“But the chief priests and the elders won over the crowd in order that they might demand Barabbas and destroy Jesus. And replying, the governor said to them, ‘Which do you want of the two that I might release him?’ And they said, ‘Barabbas!’”
“But the chief priests incited the crowd so that he should rather release Barabbas to them.”
“And they all cried out in unison, saying, ‘Lift this man up, release to us Barabbas!’, who was a person who had been thrown into prison for murder during a revolt he was involved with in the city.”
“Thus they shouted again, ‘Not this man, but Barabbas!’ But Barabbas was a revolutionary.”
The details given here are astounding. Matthew, for example, speaks of how the chief priests and elders, the leadership of Israel, are working the crowd, inciting them to cry out for this Barabbas and the crowds are shouting to Pilate — demanding that he release Barabbas. I can only imagine just how tense this situation was becoming. Everyone is guilty, everyone is involved, not one stands free from the charge of placing Jesus on the cross.
Barabbas here is described to us as having been involved with a revolt in the city. This we have already discussed. Many of our Bibles will translate John’s description of Barabbas as “robber” just as they translate the description of the two men crucified to the right and left of our Lord (Matthew 27:38, Mark 15:27). The reason for this translation is because the term that is used to describe these is lhˆsth/ß (leistes), which can mean a bandit or a highwayman, but it also can refer to one who is an insurrectionist, hence my choice above: “revolutionary.”
A wonderful piece of irony, though, can be found as we look at Luke’s account here. Most of our Bibles will render the statement of the people as, “Take this man away, release Barabbas to us.” And while that is a perfectly legitimate translation, the Greek word, ai¡rw (airo), used here can also mean “to lift” or “to take up.” It is the word that is often used of Jesus’ statement to “take up your cross and follow me” (Luke 9:23). In their very language we find a foreshadowing that Jesus indeed will be taking up his cross and leading to the hill of Golgotha.
And indeed, that is where he leads us as well. He paid our debt for us; he died our death in our place, yet in calling us to take up our crosses as well, we are called to die to the things of this world and live to Christ. The echoes of the crowd, I am sure, rang in our Lord’s ears, but should we not also expect to hear the angry words of the world around us ringing in our own when we stand for Truth…when we labor to change the culture around us? The cross is not a casual thing that we are called to carry as some people use the phrase, “take up your cross” or “it is a cross to bear…” The cross is an implement of torture and death — an implement that we are compelled to take up freely and willingly — and thankfully. We stand guilty right along with the Romans and the Jews at this juncture — but there is a promise of eternal life given to those who repent and turn to Christ in faith. Will you not do just that? Will you not also risk rejection and share that with others? It is good news to those who believe — the very best news of all.