The name of Barabbas is mentioned 11 times in 10 verses of the Gospels. He is also alluded to once as a murderer in a sermon at Solomon’s porch in Jerusalem (Matthew 27:16, Matthew 27:17, Matthew 27:20, Matthew 27:21, Matthew 27:26, Mark 15:7, Mark 15:11, Mark 15:15, Luke 23:18, John 18:40, Acts 3:14). The name Barabbas corresponds in meaning to the person of Jesus Christ. The prefix “bar” (βαρ) means “son of” – as can be seen by comparing the following verses: Matthew 16:17, John 1:42, Mark 10:46, and Acts 4:36. “Abba” (αββα) means father – as can be seen in the following verses: Mark 14:36, Romans 8:15, and Galatians 4:6. Barabbas was “a son of (the) father” in comparison and contrast to Jesus, The Son of God the Father, his only begotten Son (Cf. John 1:18, John 3:35, 1 John 4:14, 1 John 4:9).
Barabbas was a lawbreaker. He was a robber, murderer, and seditionist[i] (Luke 23:18-19, John 18:40, Acts 3:14). Barabbas was not just “alleged” or “accused” but guilty, worthy of death – by both Roman and Jewish law.[ii] Barabbas had been sentenced and held over for execution (Mark 15:7). Yet Barabbas, the guilty, goes free (Matthew 27:26).
Jesus was a law fulfiller (Matthew 5:17). Though he had gone about doing good (Acts 10:38), he was accused as guilty (Matthew 26:66). He was in fact without sin (Hebrews 4:15). Yet Jesus, the innocent, is crucified (Matthew 27:26).
We are Barabbas, the guilty. We are sons of our father, Adam (Romans 5:12). We are sinners (Romans 3:23), lawbreakers (James 2:10), thieves (John 10:1), murderers (1 John 3:15), and insurrectionists (Romans 8:7). We are guilty (Romans 3:19). We are in bondage (Hebrews 2:15, Psalm 102:19-20). We deserve to die and are sentenced to death (Romans 6:23, James 1:15, Hebrews 9:27).
Jesus is our substitute. He is the Son sent by the Father to save us from our sins (1 John 4:14). The innocent was executed that we might be released. Jesus died in Barabbas’s place. Jesus died in the place of his people (Matthew 1:21, John 11:49-50). Though the effects of the substitution may be different, Jesus died in place of Barabbas, and in place of his people. We are Barabbas, the guilty set free.
“Himself he cannot save.”
Insulting foe, ’tis true;
The words a gracious meaning have,
Though meant in scorn by you.
“Himself he cannot save.”
This is his highest praise.
Himself for others’ sake he gave,
And suffers in their place.
…who died for us… 1 Thessalonians 5:10
But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8
For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God… 1 Peter 3:18
[i] In rebellion against civil authority
[ii] “Moreover ye shall take no satisfaction for the life of a murderer, which is guilty of death: but he shall be surely put to death.” Numbers 35:31. The fact that Barabbas was being held for execution is evidence that he was guilty under Roman law, since these crucifixions took place under the authority of the Roman government.