Paul said Christ Jesus died for sinners, (Rom. 5:6-8) but perhaps the most notable of
those sinners is Barabbas, who represents all for whom Jesus died. The name "Barabbas" is a
compound word. The prefix "Bar" means "son of" and the word "abba" is the Aramaic word for
"father." His name, then, is a generic term and literally means "Son of Father." As Jesus
died in the place of this man, so He died for all who are the sons of fathers.
Pontius Pilate was a moral coward who knew Jesus had done nothing worthy of death (Luke 23:4) but had not the courage to release Him. Like many people today, Pilate did not want to displease the people by deciding in favor of Jesus. As a result, he looked for ways to avoid doing what he knew he should do. He tried to get Herod to make the decision (Luke 23:6-12) but that failed and the fate of Jesus was placed back in Pilate's lap, who again told the Jews, "I, having examined him before you, found no fault in this man..." (Luke 23:14).
Then Pilate remembered that at this time of the year, during the passover week, it was his custom to release one prisoner, whomsoever the people desired. He also remembered that a man named Barabbas was being held on a charge of sedition and murder and offered to crucify him and release Jesus (Matt. 27:21) but the mob insisted that the murderer Barabbas be released and the innocent Jesus be crucified.
There is nothing good recorded about Barabbas. His life was distinguished by sin. Matthew 27:16 calls him a "notable prisoner" and Mark records that he had made insurrection against Rome and committed murder. John also records that he was a robber. You'll not find a man more worthy of death than the felon Barabbas. He was imprisoned and marked for execution for his crimes, but he was also eternally lost because of his sinful life (Rom. 6:23).
Yet this lost man stood only a few feet from Christ. He was so near the Lord, yet still lost. That's the condition of many today who may know what the Bible teaches concerning salvation in Christ, yet never come to Christ in obedience. One may be inches, seconds, or thoughts away from Jesus and still be lost. The tragedy of that condition is like the Greek soldier who helped in the pillage of Persopolis and, finding a leather bag of jewels, tossed them away and kept the bag for a bread sack.
Barabbas was a man unloved by mankind. He was a violent criminal and an outcast, a rebel and troublemaker who was under the sentence of death. You know, even the world has little affection for its own. The world is selfish and quickly drops a man whose value to them is gone. Millions of people today are in the shoes of Barabbas -- unloved and unappreciated by the world, but loved by God. That's right, God loved Barabbas. Jesus said, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). Yes, God loved Barabbas as He loves all mankind.
John also wrote, "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10). When Jesus died that day in the place of Barabbas, He died for all of us whom Barabbas represented, and though Barabbas was unloved by others, God loved him.
It's possible that Barabbas had heard the philosophers of his day who said, "Live right," "Be sincere in what you believe" or "Do the best you can." But he had not lived up to a perfect standard of morality and neither do you or I. He couldn't live up to the standard of philosophers, much less God's standard. That's why Paul wrote, that, "By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast" (Eph. 2:8-9).
Two sides of salvation are presented in this passage. Our salvation is a matter of grace on the part of God and of faith on the part of man. God's grace has been extended to all (Titus 2:11-12) and now it is up to man to reach up by obedient faith and grasp the grace that is in Christ. Barabbas wasted his lifetime on unimportant things, as many do today in pursuit of worldly goods and ambition.
Of all the people in Jerusalem on that day, Barabbas had the best opportunity to understand Christ's atoning sacrifice. When Barabbas was released, he was not only saved from physical death, but he represented all men who are saved from the guilt and consequences of sin when they believe in the Lord (John 8:24), repent of their sins (Luke 13:3) and are baptized into Him (Acts 2:38). Barabbas could have accompanied John and the women to the cross, but the door of history slams shut without further mention of this poor wretch's name.
Pilate nods, the guards unlock Barabbas' chains, they clang to the pavement and he dashes into the milling crowd. The condemned is free, Christ is beaten, and the rough cross is thrust upon Him. Friends, you are Barabbas. What will you do? Flee with your guilt, or obey Him who died in your place? Only you can decide. Each of us is Barabbas. Without Christ, each of us will die.