The other three gospels just call him “Barabbas.” Matthew makes the choice more pointed by adding that the full name of the other man Pilate offered to release at Passover was “Jesus Barabbas.” Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew Joshua (“God saves”), a fairly common man’s name at that time.
- Matthew calls Jesus Barabbas a “well-known prisoner.” Why well-known? Mark 15:7, Luke 23:19 and John 18:40 say he took part in an insurrection against the Romans. No doubt many saw him as a heroic freedom fighter defending their nation. To the Romans, he was a terrorist. Who gets your vote: Jesus Barabbas, the violent man willing to fight the bad guys, or Jesus of Nazareth, who taught us to love our enemies?
- Barabbas was sentenced to die, but Jesus died instead. We don’t know if that did or did not affect Barabbas. In a much deeper sense, Jesus died instead of you, and you get to choose how that affects you. How do you respond to Jesus’ self-giving love?
I remember being in church when this passage from Matthew was read, as the words came from my Dad’s mouth, I was like… oh… dad made a mistake… then, again… maybe not… uh… no he didn’t, his name really was Jesus Barabbas?
Whoa… That really got me thinking!
Now, if I have my linguistics or whatever correct… Jesus as the GPS states means Savior or God saves, and his last name, means son of the Father, so Jesus Barabbas means Savior of God? Now how’s that about a name to give you a messiah complex?
But while names are indeed important, Barabbas was saved rather than the savior. His approach was all about brute force, about military and political power and it nearly cost him his life. Jesus, God’s son was about love, grace, mercy and forgiveness, and he gave his life so that even people like Barabbas might live.
There is nothing about this that is about fair, if things were fair, Jesus, son of Joseph, son of God, would have not died on the cross, and Barabbas would have died on the cross, but only for his sin. This is a story about redemption, forgiveness and love and Barabbas unlikely and undeserving as he was, was the first of many for whom Jesus would die. That really gave me something to think about!