“Yahweh saves!” That’s what Jewish mothers and fathers were proclaiming every time they gave a newborn baby boy the name Jesus, for that’s what the name means. In Hebrew, it’s Yeshua, a shortened form of Yehoshua, or Joshua—and it was a popular choice in the first century. Archaeologists have uncovered numerous grave markings from the period etched with the name, attesting to its popularity.
Though we’re used to thinking of the name Jesus belonging solely to the one and only Son of God, it’s likely that Jesus knew plenty of other Jesuses in His day. This is somewhat fitting, because today we have lots of Jesuses too. We tend to fashion our personal image of Jesus into someone who’s passionate about whatever it is we’re passionate about. Whatever our political or theological leanings, our default setting is to believe that Jesus is on our side, rather than wondering if we’re on His. That’s why God has given us the Bible: so that we might know the real Jesus and, over time, become more like Him, rather than attempting to make Him more like us.
When Pontius Pilate examined Jesus, he wanted the Man standing before him to proclaim His innocence. He listened for something that would give him an out, a reason to free Jesus and send the Jewish authorities away without disturbing the fragile peace of Jerusalem. Herod Antipas considered the prisoner and grew frustrated when Jesus didn’t turn out to be a showman who would perform miracles for his amusement.
The crowds shouting, “Crucify him!” wanted a Jesus that was more to their liking as well. Pilate, taking advantage of a Passover tradition, offered to pardon one of the two prisoners he was holding under guard that morning: “Who is it you want me to release for you—Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” (Matthew 27:17). If you scan down to the bottom of the page in your Bible, you’ll likely find a footnote. Some ancient manuscripts of Matthew’s Gospel include Barabbas’s full name as “Jesus Barabbas.” In other words, Pilate presented two prisoners named Jesus to the angry mob—Jesus who is called Barabbas and Jesus who is called Christ. The choice was theirs.
Jesus who is called Barabbas had been involved in an insurrection, a violent uprising against Rome. Jesus who is called Christ had instructed His followers to love their enemies (Matthew 5:44). Barabbas had committed murdered and was guilty of the charges he faced (Mark 15:7). Jesus came to lay down His life and was innocent of every accusation leveled against Him. Yet the crowds wanted Barabbas and chose to set him free. They preferred a Jesus who fought with weapons they understood.
May we never choose the Jesus who fits our prejudices and preferences, the Jesus we can easily understand because he’s just like us. The real Jesus isn’t like us, yet He became one of us so that we might become like Him—and to prove the truth of His name, Yahweh saves!
Written by John Greco