Friday, March 2, 2012


Mark 15:15, “And wishing to satisfy the multitude, Pilate released Barabbas for them, and after having Jesus scourged, he delivered Him to be crucified.”

Romans 4:25, “He who was delivered up because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.”

There is not so much written about Barabbas in the gospel accounts. But his is a fascinating story. The choice of Barabbas vs. Jesus is remarkable. His freedom, at the cost of Christ’s punishment represents a dramatic exchange. In his commentary on the book of Romans, commenting on Romans 4:25-25, Donald Grey Barnhouse used Barabbas to illustrate the substitutionary nature of Christ’s sacrifice for us. What follows is from his commentary…it is well worth reading:

“There is a physical, material illustration of the substitutionary death of Christ that is found in all four of the gospels, and that shows this truth in a simple, yet profound manner. It is rare to find any given event mentioned in all four of the gospels, for the Lord is not writing mere history in these accounts but is setting forth four portraits of Christ in different phases of His life and ministry. In the recital of the events that took place in at the trial of Jesus, there is mention of one Barabbas. In one of the gospels he is said to have been a robber, in another that he had been mixed up in an act of sedition in the city, and that he had committed murder. He was, we read, a notable prisoner. Now it was the custom at that time to free some one prisoner at the occasion of the high Jewish festival, and Pilate thought that he might get of his predicament by releasing Jesus Christ, since the evidence show that there was no fault in Him. But the crowd cried out that they wished Barabbas released and that they wished Jesus to be crucified (Matt. 27:15-26; Mark 15:6-15; Luke 23:13-25; John 18:38-40). If we count carefully we discover no less than 38 verses used in the four gospels to tell that simple story. Anyone who is really familiar with Scripture knows that God does not give lengthy emphasis to a subject through mere whim, but that this is part of “all Scripture,” given by inspiration of God, and profitable for instruction (2 Tim. 3:16). Even the balance, the length given to the story of Barabbas is important, and the story is given half a dozen verses more than the entire account of the betrayal of Christ by Judas. Let us look a little more closely at this man Barabbas.

In the first place, the name Barabbas is pure Hebrew, Bar means “son” and abba means “father.” Barabbas, then, means son of the father. It can readily be seen that he is a representative type of all the sons of all the fathers who have ever begotten children in this world. We are all of Adam’s race. We have been bound over for our sedition against God. We are robbers of His glory. We are murderers of our souls and the souls of others. We find ourselves bound in the darksome prison house of sin. We feel in our hearts that we merit the sentence that has been announced to us and we wait in trembling for the time of judgment. Every man loves freedom. To be put in a cell is a horrible curtailment of human liberty, and the necessity of such confinement shows what society thinks of the terrible outbreaks that endanger the smooth flow of what men call civilization.

The Roman soldiery had stopped the riot and had taken Barabbas. His blood-guiltness was established. He was flung in his cell, there to wait the moment of his death. I have read several stories of the thoughts of prisoners before there death. A man who is to be hanged has difficulty keeping his hand away from his throat where the rope is soon to choke him. I have been told by a chaplain in a prison where men are executed in a gas chamber that the condemned practice long breathing, and sometimes will hold their breath until it seems that their eyes will pop from their sockets. They know that they are going to be put into a gas chamber and that the breath they are now forcing into their lungs will be the last that they shall ever know. They will hold on and on, straining the throngs that tie them to their chair, until they are forced by the inexorable law of breathing to exhale the last breath that contained pure oxygen and take in the death that floats around them.

Barabbas must have looked at the palms of his hands and wondered how it would feel to have the nails ripping through the flesh. He must have remembered scenes of crucifixion death, and the slow agony of the victims who suffered at times for a day or two before merciful death came to release them. He must have awakened with a start if he heard any hammering in the jail, and his mind must have anticipated the sound of the clanging hammers that would bring death near to him. And then, in his prison, he heard the vague murmuring of the crowd that roared outside like the murmur of a troubled sea. He thinks he hears his own name. He can tell that there are angry cries, and fear rises in his heart. Then he hears the sound of a key in the lock, and a jailer comes to him and releases him from the chain that is wound around him, for the Bible tells that he was bound. He must have thought that his time had come, but the jailer takes him to the door and tells him that he is free.

In his stupefaction he moves toward the crowd. There is little welcome for him, and he senses the deep preoccupation of the people. If he meets of his old companions in the crowd, he is greeted with but a moment’s word, and then he hears the surging roar, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” In modern language he would say to his companion, “What is the pitch? Give me the low down?” And he would be briefly answered that the roar is against Jesus, and that He is to be crucified, and that the crowd had cried out for the release of Barabbas.

Stunned, he walks nearer to the center of the scene and sees the Man who is to die in his place. Finally the procession begins toward Golgotha. He follows and sees Jesus fall under the weight of the cross. He sees Simon the Cyrene pressed by the soldiers to fall in line and carry the cross, and finally they arrive at Calvary. What must have been his thoughts? He hears the echoing blows of the hammer striking the nails, and looks down at his own hands. He had thought that this would be his day. He had thought the nails would tear his flesh. And here he is breathing the air of springtime and looking at the dark cloud that is gathering in the sky. Does he say, “Those hammer blows were meant for me, but He is dying in my place?” He could have said it in literal truth that day.

The cross is lifted up and he sees the silhouette against the sky. The sun grows dark and he hears voices that come to him like thunder. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” The centurion passes near Him, and seeing the look upon His face, says, “Truly this was the Son of God.” And Barabbas, more than before, looks with wonder and amazement at the man who is dying for him. There comes a cry, “It is finished,” and a little while later he sees soldiers take down the body and put it in its temporary grave. He goes back to the city, and all the little things that he had expected to see no more come before his eyes with freshness of new creation. He took my place. Jesus took my place. They released me, Barabbas, who deserved to die, and they crucified Jesus instead of me. He took my place. He died instead of me.

Now Barabbas was the only man in the world who could say that Jesus Christ took his physical place. But I can say that Jesus Christ took my spiritual place. For it is I who deserved to die. It was I who deserved the wrath of God should be poured upon me. I deserved the eternal punishment of the lake of fire. He was delivered up for my offenses. He was handed over to judgment because of my sins. This is why we speak of the substitutionary atonement. Christ was my substitute. He was satisfying the debt of divine justice and holiness. That is why I say that Christianity can be expressed in three phases: I deserved Hell; Jesus took my Hell; there is nothing left for me but His Heaven.”

Romans: Exposition of Bible Doctrines Taking the Epistle to the Romans as a Point of Departure; Donald Grey Barnhouse; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Volume 2; pages 375-378.

Pastor Jerry

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