Lessons from Barabbas at Easter

Learn the symbolism of Barabbas in the Easter story

Lessons from Barabbas at Easter

I’m super excited about this week’s post! Although, it’s a bit delayed due to taking some extra liberty and time with some extended research. In fact, I went all “college professor” on this one, even researching some books and scholarly articles to examine some history and expert opinions. With this being Easter Week or Holy Week, I’d like to share a bit of what I learned about Barabbas.

Not long ago Pastor Brent Troxell, one of the pastors at my church, gave a mini-message of sorts before we took communion together at church. In less than 5 minutes, he spoke something so profound that impacted me as much as an hour long sermon. He shared part of the crucifixion story, specifically about Barabbas, in a way I’ve never heard before. It made such an impact on me that I made a note to go and study it further on my own, which is what I’ve done over the past week.

Pontius Pilate was convinced of Jesus’ innocence

After Jesus was arrested, questioned, and falsely accused by the Jewish authorities, he was handed over the next day to Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor of Judea (Matthew 27:1-2, Mark 15:1, Luke 23:1-2, John 18:28-29). Pilate questioned Jesus and was convinced that Jesus was innocent (Matthew 27:23-24, Mark 15:14, Luke 23:4, 13-16, John 18:38).

Paschal Pardon

Since it was obvious to Pilate that Jesus had committed no crime, he decided to fall back on an old Roman tradition known as a “Paschal Pardon” since this was also during the time of Passover (“paschal” meaning “of or relating to Passover or Easter”). The Paschal Pardon was a custom of releasing a Jewish prisoner selected by the people at Passover (Matthew 27:15, Mark 15:6, Luke 23:17, John 18:39). This gesture was thought to be an act of goodwill because the Jews resented the Roman occupation of their country[1]. Given that Passover commemorates the release of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery, the release of a prisoner is very symbolic for freedom from bondage.

Pilate saw the Paschal Pardon as an opportunity to set Jesus free by offering either his release or that of a notorious criminal named Barabbas. Barabbas was a known rebel and murderer showing no signs of repentance (Matthew 27:16, Mark 15:7, Luke 23:19, John 18:40). Pilate figured, surely, the people would release Jesus, the innocent man, by placing him next to Barabbas. It seemed like an obvious choice. He had heard of Jesus’ popularity and believed that crowd would choose Jesus over Barabbas. In his commentary[2], Matthew Henry states,

“And therefore, hearing how much he was the darling of the crowd, he thought that he might safely appeal from the priests to the people, and that they would be proud of rescuing him out of the priests’ hands; and he proposed an expedient for their doing it without danger of an uproar; let them demand him to be released, and Pilate will be ready to do it, and stop the mouths of the priests with this—that the people insisted upon his release. There was indeed another prisoner, one Barabbas, that had an interest, and would have some votes; but he questioned not but Jesus would out-poll him.”

To Pilate’s surprise, the crowd picked Barabbas over Jesus (Matthew 27:20-26, Mark 15:11-15, Luke 23:18-15, John 18:40). So Barabbas was set free, and Jesus was crucified even though Barabbas was the one who TRULY deserved punishment.

Barabbas, Son of the Father

Pastor Brent taught us that the meaning of the name “Barabbas” was very significant (as names usually are). Broken down to its original Aramaic meaning, “bar” means “son of”, and “abba” means “father”. Therefore, the name Barabbas literally means “son of the father”.

Pastor Brent said,

“Why was Barabbas chosen? Because God orchestrated this whole thing. Barabbas is a picture of the gospel. Barabbas, the son of the father, is me. Barabbas, the son of the father, is you. The scripture says the wages of our sin is death. We deserve the cross. We deserve to be separated from God. We’re guilty, but the gospel is that while we were still in our sin, Jesus willingly laid his life down so that the sons and the daughters of the father could go free. And not just go free but be forgiven. And not just be forgiven but have a new identity.”[3] 

Barabbas is symbolic for us

Barabbas, “Son of the Father”, was guilty of sin and was released leaving an innocent to be punished in his place. We, too, are sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father. Additionally, we, too, are guilty of sin (Romans 3:23). Ironically, the same innocent person that took Barabbas’ place also took OUR place. Jesus was punished in our stead (Romans 3:25, Isaiah 53:4-5, 1 Peter 3:18). God freed us from the penalty of our sins just like Barabbas was freed from the penalty of his (Romans 3:24).

The one and only true son of God, the Father, endured punishment that day on the cross so that we might all truly become the children of God (John 3:16, John 1:12, 1 John 3:1).

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 (NIV)

“But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.” John 1:12 (NLT)

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” 1 John 3:1a (NIV)

Who knew Barabbas could be so controversial?

During my research I was quite surprised to discover that the topic of Barabbas and the Paschal Pardon custom is a pretty controversial topic among some scholars and skeptics. Who knew Barabbas could cause so much debate! I spent a lot of time researching some of the criticisms. They were actually pretty interesting…although some were just flat-out silly! However, I’ll have to discuss those in a later post due to their in-depth nature. Stay tuned! 🙂

Take Some Practical Steps to Understand These Lessons From Barabbas:

  • If you have accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior, you are a Barabbas! …But in a good way, not the rebel/murderer kind of way! 🙂 If Jesus is your Lord, you are a Son or Daughter of the Father! You are a child of God! Relish in that knowledge for a bit.
  • If you are not a “Son/Daughter of the Father” yet, become one! Go check out this post on the first steps to ultimate success. You can learn more about how to become a true child of God and build your relationship with Him.
  • Take some time to stop and thank Jesus for the freedom that he gave you. You were a “prisoner” that has been set free just like Barabbas…undeserving, but redeemed and loved all the same. Take a moment right now to think about what you have been freed from, and then genuinely thank Jesus.
  • Lastly, if you encounter information that contradicts the Bible like I did, research it! Be a critical thinker, and don’t just take things at face value. Skeptics and critics love to generalize Christians as gullible, unintelligent, brainwashed fools. Prove them wrong. Know WHAT you believe and WHY! And if you don’t know why…go find out! I’ve listed some excellent resources that have helped me in this post here. In the Bible, Paul commended the people who didn’t just believe what he said, but searched for the truth. In turn they deepened their belief and faith.

“And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth. As a result, many Jews believed, as did many of the prominent Greek women and men.” Acts 17:11-12 (NLT)

What has lessons has Barabbas taught you? Tell us about it by leaving a comment below.

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If you know anyone that could benefit from this, please pay it forward!  Share this post via the sharing links below.  “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (NIV) 


  1. Knight, George W. The Illustrated Guide to Bible Customs & Curiosities. Uhrichsville, OH: Barbour Pub., 2007. 198-99. Print.
  2. Henry, Matthew, and Leslie F. Church. Commentary on the Whole Bible: Genesis to Revelation. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Pub. House, 1961. Print.
  3. Troxell, Brent. “If You’re Not Ready Your Perfect, Part 5.” Church on the Move. Oklahoma, Tulsa. 6 Nov. 2016. Sermon. There are affiliate links in this post (I may get a small commission at no extra cost to you if you make a purchase).
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