Have you ever considered Barabbas – the man who was released so that Jesus could be condemned? He was captured by the Romans for “an insurrection and murder” according to Mark 15:2. He was a wanted enemy of the Roman State and there was no way that Pontius Pilate would free “public enemy number one”. Imagine how Barabbas must have felt as he slowly walked out onto that balcony with Pontius Pilate, Jesus, and armed Roman guards. Let’s listen in as Barabbas thinks to himself.
“I’m a dead man. Governor Pilate is going to let the crowd choose one of us to be released and I have to stand up here with…with…that Nazarene rabbi! I’m guilty of murder…everybody knows that! What has he done? Jesus is just a rabbi spreading love and healing people. Here is my only hope for release and I have to pair up with a prophet who entered Jerusalem just days ago to cries of ‘Hosanna in the highest.’ Those spikes are really going to hurt.”
Barabbas didn’t hear Pilate addressing the crowd. He didn’t notice the morning sun forcing him to painfully squint. He didn’t notice the fresh breeze which smelled of Passover preparations, a nice change from weeks in a damp prison. Barabbas’ senses were dead that morning. All external senses were dim and muffled. It was his mind’s way of protecting him from his helpless reality. He retreated into bitter numbness.
The unrepentant murderer stood there withdrawn like a calloused fist. He hated the crowd and everyone in it. While they would surely choose Jesus to be released, he still hated them for it. It made him fell better. And he hated that peaceful man across the way who was his opponent in this sick game of life and death.
“You lucky dog,” he thought as he eyed Jesus. “You may be tired, beaten, and hungry, but soon you’ll be lounging at the Passover feast, laughing with friends and family and I’ll be skewered to a crossbeam.”
He felt cheated that Jesus was his opponent in this cruel game.
“I would have fared better against one of those two thieves.” His only consolation was that his death might motivate his fellow Zealots. “At least I’ll live on as a martyr and perhaps my death will inspire another uprising.” He smiled for the first time in days, “Yes, Pilate. I’ll still be murdering Romans after I’m dead!”
Then something unexpected caught his attention. It quickened his senses so quickly that his thoughts all vanished in mid-sentence. Could it be? What did he hear? Did someone actually yell, “Release Barabbas to us!” He strained to hear it again. Barabbas stared wide-eyed at Pilate. His mouth was open. He did not breathe. The Roman Governor appealed to the boiling crowd on Jesus’ behalf.
Barabbas struggled to send a thought to Pilate, “No, no! Shut up! Listen to the crowd.”
Again the crowd, with forceful unity cried for Barabbas’ release.
“They want me?!” A thin smile broke out on his face. “You beautiful people! I love these beautiful people.”
Then he became absorbed in communicating to the crowd through expression and body language. “Yes, yes, louder, louder…that’s it. We want Barabbas! Release Barabbas!” He glanced over to see how Jesus was working the crowd in his favor. “Odd! He’s just standing there like a statue.”
Pontius Pilate appealed to the crowd a third time for Jesus’ release. The Governor sensed the injustice of what was happening and was trying to show the crowd the foolishness of their demand.
“What crime has he committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty.” Pilate desperately wanted to see Barabbas impaled as a public symbol of what Rome does to murdering rioters. “I will have Jesus punished and then release him.”
The crowd nearly went berserk. They would have none of it. “Crucify him! Crucify him! Crucify him!” they shouted even louder.
No words had ever sounded so sweet to Barabbas. As the cries of the crowd developed a unified chant Barabbas stared at Jesus. His lips silently echoed the crowd’s demand, “Crucify HIM! Crucify HIM!” Barabbas felt the malice in their chant and it gave him strength.
Sensing the need to calm the frenzied mob, Pilate caved into their demands. Pointing stiffly at Jesus, the Governor declared, “Let him be crucified!” Pilate then wheeled and stared at Barabbas with fury in his eyes. Barabbas’ blood chilled. Without words, Pilate clearly communicated, “This isn’t over. I’ll get you yet!” Then he spat at the guards, “Release him.”
The crowd exploded in cheers, they had gotten their way and the blasphemer would soon be dead. The guard holding Barabbas released his grip and Barabbas collapsed to his knees. The weight of long weeks on death row flushed from his body like a shower of cold water.
“I’m free! I’m free!” It was so unreal that he had trouble believing what he was saying.
His senses were sharp now and he soaked in every sensation around. The smells were like perfume. The roaring crowd seemed like music. And the sight of Jerusalem from the Praetorium balcony in the early morning sunshine took his breath away.
Then his eyes fixed on Jesus. The strange rabbi looked haggard and exhausted, yet his face was not desperate. He was strangely calm. This man had just been sentenced to die undeservedly, yet he did not exude the anger Barabbas had felt only moments earlier. Barabbas thought this curious as he watched two Roman guards escort Jesus away to be crucified.
“Thanks, rabbi. I don’t understand why you crossed my path today, but thank God you did.” And with that thought, a guard unshackled Barabbas and roughly escorted him out.
Barabbas ran out of the Praetorium and crashed into the arms of his fellow patriots. He cried joyously.
What did Barabbas do next? Where did he go? Did he hang around Jerusalem for Passover? Did he mingle in the crowd to see Jesus crucified? Stay tuned for Part II.