Barabbas was likely so well know that no one needed to mention his first name. Just Barabbas is all you needed to say because he was a well known seditionist at the time of Christ. Barabbas was also a murderer and a thief. He’d been tried in a Roman court of law and found guilty, sentenced with a perfectly fair verdict.
Let’s pause here to consider what another theologian once said: “When the holiness of God is the yardstick, the difference between you and I and Adolf Hitler gets lost in the rounding.” That means we don’t ever want to think too highly of ourselves. That’s why I think we need to identify with Barabbas during Passion Week.
So, there Barabbas sat waiting to die a horrible death. Meanwhile, outside, unbeknownst to Barabbas, a chess game waged on between the Roman governor Pilate and the Jewish Sanhedrin, who were the Jewish authorities at the time, on what to do with Jesus. Pilate didn’t want anything to do with having the blood of Yeshua on his hands. And so, he sent Jesus to Herod Antipas. Antipas ruled the Galilean district and recognizes the political treachery of this. He also didn’t want to touch this case, even though Jesus resided in his jurisdiction. So, Herod Antipas sent Jesus back to Pilate for final judgment.
Not able to pass the buck, Pilate decided on a good idea. This would become his master stroke. There was a tradition that the Jews had at Passover to release one prisoner. Pilate ordered his administrative staff to find the worst possible prisoner in the system that they could find. Pilate wanted to offer Jesus as compared to this worst criminal, Barabbas. He believed the crowd would see the murderous Barabbas and then decide to save Jesus. If Pilate’s plan would save Jesus, the governor would be off this political tightrope he’d been walking on with the Sanhedrin.