John 18.33-40

Title: Barabbas: Substitutionary Atonement

Text: John 18.33-40

Introduction: We’re in John 18; Matthew 27; Luke 23 this morning. While you are bookmarking them, let me tell you a story. Years ago, I was in an Easter Musical: We want Barnabas! Give us Barnabas! Well, today we’re going to talk about Barabbas. I may struggle from time to time with the wrong name! But that probably doesn’t surprise most of you…

I’ve been working my way to the cross each Sunday morning, looking at the different Characters who touched Christ’s life. Judas, Peter, Annas, Caiaphas, the Sanhedrin, Pilate and now, Barabbas. Barabbas is different than the others. We feel disdain toward Judas and his betrayal. We’re disappointed in Peter. Our anger wells up at the Sanhedrin and High priests. And Barabbas… well, we’re not sure how to feel toward Barabbas. Each person mentioned has wronged Christ in some way, but not Barabbas. It wasn’t his doing that got him off. It wasn’t his lawyers who helped him walk free. Guilty Barabbas. He’s guilty, but he is set free. He should have been mocked, mistreated and maligned. He is the one who deserves death, but he lives.

We pick up in 18.38, rd v 38; After Jesus is questioned by Pilate and Pilate renders his verdict: Not Guilty. Rd v 39-40a; What a wonderful set up; John doesn’t tell the whole story. Maybe because the synoptics do, or maybe because he thought his readers would already know – So, we’ll have to look to the other gospels for help; For now, note that John wants us to see that Jesus in not guilty of any crime deserving death, but instead wants to release him.

Transition: This morning’s message will be presented to you in the form of 3 questions. In our search to find out who Barabbas is, we’ll ask:

  1. Who is Barabbas?
  2. How does he compare to Christ?
  3. What does this mean for us?

Let’s begin with the 1st question:

  1. Who is Barabbas?
    1. A Robber (John 18.40); a popular word for a thief; This is what Jesus called the religious leaders who turned His Father’s house of prayer into a den of thieves; it is the word Jesus uses to tell the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10); And, this is what Jesus calls those people who lead God’s people astray, when he says of those who enter not by the door, but over the fence – they are thieves and robbers; He is someone who steals that which is not his own (8th commandment: Thou shalt not steal); The thief comes to kill, steal, and destroy. Christ comes to give life; Matthew 27 describes him as…
    2. A ‘Notorious Prisoner’; rd Matthew 27.15-16; simply meaning he is well-known; rd v 17; Why would Pilate do this? Rd 27.18-19;

i.     He discerned their motives

ii.     His wife had warned him – a woman’s intuition

iii.     Perhaps he thought the crowds of Jerusalem would never choose this notorious criminal, Barabbas, and their fondness for Jesus would set Jesus free.

t.s.: A Robber, A Notorious Prisoner and 3rd

                3.   An Insurrectionist and Murderer (Mark 15.7; Lk 23.18-19) – Insurrection: an act or instance of revolting against civil authority or an established government. It appears that Barabbas was notorious because he had been leading a revolt against civil authority, against the Roman Govt. This would make him a zealot and popular with the people. Furthermore, it appears that during an uprising, Barabbas had killed someone or more than one. Who? We don’t know. Note the two crimes again: Murder & Rebellion.

Listen to Warren Wiersbe: It is ironical that Barabbas was apparently a member of the zealot party and, therefore, guilty of the very charge for which Jesus was condemned (cf. Mark 15:7; Luke 23:19, 25). Wiersbe seems to think that the Jewish authorities because of Barabbas’ notoriety easily swayed this crowd. He continues: This crowd apparently had been waiting there to support their local folk-hero. The Jewish authorities just took this opportunity to assure the condemnation of Jesus (cf. Mark 15:11). Now, I’ve been taught that this crowd is the same crowd that welcomed Jesus on Palm Sunday. But, Kevin DeYoung says no… this is a different crowd, easily swayed. Just to be clear: the crowd on Palm Sunday welcoming Jesus with shouts of “Hosanna!” is by and large not the same crowd on Good Friday that demands his death with shouts of “Crucify!”

R.T. France summarizes: There is no warrant here for the preacher’s favorite comment on the fickleness of a crowd which could shout ‘Hosanna’ one day and ‘Crucify him’ a few days later. They are not the same crowd. The Galilean pilgrims shouted ‘Hosanna’ as they approached the city, the Jerusalem crowd shouted, ‘Crucify him.’

Same crowd, different crowd, I don’t know for sure; but this I know, the Jewish leaders were able to get this crowd of people to have Barabbas released.

Transition: So, He was set free, even though he was guilty: a robber, a notorious prisoner, a murder, a rebel – insurrectionist or in today’s terms: a terrorist. He didn’t suffer, he wasn’t punished, he wasn’t mistreated. Cut the ropes and walk! But not Jesus – let’s look at these two, side by side…

2.   How does Barabbas compare with Christ:

           1.  Barabbas was guilty vs. Jesus was innocent: Irony of Ironies: the Jews had accused Jesus of the very crimes Barabbas was found guilty of: Rebellion. And yet, they wanted Barabbas released. Rd Lk 23.2: Here are the charges And they began to accuse him, saying,

i.     “We found this man misleading our nation and

ii.     forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and

iii.     saying that he himself is Christ, a king.” Add v 4-5;

Not Guilty – cf.: John 18.38, 19.4-5; this is after Herod’s inquisition; Luke expresses it 9 different ways (23.4, 14, 15 [2x’s Herod & Pilate], 20, 22 [2x’s: not guilty & I will release him; 41; 47];

           2.  Barabbas was released vs. Jesus was punished:

i.     Jesus was Flogged – 7x’s; Heb 12.6; Maybe Pilate thought that he would be disciplined this way and the people would be moved to release him. You might be thinking: Really? Yeah! Listen to Hughes: Many died from it, and others went mad. Ancient authorities as diverse as Eusebius, Josephus, and Cicero relate that scourging normally meant a flaying to the bone. Eusebius tells of martyrs who “were torn by scourges down to deep-seated veins and arteries, so that the hidden contents of the recesses of their bodies, their entrails and organs were exposed to sight.” M.S. Mills in The Life of Christ: A study guide to the Gospel record describes scourging this way: A Roman scourging was a frightful punishment. The whip (or flagel) used was braided from leather thongs and interlaced with lead balls and metal and bone spikes. Six soldiers, lictors, wielded these flagels on the prisoner who was usually tied to a column or stake. The severity of the scourging was such that prisoners usually fainted and sometimes died under it. The whipping was applied to the back and chest. Each stroke cut into the quivering flesh until the veins and sometimes the entrails were laid bare; the flagel’s tail would often strike the face, sometimes knocking out teeth and, on occasion, even an eye. The victim was invariably reduced to a bloody mass of quivering flesh, with virtually all strength drained from his body. Not only was he punished in this fashion, but then he was mocked for their entertainment.

ii.     Jesus was Mocked – Jesus was mocked by the Jewish guards first. Later, Herod’s men would mock Jesus; 27.27-31; and that’s the final form of punishment…crucifixion.

iii.     Jesus was Crucified – He died Barabbas’ death; Barabbas should have been on that cross with his buddies on both sides; He should have died that criminal’s death; the execution had been planned for Barabbas because of his rebellion and murder. That’s why there was a cross ready to go.

 3.  What does this mean for us?

  • We identify with Barabbas when we acknowledge we have rebelled against God.Rev 12.10; Zech 3.1; Satan stands and accuses us. We’re more like Barabbas in that we’ve rebelled against God’s authority, and furthermore, have encouraged others to do the same. And so we stand here rightly accused with no defense on our own.
  • We identify with Barabbas when we comprehend the magnitude of our sin. Romans 6.23 says that our just punishment for our rebellion against God is death; Our great sin needs a great savior to rescue us.

But you may say: I’m not that bad. The Bible says you are. The Bible says you and I both are the one’s who deserve to be flogged, scourged, disciplined. It is our sin of rebellion against God that has determined our state. It is our anger toward our brothers that has made us murderers.

  • We identify with Christ when we understand that he died as our substitute. His death is our death. 2 Corinthians tells us For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. We’ve been released, even though we’re guilty, and someone else took our place of punishment.
  • We identify with Christ when we surrender our lives to him. Paul said, I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. And, in Col 3.3: For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

Conclusion: Application?

A call to recognize you’re a sinner (rebellion), to repent of your sin and rebellion, to return your life to Him as King.


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