But they all cried out together, “Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas”— a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city and for murder. Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus, but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” A third time he said to them, “Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him.” But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed. So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus over to their will.—Luke 23:18
Although there has been much speculation, we do not know anything about Barabbas’ personal life after he was released. It would be wonderful to know that he personally trusted in Christ and was reformed from his life of violence and sin, but we don’t know. But even so, Barabbas stands on the biblical page as a type of sinners who do trust in Christ. Note four parallels:
A. Barabbas deserved to die.
Apparently he had led an insurrection that had resulted in people being murdered. Perhaps he had killed some himself. He supported himself and his cause through robbery (John 18:40). He had violated the law and he deserved to die. Ironically, Barabbas was guilty of the very crime of insurrection of which the Jews accused Jesus. If Barabbas had been executed, no one would have questioned it. He should have been on the cross. As such, Barabbas represents every person who has violated God’s holy law. We all stand guilty as charged before God’s bar of justice. The Bible declares, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Like Barabbas, we deserve God’s sentence of death. Perhaps you protest: “I’m no robber or murderer! I live a decent, clean life. I’m a law-abiding person. It’s not fair to compare me with this criminal!” But God’s Word is clear that we have all violated God’s holy standards hundreds of imes. The Jews who crucified Jesus would have defended themselves as keepers of God’s law. But, as Jesus pointed out in the Sermon on the Mount, God’s law is not just outward; it’s inward. If we have been wrongly angry, we have murdered. If we have secretly lusted, we have committed adultery (Matt. 5:21-32). Which of us could rightly claim that we have always kept even one of God’s Ten Commandments, let alone all ten? Like Barabbas, we deserve to die.
B. Barabbas did nothing to earn his pardon.
He didn’t get out for good behavior in prison. He didn’t make any promises to reform after he got out. He didn’t promise to do 100 hours of community service. The factors that resulted in his pardon were totally apart from himself. All that he could do was to accept the pardon. He could never congratulate himself later because he got out of his death sentence. It was totally due to factors apart from him and even in spite of him. It was free grace. That’s exactly how God’s salvation is offered to every sinner. If you think that you deserve it or if you offer to somehow pay for it, you do not understand. All you can do is recognize that God offers it freely apart from any merit and humbly accept it.
C. Jesus died in Barabbas’ place.
That was literally true for Barabbas. He received a pardon and Jesus died instead of him. In his newfound freedom, if Barabbas followed the crowd to Golgotha that day and watched as they nailed Jesus to the cross, he must have thought, “That should have been me! Those nails were intended for my hands and feet! That man is dying in my place!” This is the good news that the Bible proclaims: we all deserve to die for our sins, but Jesus, the innocent Lamb of God, took our place on the cross as our substitute. He gave His life as the ransom for many (Mark 10:45). He bore the wrath of God that should have fallen on you and me, satisfying the penalty. “[God] made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). Thus, God “might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26). If your faith is in Christ, His death means that you will not face God’s condemnation.
D. Jesus’ death resulted in Barabbas’ life and freedom.
There is a great irony here: Barabbas’ name means “son of the father.” The real Son of the Father, Jesus, suffered and died so that this human son of the father could live and go free. John states that he wrote his gospel “that you may believe the Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31). If you do not believe in Christ, you are like Barabbas in prison: in bondage to sin, under the sentence of death, and unable to free yourself (Eph. 2:1-3). Only Jesus Christ can free you from sin and impart eternal life to you so that you become a true “son of the Father,” a child of God.