Son of Abba

educational freedom in christ

Now at the Passover Feast the governor was accustomed to release for the people any one prisoner whom they wanted. And at that time they were holding a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. So when the people gathered together, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” For he knew that it was because of envy that they had handed Him over.  Matthew 27:15-18

Here we find Jesus, who had just been arrested, brought before Pilate to determine His fate. He is brought side by side with a man named Barabbas and as was customary, Pilate offered the crowd a choice in which prisoner would be set free that day (John 18:39). In the end, the crowd decides that Barabbas will walk free while Jesus will die in his place—but more on that later.

First, let’s find out who Barabbas was. 

Matthew (27:16) described Barabbas as a notorious, well-known prisoner. Both Mark (15:7) and Luke (23:19) give similar details of him stating that he had been put in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection. And lastly, John (18:40) describes him as a rebel and robber. While we don’t have many details about Barabbas’s life or how he ended up side by side with Jesus in this moment, the entire account of his story in the Gospels concludes 4 likely things about him:

  1. He stood under the rightful condemnation of the law. He was guilty of what he had been accused of.
  2. He heard, and likely knew for himself, that Jesus, the One who was to take his place on the cross was innocent.
  3. He was aware that Jesus would truly be his substitute. 
  4. He understood that he did not deserve to walk free, nor had he done anything to merit going free, while someone else would die in his place.

And while he (Pilate) was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent him a message, saying, “See that you have nothing to do with that righteous Man; for last night I suffered greatly in a dream because of Him.” But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas, and to put Jesus to death. And the governor said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Crucify Him!” But he said, “Why, what evil has He done?” Yet they kept shouting all the more, saying, “Crucify Him!” Now when Pilate saw that he was accomplishing nothing, but rather that a riot was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this Man’s blood; you yourselves shall see.” And all the people replied, “His blood shall be on us and on our children!” Then he released Barabbas for them; but after having Jesus flogged, he handed Him over to be crucified.  Matthew 27:19-26

In this passage, we discover that Pilate was not sold on the crowd's demands, as shown by his desire to literally wash his hands of the entire matter. It’s interesting to consider what he may have been thinking and feeling as this all played out. It is later revealed in this story that Pilate himself went on to make the customary sign revealing the indictment against Jesus for all to see. In Hebrew, Greek, and Latin Pilate wrote, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” John 19:22 goes on to tell us that the Jewish high priests were angry at what Pilate wrote, boldly asking that it be changed. They said, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews’; rather, write that He said, ‘I am King of the Jews.’” But Pilate did not back down, informing them that “What I have written, I have written.” Or, as the grammar of the original Greek more clearly states, “What I have written, will always remain written.” This explicitly told them he found no error with what he had done and that he was satisfied with his word choice. In fact, there was nothing random or coincidental about what Pilate inscribed that day—the first letter of each of the four words he wrote in Hebrew spelled out YHWH, the unpronounceable name of God Himself. Wow. The high priests most certainly recognized this, and Pilate had no problem offending the Jewish leadership on this matter.

One thing that’s really important for us to remember when reading this story is that on this day, Barabbas woke up expecting it to be his last. And, if he were an honest man, he wouldn’t have been able to argue that he didn’t deserve what lay in wait for him. Yet, without doing a single thing he suddenly discovers that a man named Jesus, a man who did nothing wrong, is going to die instead of him, in his place. Barabbas will leave, free to go where he chooses, perhaps home to family or friends who were likely already grieving the loss of him. 

But while the story of Barabbas might be viewed as a simple story about one being exchanged for another, it is so much more than that. This was not merely an exchange or a trade, this was a substitute, a replacement, a stand-in that would ultimately achieve the already decided purpose: death on a cross. You see, Jesus wasn’t just traded or exchanged for Barabbas, He literally died in place of Barabbas. Jesus was his substitution. The innocent life of Christ received the full penalty of Barabbas’s sins so that none remained—just as was echoed in Exodus at the first Passover, in the customs of the Day of Atonement described in Leviticus, and in the prophecies about the coming Messiah throughout the Old Testament.  

And His grave was assigned with wicked men, yet He was with a rich man in His death, because He had done no violence, nor was there any deceit in His mouth. Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, and He will divide the plunder with the strong, because He poured out His life unto death, and was counted with wrongdoers; yet He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the wrongdoers.  Isaiah 53:9, 12

As you likely already know, you are Barabbas, I am Barabbas, we are all Barabbas in this story. And if you need more proof, let’s look at what Barabbas means. Barabbas in Greek is Strong's G912 and the definition is “son of Abba.” So in regards to the story of Jesus’ substitutionary death for Barabbas, this word definition tells us that one son of Abba was substituted for The ONE Son of Abba. To be God’s child, to belong to Him, comes at a cost, and that cost was the very life of Jesus. His death was the payment that allows for us to cry out, “Abba Father.”

For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.  2 Corinthians 5:21

Jesus died in place of Barabbas.

Jesus died in place of you and me.

He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.  1 John 2:2

In closing, I want to leave you with a poem that beautifully captures the reality that Jesus, the blameless Lamb of God, did what He did because He chose to, not because He was forced to. 

And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death: death on a cross.  Philippians 2:8

The word “humbled” used in this verse comes from the Greek word tapeinóō, (Strongs G5013) but to understand that word even further, we can look at the root word tapeinos (Strong’s G5011), which means “inner lowliness describing the person who depends on the Lord rather than self, being God-reliant rather than self-reliant.”

Jesus, in full reliance and obedience to His Father, loved you and gave Himself up for you. He believed you were worth dying for. At any time He could have stopped it, He could have said, “Enough!” and got down off that cross. But He didn’t. He didn’t because His love for you, His desire for you to be reconciled to God was greater. He chose to die so that you don’t have to. What a beautiful reminder to us, the sons and daughters of Abba. 

The Maker of the Universe

Poem by Frederick William Pitt (1859-1943)

The maker of the universe, as man for man was made a curse:
The claims of laws which He had made, unto the uttermost He paid.
His holy fingers made the bough which grew the thorns that crowned His brow:
The nails that pierced His feet were mined in secret places He designed.
He made the forests where there sprung, the tree on which His body hung:
He died upon a cross of wood, yet made the hill on which it stood.
The sky that darkened o’er His head, by Him above the earth was spread:
The sun that hid from Him its face, by His decree was poised in space.
The spear revealing precious blood was tempered in the fires of God:
The grave in which His form was laid, was hewn in rock which He had made.
The throne on which He now appears was His from everlasting years:
But a new glory crowns His brow, and every knee to Him must bow.


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