from people who are resistant to the gospel – “Leave me alone!” And in the end, they ARE left alone.
    Also chilling are those other words you mentioned, “Let his blood be on us and on our children” And in Luke 23:28, on the way to the cross Jesus tells the women who were weeping, “Weep not for Me, but for yourselves and your children.”
    The lesson in all this – Be careful what you ask for.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Hi Keith, when I read the passages about Barabbas in the Gospels I always thought that the composition of the mob who was yelling for Barabbas was different than the crowd who was welcoming Jesus on Palm Sunday. The people of Jerusalem during Jesus’ ministry were divided on whether He was the Messiah according to John 7:40-52. May the Lord bless your work on this blog.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Anthony, there are some who think that the two crowds were made up of essentially the same people, while others think the two crowds were distinctly different. John 12:12, as I mentioned in the post, says there was a “great crowd,” while none of the Gospels mention the size of the Good Friday crowd. However, Acts 1:15 says there were only 120 believers, which was before Pentecost. It looks like that “great crowd” had shrunk considerably, even taking into account 1 Corinthians 15:6.

      We are also told, in Mark 15:11, that the chief priests “stirred up” the crowd; in that context, I can easily see at least some of those who truly believed in Jesus being silent because of fear; look what happened to Peter! I can also see those who did not truly believe, but had been part of the Palm Sunday crowd, going along with the crowd, again out of fear.

      In addition, I think it’s clear that the majority of the Jews were looking for a political savior who would set them free from Roman domination. However, it was clear by this time that Jesus was not going to do that. I can see how the “great crowd” of Palm Sunday would have been disillusioned and that most of them would have turned against Jesus.

      I have read a few people online who think that the two crowds were two very different groups of people. However, their “evidence” is flimsy at best.

      As always, Anthony, I appreciate your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

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