Whatever happened to Barabbas?

Here’s hoping you had a very Happy Easter, a joyous day to remember the resurrection of our Lord. Yummy chocolate bunnies aren’t so bad either.

 

But as Easter is now past and we celebrate the miracle of the day, there’s a question that’s never been answered – what happened to Barabbas?

 

You remember him, right? He’s mentioned in all four Gospels. On Good Friday the Roman governor Pontius Pilate decides to release one Jewish prisoner in honor of the Passover celebration which was about to begin.

 

Two men were brought forward – Jesus of Nazareth, the itinerant preacher that some called the King of the Jews, and a man named Barabbas.

 

The scriptures are all a little different in their description of Barabbas, anywhere from a bandit to a revolutionary to a prisoner or criminal. He certainly wasn’t a mild mannered man of faith like that other fellow.

 

Since those times there’s been debate on who Barabbas was. One claim is that his name was really Jesus Barabbas since Jesus was a rather common name at the time. For future reference and to eliminate confusion over the two men, Barabbas just went by Barabbas.

 

One rather wild theory thinks that Barabbas was somehow the son of Jesus but few give that claim much thought. If we believe that Jesus was 33 years old at the time of his death and resurrection then that idea really doesn’t pan out. Do the math.

 

But we know who the crowd gathered at Pilate’s palace yelled for that fateful day – BARABBAS! BARABBAS!

 

We have no idea exactly WHO was in that crowd. Maybe some of his fellow revolutionaries showed up to stack the deck. But somehow the known criminal and miscreant got the “Get out of jail free” card that day. And Jesus headed to Calvary.

 

So what happened to Barabbas after that? No one knows. There was a 1961 movie based on an earlier novel about Barabbas starring Anthony Quinn. It was an interesting story probably available on Netflix. But still it was just a movie story filled with the usual drama, action, stirring music and movie stars.

 

Instead let’s consider three possibilities, in dramatic form…

 

He couldn’t believe his ears. The crowd calling for HIM? Barabbas looked to his right at the other man, this Jesus from Nazareth. He looked like he was up all night, tired and worn down. And he looked strangely…innocent.

 

But hey, who cares? I’m OUT. After Jesus was led away Barabbas was shown rather roughly to the door of the palace, then shoved onto the street by the palace guards.

 

A few of his friends were waiting for him there, and they all hugged and laughed. They took Barabbas to the nearby home of one of them and celebrated with some food and plenty of wine. Some women were there as well and later that day they did what men and women often do. So much for Passover, Barabbas wasn’t a very observant Jew anyway.

 

The next day dawned rather cloudy and gloomy. Word spread about what happened to that Jesus guy along with two other robbers the day before. Hey, “better him than me,” right? Barabbas didn’t give that a second thought.

 

After a few days to lay low, Barabbas met up with his friends and started planning again. He might not have been an observant Jew but he hated the Romans. They began plotting again on how to eventually stir up enough trouble among the people to somehow force the foreigners out of Jerusalem and then all of the country. Violence? No problem with that.

 

Escaping a death sentence must mean that God was on his side. Barabbas took that to heart and started looking to the future.

 

Or maybe this version…

 

He couldn’t believe his ears. The crowd calling for HIM? Barabbas looked to his right at the other man, this Jesus from Nazareth. He looked like he was up all night, tired and worn down. And he looked strangely…innocent.

 

Jesus looked right into his eyes. Barabbas felt those eyes bore right through him and it shook Barabbas to his core. The Roman soldiers grabbed Jesus and led him away. Barabbas was shown rather roughly to the door of the palace, then shoved onto the street by the palace guards.

 

For all of the people who shouted for his release, not one was there to greet him on the street. He was alone…and really bothered by what he just witnessed.

 

Barabbas came from the tough side of town. He wasn’t an observant Jew, didn’t care much that Passover was starting later that day. He truly WAS a criminal, had no problem stealing or roughing up other people.

 

But today made him think. He knew he should be the one heading to the crucifixion site, not that Jesus guy. And the way he looked at him. Maybe, maybe this Jesus was who some people thought he was – a prophet, maybe even…a messiah?

 

Days later there were rumors that this Jesus, who was put to death that Friday, had somehow survived, had somehow been resurrected. Barabbas, who was staying out of the limelight, was told this by a friend. And for the first time in his life he wondered – I need a change.

 

He quietly sought out one of these Jesus followers, who was shocked when Barabbas came knocking at his door. It took some time for Barabbas to convince the man that – I want to learn more about this Jesus.

 

Or perhaps it went this way…

 

He couldn’t believe his ears. The crowd calling for HIM? Barabbas looked to his right at the other man, this Jesus from Nazareth. He looked like he was up all night, tired and worn down. And he looked strangely…innocent.

 

Jesus looked right into his eyes. Barabbas felt those eyes bore right through him and it shook Barabbas to his core. The Roman soldiers grabbed Jesus and led him away. Barabbas was shown rather roughly to the door of the palace, then shoved onto the street by the palace guards.

 

For all of the people who shouted for his release, not one was there to greet him on the street. He was alone…and no one cared.

 

And that bothered Barabbas. For the first time in his rough life he felt utterly alone. He got up off the street and staggered away, into the shadows.

 

His former friends wanted nothing to do with him. He went door to door and was turned away at each one. At least one person handed him some food and drink, but then asked him to leave. All of them appeared very bothered at what had transpired.

 

Barabbas was a free man but still felt like a prisoner. He wandered the streets for days, snitching food where he could get away with it. But even that wasn’t fulfilling after a while. His former lifestyle wasn’t the answer to his gnawing belief that his life was a waste.

 

He eventually made his way to the Mediterranean coast and managed to get a job aboard a ship hauling cargo throughout the Roman empire. Strong backs were always needed. But as he sailed he felt empty, alone, worthless.

 

One day at sea, with no land in sight, he approached the edge of the ship. Barabbas looked over the side, and jumped…

 

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Which of those three scenarios seems like the right one to you?

 

Even though we’re believers and we celebrate the Lenten season and Easter, is it possible – we are all Barabbas.

 

We are all sinners in one way or another. For some in a LOT of ways. And we are all worthy of punishment. In some cases REALLY worthy.

 

And there’s Jesus, offering to take the pain of that sin on himself. He allowed himself to be put to death to atone for that sin, and his glorious resurrection showed the world that nothing, not even death, can overcome Him.

 

Yet we as a people continue to wander through life looking for answers when they’ve been right in front of us all the time. Are we that blind, always that blind? Racism, violence, theft, selfishness, greed, power, lust. The list hasn’t changed much in 2,000 years.

 

Perhaps we are all Barabbas, complete with the “get out of jail free” card given to us by God. What we choose to do with that card – well, what’s your choice?

 

From George Churchgoer