On the day Jesus was condemned to die, another man, Barabbas, was released from custody for the crimes he had actually committed. What little we know of Barabbas from the four Gospels is not flattering. In the book of Matthew, he’s a notorious criminal (Matthew 27:16); Mark and Luke call him a “murderer” who participated in a rebellion (Mark 15:7; Luke 23:19); and John’s account equates him with a robber or a bandit (John 18:40).
Knowing little else about Barabbas, I’m left to fill in the gaps with my imagination. I picture him in chains, hearing the crowds chant his name just as the guards approach him, grunting out, “Pilate wants to see you.” Maybe he assumes that this is the end of the road: a swift and guilty verdict, followed by execution. He squints as he steps into the sunlight, noticing another prisoner standing before the crowd. Perhaps later he’ll reflect on this moment, but for now, all that registers is the cacophonous crowd and the pit in his stomach at the sight of the governor, the man whose judgment can end his life with a single word.
I wonder what he thought about in his presumed final moments? With the hand of justice tightening around his throat, does he regret his actions or simply that he was caught? Is he ready to fight his sentence or submit to it?
But then, in a surreal moment that Barabbas himself might never come to understand, the crowd erupts into a frenzied cheer as Pilate raises a hand in his direction; instead of leading him to his execution, the guards release him to the mob whose thirst for blood has shifted to another man: “JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS” (John 19:19). The rest of Barabbas’s life remains lost to history.
Barabbas walked away a free man that day, making it easy to judge him as a hopeless criminal who literally got away with murder. But if I’m honest, I see that I have something significant in common with Barabbas: a lifetime’s worth of thoughts, words, and deeds that fall infinitely short of God’s glory and should condemn me to exist apart from His presence forever (Romans 3:23). But instead, Jesus died in my place—He died instead of me. It was His blood that pardoned me and set me free. And so these words from the apostle Peter feel as if they’re directed just to me:
“You denied the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer released to you.
You killed the source of life, whom God raised from the dead;
we are witnesses of this” (Acts 3:14–15).
Jesus took my place on the cross that day, and so, in a very real way, it was I who killed Him. But if He died at my hands, He was raised to life by God’s, and I recognize that I share in that part of the story too. Like Barabbas, my guilt has been stricken from the record, the bloodstains on my hands washed clean away. I don’t know what Barabbas did with his freedom, but with mine, I cling to the hope of glory offered by the one who set me free.
Written by Alex Florez