And as soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. And they bound Jesus and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate. And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.” And the chief priests accused him of many things. And Pilate again asked him, “Have you no answer to make? See how many charges they bring against you.” But Jesus made no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed.
Now at the feast he (Pilate) used to release for them one prisoner for whom they asked. And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barabbas. And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he usually did for them. And he answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead. And Pilate again said to them, “Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” And they cried out again, “Crucify him.” And Pilate said to them, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him.” So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified. Mark 15:1-15 (ESV)
Pontius Pilate certainly was not a Jew, but he did have to be somewhat aware of the meaning behind the Passover celebration. He had to see the danger of a conquered people celebrating their past freedom. The number of people coming into Jerusalem for Passover created a logistical nightmare and an opportunity for violence and riots to break out. His assignment was to enforce the pax Romana in his jurisdiction by whatever means were expedient. If freeing a known murderer would mollify the crowds, so be it. If it took crucified bodies still on their crosses lining the roads to keep the peace and to remind the vanquished who is in charge, so be that too.
The chief priests saw Jesus as a threat to their authority, so they had no problem with sending Jesus to Pilate to do their dirty work. The Romans weren’t exactly known for their benevolence. If anything Pilate was a pragmatist- using whatever methods necessary to get the desired results.
The name Barabbas means “son of the father.” And this Barabbas was a guilty man, a murderer who had earned the earthly punishment of death. Yet the crowd (in which all of fallen humanity is represented) begs for the vindication of Barabbas, who was very clearly guilty as sin. We are all children of fallen man, offspring of the first father, Adam. The cries to free Barabbas were cries for our own vindication as we are all sons of Adam.
Our sins put Jesus on the Cross- not because He was forced to take our punishment, but because He chose to. Out of His amazing love and mercy for fallen humanity, He took on the sins of the world, even as the crowd demanded, “Crucify Him!”
Free Barabbas, who is truly a son of his father, Adam. Crucify Jesus, the sinless, eternal Son of God. The irony of the Great Exchange is made crystal clear here.
Jesus was the only man who ever lived who was qualified to take on the redemption of humanity. While Barabbas- and every other human being except Jesus- deserved eternal death and punishment, only Jesus’ death would suffice to answer the wrath of God and break the curse of Adam.
…Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! – John 1:29 (ESV)