They cried out again, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a robber.
Wow. Barabbas. It’s an Aramaic name. Know what it means?
Envision this scene. Pilate, Roman governor. A Jewish crowd, boiling, on the verge of riot. There’s Jesus, as stoic and enigmatic as ever, talking about a kingdom not of this world.
John charts his own path when it comes to telling the story of Jesus, but one scene he shares with the other three is the mention of Barabbas, the criminal set free as part Passover holiday tradition. John specifically calls him a robber. Mark calls him a murderer. Matthew just mentions he’s famous.
Maybe the first Christians saw a poignant contrast of the innocent Jesus sentenced to death next to the guilty criminal Barabbas sent home, pardoned from his transgressions against society. I suppose the symbolism is pretty obvious. I’m Barabbas. You’re Barabbas. We all are.
In John’s story, there’s a particular irony. Barabbas. It’s an Aramaic name. It means “son of the father.” Son of the Father. That’s how John talks about Jesus throughout the gospel. One son of the father is set free. Another Son of the Father is sent to his death.
The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.”
I think we as readers should feel some shock and disbelief at these words. It’s that twist at the end of the movie where the true evil reveals itself. In this one scene, Jesus exposes the corruption and depravity of the Jewish leaders that antagonized him. For the priests to accept the kingship of Caesar means they have turned their back on the kingship of Yahweh.
To hear these words, we should remember the hopeless refrain from Judges: “There was no king in the land, and everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” And yet, to accept Caesar as king is a traitorous act of rebellion against the One True God of Israel.
The kingdom of Caesar. The kingdom of Jesus. It’s a choice we make everyday.
What about you? What do you see?